In our pursuit of understanding user experiences, as professionals, we have employed many methodologies: surveys, focus groups, and interviews, each providing snippets of insights. However, there’s one approach, often overlooked, yet brimming with potential: conversations.
Conversations are often dismissed as informal or unstructured, yet therein lies their potential. Organic, unpredictable, and bereft of any agenda, conversations are like a winding river, flowing freely, bypassing conventional pathways. In this unpredictability and organic growth, we find authenticity, and therein, the deep insights we seek.
Let’s explore the power of conversations, the fundamental shift in our approach it calls for, and how it can be harnessed to drive meaningful change.
The Magic of Conversations
What sets conversations apart? They aren’t scripted or predictable, they’re messy and organic. They don’t follow a linear pattern, often jumping between topics with no forewarning. Conversations move as they wish, following a natural flow unguided by agendas or predetermined paths.
This unscripted nature makes them an invaluable source of raw and unfiltered insights. Through a simple conversation, you can learn more about a person’s thoughts and feelings than the most well-designed survey. That’s because, in a genuine conversation where they feel safe and accepted, people are candid. There’s no artifice, no calculated answers. What you get is the essence of their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.
For instance, imagine designing a music streaming service. You could pore over piles of data, analyse trends, and come up with a ‘perfect’ design. Or, you could engage in conversation with a teenager who repeats the same song for hours, driving her mother crazy. That repetitive playing isn’t an error — it’s a real-life user behaviour. In the chaos and messiness of real life, you find opportunities for innovative design. This is the power of conversation.
The challenge lies not in recognising the value of conversations, but in successfully incorporating them into our research methodologies. The key to this is developing relationships. Not in the professional sense, but genuine human connections that create a comfortable atmosphere for honest conversation.
When people converse with someone they trust, they are more open, more honest. They reveal thoughts they would normally withhold from a stranger, especially one conducting formal research. In the context of UX research, think of your users as potential friends, not as mere subjects. The connection you build with them forms the basis for open and honest dialogues that yield genuinely insightful revelations.
In these relationships, the conversations are a two-way exchange. It’s not just about asking questions but actively participating in the dialogue. It’s about understanding the person, gauging their reactions, and encouraging them to express themselves.
But how do we build these relationships? And how do we encourage conversations?
Tips for Engaging Users in Conversations
1. Embrace the informality — Let go of rigid, structured formats. Let the conversation flow naturally, just like a casual chat with a friend.
2. Listen, genuinely — Active listening is key. Show genuine interest in what they’re saying, empathise with their experiences, and validate their feelings. It’s not just about what you want to know, it’s about what they want to say.
3. Encourage openness — Make them comfortable. Assure them that their opinions are valuable and that there’s no right or wrong answer. The aim is to make them feel safe to express their thoughts freely.
4. Patience is a virtue — Don’t rush the conversation. Give it time to unfold organically. The most insightful revelations often come from unexpected turns in the conversation.
5. Use prompts instead of questions — Instead of asking direct, pointed questions, use open-ended ones or prompts to recall their mind back to a personal experience. This allows the person to explore their thoughts and feelings, providing richer responses.
Driving Meaningful Change
In the world of UX, the user is at the core of our work. However, this focus often becomes an exercise in data analysis, forgetting that behind every data point is a human with thoughts, emotions, and unique experiences. By embracing conversations, we put the ‘human’ back into human-centred design.
This approach is not without its challenges. Conversations can be time-consuming, and they require a higher degree of involvement. They can be chaotic, messy, and may not always yield clear, quantifiable results. However, they provide something far more valuable — a deep, empathetic understanding of the user.
Through genuine conversations, we can uncover the multi-layered facets of our users, bringing us closer to them. By understanding their needs, preferences, and desires, we can design experiences that resonate deeply, creating products and services that are not only useful but also delightful.
Conversations might be a road less travelled, but it’s a journey worth taking. They have the potential to be the linchpin in creating meaningful user experiences. And that’s a goal worth pursuing.
In the grand tapestry of UX design, conversations are a powerful yet underutilised thread. It’s time we change that. By embracing the chaos and messiness of genuine dialogue, we can gain profound insights into our users. By building relationships and engaging in authentic conversations, we can drive change, creating user experiences that truly matter.
As we stand on the brink of this paradigm shift, it’s not just about using a new tool or methodology, but about embodying a new mindset. One that values conversations and the rich insights they provide, honouring the very essence of user experience — the user.
This is a manifesto, a passionate drive for change. Embrace the chaos, seek the messiness, engage in conversations. Together, let’s harness the power of people and create experiences that are truly human-centred. This is the future of UX design. And it starts with a conversation.
If you want to find out more about UX design and what it's all about, keep an eye out for an upcoming non-techy talks blog on this very subject!
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