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5 July 2021

Better together: How human-centred researchers and designers can collaborate better


A recent cross-over meet-up between our Research and Design communities in Hippo led to some great insights about how we can best support each other as a Human-Centred Design team.

We started out with some brutal honesty, answering questions like “The thing that no-one’s ever dared tell designers is…” (A: “Those cartoons of themselves on Slack make them all look really unoriginal”) and “I always cringe when…” We then took some time to think about how we could better work together while building and delivering services.

Here are our tips for designers and researchers:

Ways for Designers to support researchers

1. Get involved in research as much as you can

As a note-taker, an observer, someone to debrief with afterwards (research can be emotionally draining), and someone to bounce ideas off while a researcher is doing their thing. Also, consider working together to help playbacks land better with a bit of design and visual magic. Playbacks are about telling a story, and getting involved helps the UCD team get on the same page before feeding back to stakeholders and the wider team!

2. Involve researchers in the design iteration process

Once you’ve heard the great insights that a researcher has brought together, they want to be involved in designing ways to improve the service for users — invite them! Rely on their insights, expertise, and their depth of understanding of your users — and call on them for input.

3. Challenge stakeholders who don’t see the value of research or user needs

As a UCD team, we know the importance of research in designing the right thing. This isn’t true for everyone involved in the process. As a team, it’s our job to advocate for the user, and for hearing the user’s voice through research. This can mean fighting for research insights to be part of the process — to the wider team and to stakeholders.

4. If a design doesn’t research well, you may need to let it go

Don’t argue with what research colleagues are telling you. Sometimes a design doesn’t research well, and this challenges our assumptions, and that’s all part of the process of iterative design.

5. Relate design decisions back to the UR insights

We are evidence-based designers, which means we will relate our designs back to what the research is actually telling us. Explain to stakeholders exactly how the research has influenced your design decisions, so they can see the value of research and how it informs the entire process.

Ways for researchers to support designers

1. Involve designers in the research process, even in the planning phase

Ask designers what questions they want to get answered, what assumptions they have that need testing, and what hypotheses they have about what has been designed, and explain which research methodology is most appropriate. Invite them along to research sessions so they can observe and note-take. Research is a really important part of a designer’s job, and they want to be involved.

2. Let designers know what good note-taking looks like, and what you need from them

We all want to make sure we get the most valuable insights from user research, so if a designer is taking notes in a way that means you struggle to analyse and synthesise the notes — let them know.

3. Ensure that findings are appropriate, useful, relevant and do not solutionise too soon

It’s really helpful for designers if observations and findings are linked to specific interactions or parts of a journey (where appropriate). Also, using HMW statements rather than solutionising (“Make this link bold!”) in your recommendations can help in the next phase of design. There is definitely a time and place for designing solutions — and researchers should be involved in this process (ahem, look at point 2 above designers!) but including these in a playback can sometimes hamper creativity and collaboration.

4. Engage us with your playbacks or Show and Tells

Include an executive summary for stakeholders and team members who are time-poor; include visuals that relate back to the insight you’re talking about so we can see what the user was seeing at that point; add verbatim quotes to help us connect with the user.

5. Share the positives

So much of UR can be about finding usability issues but there are often really positive insights too — please share these with the team, we’d love to hear them!

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