experience designer // public historian


Understanding your target group

When designing, your user should be one of your biggest sources of inspiration and considerations. Not just designing for what they need or do, also why they do it. Truly understanding their values as building empathy can define the overall experience. In my last blog I argued that companies should step up their game and start designing positive experience to pull customers towards their product or service. Today I go over how to understand your target group, and create empathy with them. Empathy generates the most inspiring insights.

And the fun fact is, without them often knowing it. For instance when I did research for a music streaming company, who tried to figure out why the older generation often lags in adopting. One mother told me very easily that she listens the most to music via CD’s as her child can not understand the interface of this product. So simple, yet so effective. So let’s start listening to the people we design for.

Main goal: connecting with your target group on a personal level, how do they interpret the world. There are many ways of interviewing to uncover these values. Values, as people may be willing to express their needs but usually don't verbalize what they truly value. They might say that they need to know where to click next, when their actual value is accessibility. Which can be key to the design process.

So how do we interview and uncover?

 - Prepare

First, map out your context, by for instance sending out sensitizers to your target group in order to increase awareness. Another tool is observing them. Watching what people do and how they interact with their environment gives you clues about what they think and feel. It helps you to learn about what they need. Language, routines, social context, behavior, body language, etc – can all be part of your data. By observing the user/stakeholder in their actual context, you will see what they do and say.

Secondly, analyse your research area. 

1. What do we know?  
Collect the information that is already available. 
2. What is assumed? 
Create an assumption map: writing down all you think you know – and then challenge yourself to divide all the topics in “i’m confident about this” and “i’m not sure about this”.  In this way you tackle your own conformation bias. 
3. What is the need for knowledge? 
When you know what data/info there already is, and you have challenged your assumptions, you probably know what you want to explore in your research. Write down your 'How might we's.'

- Interview

And then interviewing, really engaging with your user by interacting and documenting everything. Engaging with people directly reveals a tremendous amount about the way they think and the values they hold. Sometimes these thoughts and values are not obvious to the people who hold them. Pull out stories, not opinions. The stories that people tell and the things that people say they do—even if they are different from what they actually do—are strong indicators of their deeply held beliefs about the way the world is. Engage to uncover needs that people have which they may or may not be aware of and discover the emotions that guide behaviors. This can lead to innovative insights.

There are many articles on interviewing but if you want to get out there right away: make sure you leave five seconds quiet before you ask another question. This might feel long as interviewer but when answering questions, you need this time to gather all the information in your head. About your attitude; be interested. Real interest. Be present, humble, non judging, open, respectful, honest, curious and only listen. 

Do qualitative, not quantitative research.
Uncovering the true values of your target group, can only be done using qualitative research. It is important to select who you talk to. One important rule: Meet extreme users. They might not be the ones you are designing for, but you can learn a lot from them. They show opportunity being very pro or very contra. The most inspiring stories give the best insights. While talking to them, have a conversation, not an interview. The longer, the more friendly and the deeper the conversation, the more you learn about their values. Also, use generative techniques: similar to interviewing although you ask questions such as: why is it like that, how do you feel, what do you like to see different. These methods will help users/ stakeholders to express their hopes and dreams, as well as their current situation on a more abstract level. These are more hidden and less touched upon

Lastly, you could immerse yourself in the experience you are designing for to better understand the situation your users are in. For instance by shadowing, or having a guided tour. 

So why do we try to understand our target group? Because we should be designing things for people. In order to do that we need to find out what it is they need and truly value. Research coupled with an understanding of human behaviour – empathy - form the foundation of any good design process. 

stephanie de rooij