David Juhlin is a Senior User Experience Researcher at PTC, Bentley University located in the Greater Boston area in the United States. Juhlin, an MBA and MS in human factors, says he “operates with a deep understanding of both the business and customers.” In this interview he talks about his pre-project preparations, getting clients convinced about investing in the UX process, Design Thinking and a lot more.
What is your preparation process you follow before starting any project?
This depend on what time you have on hand. If you have time to read up and deepen your knowledge in the domain that is always great. This includes the technology and the industry dynamics the product (and company) is or will be a part of.
Another thing that is important, but I consider a part of a project is the stakeholder interviews. These will help you better understand the business landscape, what has been done in the past, and what they are trying to achieve. It can also help aligning everyone involved so everyone has the same expectations. At this point you might discover that the business sponsor want something innovate, the project manager wants an incremental improvement of the product and the developers has a third understanding. If these are not addressed ahead of time, you are set up for failure.
There is often reluctance among clients to invest in the UX process. How do you convince stakeholders to invest resources in this?
It is important to speak the client’s language. If they are the traditional project sponsor, they associate UX to cost and they want to see numbers proving there is a positive return of investment of including UX. The trap many UX professionals fall in is to try to show exactly this. If you add an additional $100k you’ll be able to sell X more of the product.
You need to stay away from too many specifics at the same time as you show them numbers supporting the importance of investing in UX. An example is to show them how customer experience can drive revenue or how customers are willing to pay a price premium for improved experience. Another way is to show how improved UX is driving up stock prices.
What’s your take on Design Thinking as a concept? Could you tell us your views on if and how it can be applied to various problems?
Design Thinking is very powerful, but sometimes it is over promoted but people who don’t know enough about it. This usually happens when people recently learned Design Thinking and just became a “believer”. It is always dangerous to just accept theories and not question them and really understand their strengths and weaknesses.
Design thinking is a great methodology for solving complex tasks that can’t be solved by logic. For example, Design thinking is not suitable if you are trying to find out how much drinking water will be needed in Sydney in 2020. In this case it is better to look at statistics and use logic to calculate a prediction. If the problem on the other hand is changed to “we know there will be a water shortage in 2020, how can we best solve this?” Design Thinking would be the right approach.The key thing in my mind for Design Thinking is that you need to start with a need. Understand what the pain is for users and then start from a blank page of how to solve it. It sounds so simple, but unfortunately most companies do this wrong. They identify the need as “users can’t do X in our software”. That is not the need. The need is “users want to do X”, but the company has already set limitations of the solution. Sure, we can innovate within that scope, but the best solution might not have anything to do with that software. Why this happens is because companies are set up according to products and software they sell and support. Not the user needs the company solve.
How would you balance the requirements between the user goals and business goals?
Let’s take an example of retirement savings. If you are saving for your retirement in one company, let’s say TIAA-CREF. TIAA will offer you funds they manage since they make money on those funds. Let’s say you are interested in a fund from investment company, let’s sat Vanguard. What should TIAA-CREF do? If they offer you the Vanguard fund, they’ll make less money since they don’t get their fund fees, but if they don’t let you buy it you might take all of your money and move to Vanguard.
The problem here is the incorrect problem statement. The company is considering between offering the competitors fund or not. I.e. weighing the user goal and the business goal. However, they have not considered why you wanted the Vanguard fund in the first place. If TIAA-CREF would create a better fund than Vanguard, all of a sudden both user goals and business goals align.
Companies stuck in this trade off thinking often view it as a zero sum game (if you win, they lose). What companies fail to see is if TIAA created a more appealing fund by lowering their fees they make less money off you, they might gain more customers.
Could you elaborate on your role and working process as an User Experience Researcher?
At this point my primary role is to discovery research, evaluate how well a solution solves user needs, and making sure users understand how to interact with a solution.
The primary goal of the discovery research is to bring insights to the team and help all team members empathize with their users. By better understanding the users’ main tasks, goals, motivations, and pain points, the team is better aligned and can be more productive in the other steps of the design thinking process.
The evaluation of different solutions, help the team assess the usefulness of a potential idea or solution. This helps the team decide what ideas to scrap and which ones to move forward with into the next iteration. By evaluating early and often can prevent the team to invest a lot of resources on the wrong solution.
Evaluating solutions users’ interaction is critical to make sure the final solution is usable. This is often the step most people think of as UX research since it involves usability testing, heuristic review, or some other evaluation methods.
How is designing enterprise applications different from consumer applications?
The main difference is the difficulty of recruiting participants. For consumer products, almost everyone is a participant, but for an enterprise application, the participant pool decreases significantly. For discovery research, they are also more difficult to convince to participate since we often want to do ethnography and shadow them in their work environment. This mean that the company they work for sometimes gets involved to approve a site visit.
The applications are also more complex so it is important to collaborate with other team members to better understand the users and their journey. Both before conducting any research, but also as you unpack the research data.
Could you tell us about how you made your way into User Experience?
During my university education I took a class about environmentally friendly cars. In that class one teacher showed us the IDEO shopping cart video and I was hooked on the work methodology they used. After that I changed major and went in to human factors. Since then I’ve been working in the User Experience field.
Can you tell us mistakes That a UX designer should avoid?
We all know how important UX and design thinking is, but we rarely talk about how great other processes are as well. For example, Kanban is very good process for developers. As UXers, we need to understand others have their “religion” and we can’t just force our process on to them.
We often want them to take a leap of faith and go along with our Design Thinking process, but forget that their bonus is based on other things. If we want to get others on board, we need to either have top management to change how their bonuses are determined or find a way to weave our processes into their so we don’t disrupt their normal work.
Could you tell us about the culture at Bentley University and what makes it unique?
I would prefer to skip this question since I am now working at PTC and I can’t say too much about the culture since I just started there.
Have there been occasions when your user research has revealed insights that were not in line with the client’s expectations? Could you give us an example and how you tackled it?
Any client that been a part of the research should never be surprised since it is important to guide them through what happened. For example, after an interview you can have a quick chat about what they saw and ask what their main takeaways were. If they at this point say something that is incorrect, you can explain how they miss interpreted the information.
The primary time this can happen is when you present your research to stakeholders that was not there and observed. However, you often get agreement from the others who were a part of the research which builds credibility and help them accept what happened.
If you present to a client and there are executives or other high position people, you can have your connection at the company give them a heads up in case the results are contradictory to their expectations or might stir up some emotions.
A time I had to give a tough presentation to a client was after I had evaluated the ease of use of their new platform. We had done a comprehensive test after the first iteration which showed major flaws in the UX design. The development team (it was outsourced) worked on the product for another 2 months and we then did a second round of evaluation to make sure it had improved. However, they had not addressed a single issue highlighted in the initial evaluation and only focused on adding features which only compounded the terrible experience. Everyone observing the evaluation, knew it would be bad news during the presentation.
To mitigate this as much as possible, the client tried to warn people in the organization that the test did not go well, but it was still a tough conversation since the client had spent a lot of money on the development. At the end we tried to change the presentation into a conversation about moving forward. What should they do at this point? My recommendation was to either hire a consultancy to build the interface design or take the development in-house. One of their designers also showed a design of how it could look like in case they took the design in-house. They ended up taking it in house.
Chat bots, conversational interfaces and voice are all the rage leading to headlines like ‘Chat bots will kill websites, apps etc, etc’. What are your views on this?
These words are always hyped up. Sure, these things can take over some of the interfaces, but at this point I don’t think they can replace it all. The main reason for my skepticism is how our memory works. Most of these new interfaces can only hold a few options that we can keep in short term memory. This limits the amount of options these interfaces can provide.