Talk Tech To Me – User Centered Software Design

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Here is Sue Spolan’s summary of my Talk Tech To Me interview:

User Centered Software Design: The Secret to Success 

Consumers interact with software many times a day. It might be a mobile app like Instagram, or a web app like Gmail, and while users don’t think a whole lot about the underlying design, it’s an essential part of getting the customer experience right. It’s the secret to a successful software solution. 

Peter Fleming is the head of user experience at Chariot Solutions. His job is to lead the creation of  user-centered software. He aims to truly understand the user before developers write the first line of code. It’s how Chariot is able to unite business goals with customer experience. Pete addressed a challenge for a startup that had a hybrid software/hardware solution using design principles.

“The barrier to entry for creating software these days is much lower than it used to be. Anybody in their basement can spin up a piece of software, whereas it used to take tons of people with tons of expertise a long time and a lot of money to develop a software solution. There’s a lot more potential competition out there,” said Peter. “It’s becoming more important to make sure that what you build is best for the user the first time out.”

According to Peter, design should be threaded throughout the entire project. “It’s working hand in hand with the product side, and keeping business goals and objectives in mind as we’re designing. And it’s also working hand in hand with the developers to make sure that they have a voice throughout the process.”

User Centered Software Design in Action

A Hardware as a Service startup, with hardware and supporting software platform, came to Chariot for help. They had built an MVP, a minimum viable product. It was good for what they needed at the time. But the product wasn’t scalable, and it wasn’t very customer friendly. The startup had worked with a design consultancy that helped figure out look and feel. Without UX best practices in place, the consultancy had missed an opportunity to incorporate user feedback.

Chariot’s discovery session revealed high level business objectives. “The initial step is to do a deep dive with the client and relevant stakeholders. We develop a further discovery plan. In this case, it meant doing interviews with pilot as well as potential clients. Our first job was to talk to clients, and try to extract what they found valuable, and what they wanted in this interface,” said Peter.

A diagramming session helped take the initial hypothesis Chariot had about the software and turn it into wireframes and a prototype, which was shared with potential and current customers. “We learned from that prototype that we got a lot of things right, and we got a few things wrong. And we learned about a few things that we hadn’t even thought about,” explained Peter. 

These vital information gathering summits gave Chariot tools to create the next version of user friendly prototypes and visual designs. “In a short period of time, we were able to glean a lot and make sure we were on the right footing moving forward.” The discovery phase was a success.

From Prototype to Product

Early stage startups require this kind of deep dive discovery process. “They’re worried about whether they’re even solving a problem that needs solving. In an established business, there is a problem and they’ve solved it. The challenge is to figure out how to solve it a little bit better,” said Peter. “But with a startup, a lot of times you’re figuring out if this is really something that needs to be solved and monetized. What’s the biggest core assumption that, if we’re wrong, this whole business doesn’t work? Let’s validate that as quickly and as efficiently as possible. And then we move on to the next assumption.

“We really listened to the clients and gathered great insights. We developed a good roadmap to make sure that we identified the desired outcomes for users, and the opportunities to get there.” Add to that all the tactical, ground level ideas, the features and functionalities that can be included, and the Chariot team could be sure that it achieved all the objectives for a successful business.