Tag Archives: user-centric

How using empathy can help build better systems and products

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
University of Coventry

The Business Analysis Conference Europe 2018

Following on from my earlier posts about convergence, creativity and customer focus, today’s article looks at another of the themes which were prevalent throughout the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018.
There was still a hint of summer in the air even as the first of the leaves were changing when I found myself in Westminster attending the conference courtesy of UCISA’s annual personal development bursary for those working in the education sector. Sitting writing this in my festive jumper just days before Christmas, September feels like a long time ago.
Given the time of year, in the words of Charles Dickens “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; … when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely”, it is perhaps apt that today’s subject is empathy. It seemed that the concept of empathy was touched upon explicitly or implicitly in every session I attended at the conference.

Empathy in design thinking

Given that the first stage of design thinking is ‘Empathise’ (see below) and one of the other key areas of focus at the conference was customer experience, it is perhaps not a surprise that empathy was discussed frequently and in some depth in this context.

Design thinking is defined by Gartner as a “multidisciplinary process that builds solutions … in a technically feasible, commercially sustainable and emotionally meaningful way”. Activities undertaken, particularly in this first stage, seek to understand the thoughts, emotions and feelings of a customer or user on their journey with an organisation and its digital touchpoints.
In their Digital Customer Journeys workshop, Andrej Gustin (CREA Plus) & Igor Smirnov (NETICA) presented a useful approach and template for capturing these emotions at various touchpoints of the user’s journey to identify focus areas for improvement. At a very high level, the approach can be summarised as follows:
  1. Identify key touchpoints, then for each touchpoint:
  • Understand current process and user experience
  • Identify current customer emotion/feelings
  • Identify desired customer emotion/feelings and experience
  • Prioritise processes for improvement based on a gap analysis of current to desired customer state.
  1. For prioritised processes, brainstorm improvements.
I was particularly interested in this prioritisation of focus area by customer experience, rather than a traditional quantifiable benefit, which I felt demonstrated a real paradigm shift towards customer and user-centric systems design.

Empathy as a skill of the future

Empathy was also discussed from a social perspective, as we explored the human factor in a digital society, where robots, AI and interactions driven by algorithms are fast becoming a part of our everyday lives.
It is undeniable that many jobs formerly carried out by humans are now carried out partially, if not entirely, by machines. This has been increasingly evident in the manufacturing sector with progressively more elements of manufacturing production lines being automated since the 1970s. Footage of a car manufacturing plant in the early 20th century, compared to a modern-day plant illustrate the transition from a busy factory thriving with human workers, to a rather clinical environment where robotic arms move in an eerily human manner to select and assemble components.
However, this automation is not restricted to the manufacturing sector, which has traditionally been an early adopter of automation technologies. The service industry, a sector perhaps traditionally associated with human-delivered customer service, is also automating roles. When I visit a supermarket, I often choose to use the self-scan tills, interacting with (often quite frustrating) AI rather than a human cashier. Where eight members of staff would have processed transactions and exchanged pleasantries with customers ten years ago, one member of staff can supervise the same number of self-service tills, only intervening when the somewhat rudimentary AI (inevitably) reaches its limitations. When shopping online, I am as likely to consult a chatbot or self-service customer support tool as a member of the customer service team.
Thirty years ago such sophisticated technology belonged to the fantasy world of sci-fi movies. It was unthinkable that real-life technology would progress at such a rate to replace jobs with such a key human element to them. Yet with technological advances and the rate of change at an all-time-high the media, researchers and technological commenters are now speculating about the next tranche of job roles to be replaced by robots in the coming years and decades.
So, should we be concerned that we will one day be replaced by robots, rendered redundant by such seductive promises as “a jetliner pilot who never makes a mistake, never gets tired, never shows up to work with a hangover”*?
Meryl Streep once said “the greatest gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy”. Though significant research is being undertaken to develop synthetic empathy in AI, developing facial expression recognition technology and crunching millions of data points to build increasingly intelligent algorithms and so-called learning capabilities, for now it seems that true empathy remains a uniquely human ability. Shortly before the Business Analysis Europe Conference 2018, The World Economics Forum released their ‘Future of Jobs Report 2018’. In his Day 2 opening keynote speech, the IIBA’s Nick De Voil highlighted the top ten key skills trends for today and projections for 2022. It was notable how many ‘soft’ and ‘human’ workplace skills were listed as those which would endure despite predicted technological advancements. These key skills include emotional intelligence, initiative and social influencing, all of which require empathy. This perhaps implies an expectation that our technological advancements will continue to fail to satisfactorily emulate and replace such human abilities; those intrinsic traits of human nature of relating to others, reading non-verbal cues and making ‘human’ decisions.

Empathy in wellbeing

There was also emphasis on remembering that we and our co-workers are not suit-wearing robots. We are humans, with great potential for creativity, innovation, love and resourcefulness, but we are also subject to emotions, feelings, health problems and complicated personal lives.
Oxford Dictionaries succinctly define empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. In his exciting Stakeholder Skills for Drug Busts session, National Grid’s Charlie Payne introduced the behaviour/attitude cycle (see below) when explaining the importance of being aware of the impact a person can have on others.

