Innovation and User Centred Design

Consumer demand is increasing for smooth, frictionless experiences in every channel and context. In response to this, more and more organisations are employing a user centred design approach to define and drive usable digital user experiences. To remain competitive however, we have to acknowledge that mere usability is no longer a differentiator – it is a basic requirement. Businesses must also be able to innovate – creating new products and experiences that engage their customers and meet emerging needs.

This in turn creates huge opportunities for UX practitioners to add value at a strategic level. Any product innovation process can be greatly augmented by a user centred design approach.  The UCD approach can yield deep and thorough knowledge about customers – their context, behaviour, constraints, and objectives in the broadest sense. This knowledge is what enables us to come up with new designs, as we synthesise research insights and use the output to make design decisions. Many of us already do this every day. So why isn’t the UX field better known for being a hotbed of creativity, innovation and groundbreaking yet effective design?

We UX practitioners often have a strong practical streak – we tend to care more about the detail of making an experience work than anyone else might. This approach can sometimes constrain our thinking. In the past, we have operated at a granular level, focused on the detail of interface widgets and interaction patterns. There is no placeholder for strategic innovation in the traditional user centred design process. If the UX field is to advance, this must change. It is now the wider end-to-end, cross-channel, online/offline customer experience that needs to come sharply into focus. UX thinking has so much to offer businesses at a strategic level.  We need people with skills at both ends of the spectrum – an ability to define and create holistic experiences as well as an ability to execute a detailed design, and we need to do all this whilst remaining fluent in tech-speak, graphic design, copywriting, information architecture, research methods, and interaction design, just to achieve the baseline of a usable product.

So how to integrate innovation and the wider thinking into our user centred design toolkit? The trick is to change your field of vision. Zoom out until the scene you are studying makes sense at a human level. Also, be assured that you have something valuable to add to this process. It isn’t just marketing and advertising people who have the skills and the ability to come up with new and exciting concepts that resonate with consumers. You are already familiar with many innovation techniques – storytelling, journey mapping, and sketching. But there are other techniques to experiment with too, for example reframing, concept mapping, and insight combination. Begin your next project with a wider focus, but then dive into the detail where necessary to ensure everything hangs together and is usable. We UX people have the ability to weave together the many threads of research, customer, business, and technology, to design great customer facing experiences. It is these latitudinal skills that prepare us so well for helping businesses to define and create innovative, strategic and engaging customer experiences that are also usable by design.

This post was inspired by:

Interaction Design & Design Synthesis”, by Jon Kolko
What marketing executives should know about user experience”, by Nick Meyers

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