Challenge your mental model to make better digital services

Posted by Lucy Collins on May 19, 2022 3:02:39 PM
Lucy Collins

We have been conducting interviews for a new staff member and when given the opportunity to ask questions at the end, many have turned the spotlight back on us: “What is your favourite thing about your job?”.

To this, I say, “my favourite thing about my job in UX is that it constantly challenges the way I look at the world”.

We all have a mental model of how the world works based on our upbringing, the experiences we’ve lived, how we identify and the things that we value. This is our 'normal'. 

Often people don’t realise quite how intrinsic this mental model is and how it affects how they see the world.

This can lead to incorrect assumptions and poor design decisions because they are based solely on our (potentially narrow) view of the world. One that will certainly not be shared by everyone who uses the services we create.

The wonderful thing about conducting research with members of the public is that you get to engage with a broad spectrum of society, people from different cultures, at different life stages and with different interests.

This means we get to see a different point of view on a daily basis and any assumptions we have about what users want or how they want it, is challenged.

Not everyone is as lucky as us to have a regular dose of mental model challenging research at their disposal. So, for anyone working in digital (that’s you, designers, web managers, content creators) here are our tips for ensuring your digital service works for everyone, not just you.

Always be aware that you have biases and assumptions

We all have them, there’s no point denying it.

By being aware that biases and assumptions exist and, even better, knowing what yours might be, you can ensure that you account for these in your digital activities.

If you don’t know, ask

We do not have all the answers. And its unreasonable to think that we do.

If you are not sure how a user might like to engage with your service or what would be the best way to communicate with them, ask them!

It doesn’t have to be a formal research project, any user feedback is going to help shape a more well-rounded digital offering.

Be open to new points of view

So, you’ve decided to run some research with your users. Great! Now let’s make the most out of it.

We always encourage our clients to observe user research and testing as it happens. The impact of watching a tester struggle through your website will provide undeniable proof that problems exist.

But you need to be open to this evidence. On more than one occasion we have finished a session and detected some serious shade from a senior manager who didn’t like what the research was telling them.

This is counterproductive. If you are not willing to learn from the testing, then there is no point in doing it. Be open to what your users have to say, they probably have a point.

Don’t make changes based on the experience of a single user

It is easy to get carried away when undertaking user testing. The project is all set up, the first session is underway and you are scribbling notes all over the place as issue after issue is flagged up by your user.

It can seem like a good idea to rush off between sessions and fix some of the more obvious issues that this first participant raised. But we would urge you to hold fire for two reasons:

  • This tester might be an outlier and their views may not represent the norm
  • It is important that the rest of your team support the changes to be made (here’s a three step process to help you do this)

The good news is you don’t have to wait long. Our many years of research experience (and lots of evidence in the UX world) have shown that you only need a small number of testers to identify the majority of usability issues, 5 is the general rule.

By the time lunchtime arrives and you have completed 2-3 testing sessions, you will already have started to see trends. By the end of the day, with all 5 sessions complete, it will be obvious what the key issues are and, hopefully, what to do about them.

We all have our own ‘normal’, which is unlikely to be shared with anyone else in the world. This is because the experiences that created this ‘normal’ are different for all of us. When developing websites, apps or digital services, it is important to be aware of your biases, speak to your users and look for trends in the evidence to ensure the final product works for everyone, not just you.

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Topics: Usability Testing

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