The discovery phase of a project is for me one of the most exciting phases, it’s an opportunity for us to immerse ourselves into the industry we are looking to transform. It’s where we can start to understand user needs and project requirements and learn about something new.
In this article, I’m going to explain how important deep immersion is to a project along with some tips to help you…
What is immersion?
Traditional user research such as interviews, competitor analysis and surveys will undoubtedly provide you with user insight giving you some level of immersion. However, to get a true picture and a far more empathetic and user-centred approach look at combining traditional methods with the following:
Shadowing: Shadowing users in their natural environment allows you to see first-hand their behaviours, ways of working and their day-to-day challenges. Doing so gives you the opportunity to unearth further insight as you ask questions as and when things happen right in front of your eyes.
Workshops: Holding workshops with different teams is a great way of uncovering insight, typically a kick-off workshop allows you to get the high-level details such as the problem you are trying to solve, target audience and business goals but you may wish to go one step further by speaking to a different area of the business to learn more about a particular process, speak to as many people as you can and don’t be afraid to ask blunt questions.
Become the user: As the saying goes, “walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes” is a sure-fire way of understanding their experiences, challenges and thought processes. You yourself become the user and whilst this is only one perspective it allows you to gain insight first-hand in the same environment as your users.
Make use of AI technology: I often work across industries I know little about so some form of preliminary research is required to help with those early conversations. Obviously, Google is your friend here but something I’ve been doing more and more of recently is using Chat GPT. I can quickly learn about an industry, asking questions around the market, direct competitors, typical customers and more.
Obviously, don’t use this AI-generated content as verbatim, but do use it as a way to start conversations and arm yourself with knowledge for upcoming workshops and interviews. From here you can then validate those findings and the picture will become clearer.
My top tips:
Remain open-minded: it’s too easy to build up preconceived ideas but until you speak directly to your users and spend time with them in their natural environment only then can you truly understand their needs and challenges to build a more meaningful product.
Cross-reference insight: Don’t believe the first thing you hear or uncover, you might be only getting one side of the story, use data to back up your insights and validate this with different sources to get a true reflection of the challenges faced.
Don’t panic: It’s completely natural to feel overwhelmed or frustrated in the early stages, you are working under pressure to understand an unfamiliar industry, there will be terminology that you don’t fully understand, numerous knowledge gaps and things you don’t understand. Take the necessary time to ask those questions, demonstrating your understanding where possible and fill in the blanks as you go.
There is no real substitute for true immersion, you get to live out the experiences in the eyes of the user, use the same interactions and features, follow the same processes, speak the same vocabulary and experience the same challenges.
Whilst it may not always be possible, try to do what you can to emulate the same contexts and scenarios in order to build empathy creating solutions that meet those unmet needs and aspirations.