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User-centred design is a methodology that DNA has fully embraced across our practice, both in digital and across experience and service design projects. With this methodology we first get an understanding about the business and what they know about their users. Sometimes it’s a bit more complex in that there can delineations of in-house users, end users and sometimes secondary users. Once we’ve learnt what our client knows, we often challenge that knowledge, not because we doubt our clients but because it’s healthy to have a fresh think about it. It gives us a chance to shed more light on areas of confusion or gaps in understanding. 

When our clients hire us to do user research, it also allows us to clean out any bias that might have crept into their understanding. This is a common scenario and one that naturally occurs over time. It’s why user research should be conducted and why that body of insight should be kept relevant, accessible across all functions in a business – and up to date as an ongoing business tool. We live in a dynamic time, where technology and social landscapes are changing fast. Device evolution, business direction changes, new competitor models, product and service innovation are only some of factors that bolster this need for user understanding.

When both DNA and our clients have a research-based understanding of users, we can make balanced business and design decisions based on behaviours, motivations, and goals. This helps us create solutions that are tailored to those users and their specific needs. It provides us a checklist of interactions and features that the product will need to have to make the users successful, and in the best cases, happy.

User-centered design helps us build empathy for the user and in turn produce innovative concepts from which we can build prototypes. These prototypes are often tested with the very same people who sat with us in the research phase and they’re the ones who should validate the concepts we’ve created, not the client. The client has an important role in helping us understand how to transition our prototype in a live product. Our in-house development team does a smashing good job at producing responsive, band-width sensitive, and cutting-edge code but we often need direction on how other channels like marketing campaigns and IT will influence the build-out.

User-centered design methodology can be mapped out in three phases. In the Discovery Phase we learn directly from the user about what they need and want in the product or service. In the Prototyping Phase we innovate around those needs, building a prototype and then iterating on it based on testing feedback. In the Development Phase we bring the product to fruition, with blood, sweat and code. The beauty of user-centered design is that during all three phases we never stray from the users core goals and needs, always have them involved and therefore ensure that what we delivery is delightfully on target.

At DNA, we push our disciplines to work in integrated ways, to find efficiency, and maximise opportunities to leverage customer insight throughout a project lifecycle. As an example, we've successfully combined user research and user testing to ensure we make all our design decisions with an understanding of users needs and motivations. Testing can often be quite narrow in its focus, and managed as an activity which can loose sight of the users overarching context and goals. 

As we see a further shift towards the 'customisation of experiences' in order to take people on focused, contextually relevant journeys, user-centred design will become all the more vital as a business tool. 

Pete Fecteau _ UX Designer.