Building Empathy in a Busy Product Team

  • Client

    iQmetrix

  • Role

    UX Lead

  • Period

    2017 – Ongoing

When I joined the Endless Aisle team, the product team worked in a rapid cycle of client requests, UI design, and handoff for development. I was charged with introducing user experience mindsets and processes to the team's workflow.

The Challenge

While the development cycle was polished and streamlined, the Endless Aisle team faced two key challenges:

1. “We all buy phones, we know how people shop for phones.”

No one was talking to users or watching anyone else use the product. Designs and feature validation were done based on the team’s personal experience shopping for phones.

2. As a result of excitement around creating new things, the product became a feature pile.

It's easier to say “Yes!” than “No, but...” Endless Aisle was trying to be everything to everyone.

The challenges were clear:

  • How can we build empathy for the users among a talented team of developers, business analysts, and designers?
  • How can we give the product team a low-cost, approachable introduction to user experience research without interrupting existing workloads?
  • How can we begin building a culture that recognizes the value of user research and usability testing?

Process

Our team was made up of talented and driven developers, business analysts, and designers. People who spend their days elbow-deep in technology—on their computers, phones, and specifically in Endless Aisle. They knew the product inside and out. They had too much expertise, too much context. The team needed to rediscover the end user.

I designed a “minimum viable usability testing” scenario for team members to carry out with Endless Aisle. At the end of every week, I sent Endless Aisle home with a different team member, and asked them to “show it to your family and friends and watch them use it.” Team members received a minimal structure that they could follow—they could give some context around where Endless Aisle would be encountered, and why they might be using it (e.g. if they didn't find the product they were looking for).

The idea was simple: give everyone on the team a chance to watch “real people” use Endless Aisle. Look for places where people struggled, for places where they got confused, and also where they enjoyed the product, and what made them happy.

Results

Team members spent their weekends watching their partners, parents, and peers use Endless Aisle as they ran their very first usability test. The result was a new and growing sense of empathy for our users. The team became invested in improving the existing experience along with creating new features. It became easier to say “No, but...” when there were aspects of the existing experience that needed help—that they had seen with their own eyes.

Because of this project, the culture within the organization is showing signs of change. Usability testing has become an important and expected part of the product development process.

Here’s what some team members had to say:

“It was useful to see others using Endless Aisle, because it reminded me that not everyone uses the UI the same way I do—especially when there’s multiple ways to accomplish the same task. There were UI interactions that I was taking for granted.”

“It was really the only way to remove our own biases and just see what people would do with Endless Aisle.”

“I thought it was extremely valuable. It brought a lot of our assumptions on how intuitive Endless Aisle was under scrutiny. It was helpful to be able to watch someone first hand interact with the software, so that we could see every pause, miss-click, signs of frustration or confusion, etc. I also liked hearing the thoughts from someone without a technical background as majority of the people in our office are all technically inclined.”

“As someone who works on it every day, it was helpful to see Endless Aisle from a user’s perspective. There were some interesting outcomes based on insights into which features are most effective and which tend to be overlooked.”

“We gained direct feedback from people who had no preconceived notions of what our software was supposed to do, what value it provided, or how things were supposed to work. I think there were some fairly minor UI changes that came out of the project that had a big impact on how people used Endless Aisle. We also were able to validate some flows that we weren’t sure about.

"You get to see exactly how people use the software, which lets you test that against how you think people are going to use it.”