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Thinking Like a User - How to Build User-Centric Software

Pitfalls of self-referential design

Building software that’s easy to use and intuitive is a tough task to say the least. As developers and designers, when we set out to create software that humans will love using, we need to take our individual opinions out the equation as much as possible. This task, however, is easier said than done; thinking like a user is a skill that needs constant practice and consideration.

Self-referential design is one of the greatest risks to a successful software project. The professionals developing and designing the solution and the companies we are building for, each have their specific point-of-view and personal preferences. Although these individual biases are based on extensive professional experience, they often yield software designed for the creators themselves rather than the end-users.

At DevFacto, we are constantly looking for new and effective ways to design user-centric software. One of the guiding schools of thought in this area started at Cooper in the early 1990s, when design methodologies were for the first time applied in the world of software development. Amongst the best-known ideas introduced by Cooper is Design Thinking – a human-centered design process for creative problem solving, now widely used by tech giants such as Google and Apple. So, when our UX team got the opportunity to attend Cooper’s Immersive Design Thinking workshop we were beyond thrilled!

Design thinking concept in user-centric software design

User journey doesn’t always end in success. Design Thinking helps us build software humans love to use.

Approaching user-centric software development

This past summer, a group of four DevFactonians consisting of Business Analysts and UX Designers, were lucky enough to take part in a three-day long Cooper training course in San Francisco, a city brimming with unique architecture and distinctive people. If there’s a center for creative thinking in the world, that could very well be it, making the location a perfect setting for a Design Thinking workshop.

From day one, we dove head first into the program exploring the latest techniques and best practices in human-centered design. Through creative exploration, we learned powerful ways to identify and solve almost any design challenge. One of my key takeaways was a realization that identifying the real problems can be very enlightening, especially when faced with how our presumptions change as we learn new information. By following the Design Thinking process, we shine a light on the various points-of-view of the different users, which affords us a chance to build empathy and plot a course that respects their goals and pains.

Over the three days of training, we ran various exercises to help understand and clearly define the problem we were tasked to solve. Starting with planning and conducting research interviews, through generating insights from user research, to using exploration and storytelling in creating concepts that address the goals of both businesses and consumers, each of these exercises built on the previous and helped us remove assumptions by focusing on finding new and interesting things to consider. Once we uncovered the real problems, we learned how to work on effective solutions through modeling, ideation, and prototyping.

During the training we were tasked with conceptualizing a new photography product or service. The solutions we and others there came up with surprised and delighted us in their creativity and uniqueness. Many of us had ideas that changed significantly through the process as we learned new information. Overall, we discovered the importance and power of careful research and thoughtful planning.

Benefits of the Design Thinking Immersive training

Traveling to take the Design Thinking Immersive course was in many ways an enriching experience. In addition to our new understanding and skills, the four of us grew closer as a UX team by working together to solve challenges creatively. Since returning from San Francisco, we have all been able to incorporate the new knowledge into our work, making a positive impact on our respective projects. Most importantly, by applying the principles we’ve learned about through Cooper, we have not only grown as designers, but we have also elevated he experiences of the users who interact daily with the software we build.