“Design thinking vs user-centered design” – Ina Ivanova & Dimiter Simov at UX Sofia

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Ina Ivanova and Dimiter Simov from SAP were talking at UX Sofia about a range of different user-centred design methodologies and terminologies to see what they had in common, and what could be useful. At the start of the session Dimiter asked those who had heard of UCD to put up their hands, and it was noticeable that a large chunk of the audience hadn’t. This is one of the reasons that I like going to events such as UX Sofia, where, when I’m talking, I don’t feel like I am preaching to a choir of the usual suspects.

Dimiter put together a tongue-in-cheek checklist of the things you need to be doing in order to be doing proper user-centred design: use sticky notes, make sketches with a variety of expensive pens and pencils, have personas with names like Vanessa and Sandy, and use lots and lots and lots of whiteboards. These people, he said, clearly “know what they are doing.” Especially if they have a long meaningless job title.

But he soon got more serious about what mattered — a focus on users. Following the lead of Eric Reiss earlier in the day, Dimiter also coined an acronym especially for the occasion. He grouped things like user-centred design and empathetic design and usability-centred design as all being examples of a DAGUP — Design approach guaranteeing usable products.

Ina Ivanova then took over the presentation to give some examples of product development where a clear focus on solving a problem for a specific sector of the market was evident in the way a business had approached solving a problem. She cited Tesco in Korea developing the ability to do your grocery shopping on your phone whilst waiting for a metro train by scanning item QR codes on posters at stations. She also showed Ideo’s work to reimagine the shape of the toothbrush so that it actually suited the motor control skills of five year olds, rather than simply handing them scaled down versions of adult toothbrushes.

Ina went on to explain a bit about “design thinking” as a process, and how a team working on a project needs to develop the critical facility to start asking if they are trying to solve the right problem, and also to allow themselves space to do “divergent thinking” before honing in on a preferred solution. As Ina put it, if you don’t allow your team to do this, “you risk spending a lot of time designing and building a product that does not solve a real problem.” One of the reasons I vastly prefer sketching to producing acres of computer-generated wireframes is not because I am lazy — although I am — but because that allows me scope to quickly rip through lots of possible solutions before homing in on a couple of options. So often, if you have to put a lot of effort into your deliverables, it limits the number of options you are able to explore.

The pair went on to describe a case study of a project at SAP where they had used “design thinking” as their methodology. Dimiter said there had been a workshop with plenty of sticky-notes, and where they “drank a lot of soda, because whiskey and other hard liquor was not allowed.” They have existing products, so are not starting designs from scratch, which means they can also watch people using the software. A key part of their workshop had been taking observational data and plotting similar user tasks on a white-board, then prioritising them.

Dimiter said one big lesson from this session had been that they had used an external facilitator. This was great, he explained, because if you are trying to do the designing and the logistics of the workshop, you cannot do both well. He also recommended that getting out of the office to be creative was very important, and that every couple of months you should ensure that you have sessions watching people use your software, to keep you familiar with your user’s needs. He finished by imploring the audience to “get a UX mindset”, and not leave it behind with them when they left UX Sofia.


My last blog post from Sofia will be my write-up of the opening session of the day, from Eric Reiss.

This is one of a series of blog posts about UX Sofia.
Designing for Micromoments: Tiny Interactions with Big Payoffs” – Stephen P. Anderson
Communicating in style” – Birgit Geiberger
Design thinking vs user-centered design” – Ina Ivanova & Dimiter Simov at UX Sofia
Turning historic adversity into business advantage” – Eric Reiss

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