Dr Janett Adler

Dr Janett Adler

Senior User Researcher

As a design thinking advocate I am a strong believer in user focused design that is built on research. In this blog I will be exploring how design thinking where people are at the heart of finding practical solutions can significantly enhance the user research.   

To understand user needs, wants and values a bespoke design thinking process which is iterative and flexible seeks to solve user problems. With tailored stages of that process, insights emerge, valuable to building new products and services for any specialised industry. User needs can then be translated into practical solutions through applied design thinking. This creative approach can be demystified, utilising and iterating the stages throughout the design thinking process (as defined by the Design Council).


Design Thinking in practice

Whether helping improve employees’ tools and systems or engaging customers or citizens better digitally for personalised engagement, design thinking is an instrument to clearly identify individuals’ and organisations’ requirements, enhancing their innovation methods.

Design thinking can be applied to existing challenges at work, employing design tools, and encouraging collaborative approaches and individual personal development in the process. The design thinking process helps develop insights through re-evaluation of perspectives, supporting the creation of prototypes that are then tested in relevant conditions to assess their value. Finally, with iteration and refinement of the individual stages, it helps generate new working practices, techniques and equipment (Stanford d.school).


Importance of  interviews

During workshops, user researchers talk to individuals from different focus groups to brainstorm activities that help understand interviewees’ ambitions and preferences. Data from user observation, interviews and feedback help build a narrative to make an idea reality. During the early stages of a design thinking process, this data increases the effectiveness of the technology, tools and systems when creating or developing prototypes such as mapping out ideas, user stories or high-level tangible models.

From contacts we have worked with, the issue of the current imbalance in collecting data during interviews but then failing to translate this data into useful products has been highlighted time and again. Often, this is due to the lack of continuous user feedback and iteration during the process. The importance of keeping the communication going was really seen as key. Experiences in the past have been that early discussions were very detailed but then it goes much quieter and so the end result is not quite what was expected.   


Research and design practice  

Research focused on the user during the whole of the design thinking process is valuable for design practice and vice versa. Though research may seem to be an idea that is remote from design practice, it can be a motivating force for organisations. Intuition rather than creating meaning? Thinking, albeit not too structured, and analysing when creating prototypes, help evaluate new insights. This is design research in its most applicable way: using a design process for design practice is the combination of making and thinking (C. Frayling).

Research enables us to draw user insights from key findings using iterative design processes grounded in gathered data. Inquiring about the collected user data and constantly evaluating findings help build new products and services valuable to the user.


Human Centred Design Pods

Within a human centred design team there are clearly defined roles, two of which are the UX Strategist and the User Researcher who work together in Human Centred Design pods. One of the UX Strategists in CGI’s Human Centred Design team discussed the importance of the User research element and believes that user research is arguably the most important activity in the entire design process. In their opinion, user research is crucial in identifying who the users are and what are the problems that they face. As UX designers, they can then use this information to ensure they design valuable and viable solutions that can solve these problems in the best way possible for the users. Without effective user research, the team would be starting from assumptions that are likely to be wrong; this would result in a significant waste of time and effort as well as the likelihood of a substantial opportunity cost.


Unexpected insights

In my experience user focused collaboration with a team made up of different experts fosters knowledge exchange that drives unexpected insights. It allows processes to become more efficient in terms of time, effort and cost and understand insights from customers to improve their strategy and performance. Design thinking tailored to users in each client organisation actively promotes coherence and concurrently differentiation, gaining an edge over competitors and empowering to be regarded as more innovative. Bringing teams together from different backgrounds and seniority across an organisation, and with people at the heart of the design thinking process helps clients accelerate their innovation.


If you would like to discuss design thinking as a strategy to change or any of the other topics I mentioned please get in touch – I would love to hear from you.

About this author

Dr Janett Adler

Dr Janett Adler

Senior User Researcher

Janett is a Senior User Researcher with a PhD in Design Research and Visual Design experience during a career that approaches 20 years. She has worked in various industries, government, and academia.