It is the users that ultimately determine whether a product is successful on the market or not. The PCV Group already incorporates this ethos at the product development stage, by making the needs of the user a focal point. User Centred Design (UCD) is the approach that a team of five is continuously improving for client projects of the Enschede-based product developers, without losing sight of their technical background. Industrial designer Bram Norp provides valuable insight.
Why is User Centred Design so important?
We believe that for innovative solutions to be truly accepted, they absolutely have to take the user’s perspective into account. Ignoring the needs of users has its consequences. There’s no shortage of examples where components prove to be unsuitable just before they go into production and get sent back to the drawing board. The earlier UCD plays a fundamental role in development, the better.
How dynamic is this topic?
The main role of the PCV Group traditionally lies in technology and engineering know-how. As our projects steer closer towards comprehensive product and system development, it is becoming increasingly important for us to adopt a user-oriented approach. We have noticed that UCD is growing in importance in our markets, as well as for our clients. The topic is multi-faceted with various dimensions.
In what ways?
Firstly, one should ask why someone needs a product at all. What requirements does a user have of a product? It is just as important to know if these demands are ultimately fulfilled. This means taking the right actions. Furthermore, UCD should guarantee practical products that create a comfortable user experience. In other words, this also means taking the right actions in the right way.
At the PCV Group, among other things, our work is based on UCD as defined by ISO 9241-210. According to this, one can identify three key principles. First of all, a conceptual design based on the understanding of a user’s situation, the tasks to be carried out with the help of the product, and the surroundings or context in which the user acts. Secondly, user considerations are incorporated throughout the entire design and development process. And thirdly, the design is later optimised further, based on a continuous user-focussed assessment. According to our own definition, we strive to create a highly developed and fully functioning product that is simple to operate, user-friendly and specifically tailored for a certain user group. This encompasses understanding the user and their context, as well as being able to incorporate them into the creative process. For this purpose, we observe and analyse their behaviour, as well as interacting with it. In this way, we account for the user experience as precisely as possible.
Where does the PCV Group come in?
We apply UCD to the entire development process and continuously expand our toolbox on this foundation. We would like to integrate user voices throughout the whole process, which implies monitoring their requirements, their needs and the attractiveness of a product at any given time, and always integrating UCD with our scientific and technical engineering background.
A project consists of a number of stages, from definition to concept development, through to production. UCD plays a significant role primarily in the earlier phases of the development process, when a product is designed, as well as the concept of the final product, which is why it is imperative to incorporate the product user into the process as early as possible. During the initial phase, this is mainly through research, interviews and observation. Once the concept begins to develop, it may be tested in consultation with users, and prototypes also come into play. One can therefore test as early as possible whether a product does indeed fulfil the wants and needs of users. The discussion involved in analysing a use-flow is a process that lends valuable insight. The use-flow is a visual representation of the intended use of a product. This information is obtained by means of a thorough analysis of related products, interviews with stakeholders, user observations and discussions with clients. From this low-threshold starting point, we can identify the potential to optimise the project from the point of view of its application. The resulting ideas are then factored into the design process, where they then have to be validated in user tests.
Can you provide a practical example?
Of course, there are plenty! There is usually a kick-off phase, where we speak to clients and other stakeholders in-depth and collect as much information as possible. Based on this information, we then carry out a use-flow analysis and visualisation.
One client, for example, asked us to improve an existing theft prevention system, but the most important aspect in this project was not the technology, but user behaviour. The central question dealt with how this could be influenced. In order to develop a deep understanding of the problem, we created user profiles and application scenarios for the main types of user. We went to shops, spoke with managers and experts, and explored a variety of possible scenarios. Within the framework of this use-flow analysis, we developed a comprehensive understanding of which aspects were particularly relevant, where there was potential for improvement, why users behave in a certain way, and how their behaviour could be influenced. We presented the insights we obtained to the client and, together with them, came up with positive solutions to the problem.