New product development has, in the past, often been seen as an internal function, relying heavily on the perceived wisdom of the development team and those directing the specification.
Thankfully the internet and more recently social media has helped to change peoples’ ideas on this. With end users able to provide honest feedback in reviews and comments on websites such as Twitter, Facebook and TripAdvisor, companies are finding it easier and more important to listen to the needs of their customers.
Bringing this approach forward and engaging in co-development with users from the outset can lead to great innovations, but also some unexpected results. For example the UK environmental research poll to name their new vessel resulting in ‘Boaty McBoatface’.
Therefore there needs to be a measure of balance to the process, especially when working with children, and when developing a project with different audiences such as we have here, where parents, children and professionals such as teachers are all stakeholders.
In essence there are 4 types of user co-development, these are:
Collaborating - the user or end user here has the greatest influence to add their own ideas. This approach works well when there are highly skilled and knowledgeable users.
Tinkering - the user makes suggestions and amendments to an existing product and revisions are made.
Co-design - a smaller group of selected users provide the majority of ideas which are then voted for by a larger set of users.
Submitting - here users are asked to submit their thoughts and the company decides what will be developed.
A mixture of the first 3 types of co-development are what we suggest for any project, bringing these in at different times in the project lifecycle to get the most value.
We bring in user input throughout the whole process, from workshops to gather ideas and analytics to learn more about existing user behaviour, to feedback into designs, prototypes and validation to help iteratively refine each ideas solution. These input elements shown above are explained as follows:
Analytics on the existing websites can tell us a lot of information. We can see which content is consumed the most, how it is consumed and how the user found the information in the first place.
This last piece of information can be especially helpful if it can be traced back to search keywords, to find out what the initial need of the user was.
In addition to content, analytics tell us a lot about the audience and their behaviour. We can see how they navigate the existing websites and where they got stuck or exited the website.
All of this helps feed into the Investigating and Collating stage, building up a picture of users and their goals.
Implemented as unobtrusively as possible on the existing websites, exit surveys can be a great tool in engaging with users already visiting your website. Even very cutdown question sets can help provide understanding as to whether users found the information they were looking for, or what was missing. More importantly these are actual real world users and not workshops or focus groups made up of users with similar attributes.
Eyetracking software is a fantastic medium for analysing how people see and react to designs and prototypes in an unbiased way. Often when a user is telling you one thing the heatmaps show they are in fact doing something different. They can be used to review user behaviour on existing websites and to see how users navigate prototypes, allowing for changes and iterations to the product before final production.
We often find that with many topics we are researching there is a wealth of material that exists online already. While not always completely aligned with the target audience or location it is generally worth setting some time aside to explore this to see if there is anything valuable that can be taken away.
For mental health there are a vast number of forums, community and social media groups and categories that would provide valuable insight into the needs of sufferers. While this won’t answer all the questions regarding who the audience is and what their needs are it may provide an unbiased starting point.
Whether it’s at the initial ideas stage or testing and refining products, if you can find the right makeup of the audience then workshops and focus groups can be a useful tool in gaining feedback from users.
Our experience shows that getting the composition of the participants right is key, otherwise strong willed and louder participants can steer the views of others. This is especially true in young people and from our work with Suffolk County Council we have developed strong processes for running workshops with young people.
One of the most important aspects of the project lifecycle is the prototyping phase. Prototypes enable the users to get a feel for the design or functionality of a solution at an early stage without the cost of full implementation. This means that any issues or feedback can be added and a new iteration released for testing.
We use tools such as In-Vision to create wireframe and design walkthroughs that can be experienced on a variety of platforms prior to build to give as much of an end product feel as possible at such an early stage.
Short polls are a quick and simple way of getting user feedback especially in phases such as design or when narrowing down a list of ideas. These work in a co-design method where a number of options have already been selected and you want a larger group to further reduce numbers.
When it’s not easy to put together a workshop or you need a much larger group of people, questionnaires issued through companies such as Survey Monkey can be an invaluable tool.
Audiences can be filtered by a number of factors and asked questions about a particular topic, giving unbiased responses without being led by others in a group.