So now that I’ve defined who I believe are the key stakeholders for a particular design, I will set up time to meet with them and begin to deeply understand their process. Their process will become my passion for the time being. I will learn everything they do beginning with their daily routine outside of the actual experience I am directly studying because often times, there may be nuances to how they perform their work based on outside factors. In particular, being able to understand the users to the point that we are able to feel the emotions they feel is critical to this process.  Once I am able to feel what users actually feel — having true empathy for the user — I can be most effective while designing a new or improved experience for them.

For example, there was an instance a few weeks ago where I was interacting with a person who I defined as one of the primary users for a new product experience I was creating. It happened to be on a shipyard in Portland and I was observing how they currently use a wearable product in their environment. The challenge we were trying to understand was where and how people wear this device on their body for different work situations. This research would eventually help the design team to define the form factor for the device and other ergonomic features to enable easy access and stowage for the device while in use.

When we arrived, it was a fairly cool summer morning and workers were just starting to arrive on the shipyard for their shifts. The critical workers wearing this device were all wearing flame-resistant clothing was is by design very thick and heavy. On top of this, they were wearing work coveralls which also added a significant amount of weight and thickness to their attire. Finally, they were wearing steel toed boots and a hard hat for obvious reasons – all required PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for this site.  In all, each person was wearing at least an extra 10 pounds of equipment which constricted their range of motion due to the thickness of the added attire.

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We stood from afar and watched workers struggle to enter into the work areas in each ship — the entrances were small oval shaped openings like you see in the image above.  With all of the added clothing and weight of their equipment, it was not a simple task to squeeze through the opening. Now, most of them had to get through 4-5 openings in order to make their way to their assigned job site.  Then we noticed something interesting…

The device they were wearing was often times removed and thrown through the opening because it would have otherwise been snagged between their body and the opening so many of them have figured out that removing this wearable device and throwing it into the other side, then retrieving it once they got through was the easiest way to make their way around the ship.  This was an eye-opening observation because this was not documented as a user scenario in the current product experience. The assumption is that once the wearable is attached to the person, it is permanently affixed to the user until the end of the work shift.

Further, we noticed that many of the workers were larger statured men who were embarrassed to admit that they have a difficult time getting through the openings even without all of the required PPE, so having to manage this extra device is something they don’t like to talk about. This was a key finding during this visit because it was something we had not considered or heard about during the phone interviews — fear or embarrassment of not being able to do their job effectively. In addition, having to wear our device was constant negative reminder to them that they weren’t able to do their job effectively as other slimmer bodied individuals.  By association, our device carried a negative connotation with it that we had not considered.

In the end, this information was just one of the key observational findings that we discovered during this trip that would have been impossible or at least very difficult to determine using traditional interview methods.