He explained that an individual’s attitude is reflected in their behaviour. This behaviour then influences the attitude of others, which in turn influences their behaviour and so on. Whilst this can be used positively, it all too often can have negative consequences on relationships and communication when the individuals involved are not practising Emotional Intelligence (EI).
With the recent societal drive to remove the stigma often traditionally associated with mental health, it was encouraging to find the subject addressed and discussed openly by a number of speakers at the conference.
Craig Rollason, also of National Grid, in his inspiring The BA Bucket List keynote advocated the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in understanding colleagues and stakeholders and the reasons for their behaviour.
Rollason also presented a challenge/support matrix model which he explained can be used to analyse and grow awareness of an individual’s current work and career state. The model indicates that the best environment for career and personal development would be one where an individual is feeling challenged but supported. Rollason was however careful to note that some individuals may be experiencing high challenge and low support in their personal lives and subsequently may be in need of what Rollason coined ‘the duvet zone’ at work (low challenge and high support).
For me this was a rather unexpected example of empathy in such a professional setting, where sometimes there is an expectation of ‘leave your personal life at the door’ and ‘always be professional’. It was a welcome recognition that in reality, as humans, it is not always possible to switch emotions and personal distractions on and off at will, particularly in the modern world where technology has blurred the lines between work and personal time and space.

Empathy as an holistic practice

In summary, my top empathy takeaways were that whilst we can use empathy as a tool to better understand our customers and users to build better systems and products, we can also use it to understand our colleagues and understand their motivations, beliefs, attitudes and the root causes behind these. This enables us to build stronger working relationships, understand how to better interact and deal with our stakeholders and how to care for our colleagues when they need extra support.
We can also exercise empathy towards ourselves, valuing and appreciating our skills, finding our place in the world, respecting and drawing on our experiences and being proud of these. When practising emotional intelligence, self-awareness is also important as we consider how our behaviour and attitude influences that of others.
So, in the words of William S. Preston and Theodore Logan, this festive season and into the new year, “be excellent to each other” (and “party on dudes”)*. A very happy Christmas to you all and your families.

*Ten points if you get the movie references – and some classic 90s movie recommendations for the holidays!
Coming Soon…
In addition to convergence, creativity, customer focus and empathy, the following concepts arose time and again at Business Analysis Europe 2018, being discussed and explored in the majority of the sessions I attended:
  • Continuous Learning
  • Catastrophising
Watch this space in the New Year for the next installment!
This blog was originally published at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/business-analysis-conference-europe-2018-empathy-rachel-drinkwater.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Seeking user experience design inspiration

Kat Husbands
Digital Content Officer
University of Glasgow

UX Week 2018, San Francisco

Thanks to the UCISA bursary scheme, I’ve come from Glasgow to San Francisco for UX Week 2018. It’s awfy pretty here, though I have been accused of bringing the Scottish ‘summer’ with me. 
UX Week is a ‘premier’ annual conference, now in its 16th year, with a fantastic reputation for delivering ‘new tools you can put to use immediately’. As a self-taught user experience researcher, and leader of a grassroots project to build a UX Framework for my University, I like the sound of that very much. 
In my work on internally-facing websites and digital systems at the University of Glasgow, I try to employ the UX mindset and methods at all times. This helps me defeat my assumptions and produce data-driven content that solves our users’ actual problems in ways that are intuitive to them.

Levelling up and sharing the love

Over the next four days, I aim to level-up my UX skills and toolkit, and pick up lots of tips on how to communicate the benefits of UX, especially to senior management.
I will channel my new knowledge into my University’s drive towards user-centred services, and share it with other universities through the Scottish Web Folk group, the HE-Digital Slack channel, and here on the UCISA blog.

Learning from the best

The range of speakers looks amazing: as well as UX researchers and designers we’ll be hearing from academics, authors, project managers, CEOs, founders and futurists. Content themes include accessibility and inclusivity, the ethics and social power of design, and how we might imagine the future into being.
As well as two full days of talks, I’ll also be attending four half-day workshops. These promise to be practical, hands-on and pretty intense:
• Maps & Markers: Enacting a Strategy to Transform Your Design Team
• Paying Better Attention to the Problem
• We’ve Done All This Research, Now What?
• Just Show the Data! How to Design Better Data Visualizations.

Community of practice

As much as all the scheduled stuff, I can’t wait to be surrounded by user experience professionals from loads of different backgrounds and industries; in my experience so far, UXers are utterly lovely people.
And of course the organisers of a conference about human-centred experience design, have designed in plenty of fun, human experiences: amongst other things, the social programme includes trips to a street food festival and SF’s Exploratorium…I think it’s going to be a good week.
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme. 

What’s the reality with Virtual Reality?

David Vince
Senior Product Development Manager, Learning and Teaching Innovation
The Open University

Realities 360

As a senior product development manager in the Learning Innovation team at the Open University, my role is to work with colleagues to enhance teaching and learning through developing new products (i.e. tools and platforms) and supporting processes.
Earlier this year, I received a UCISA bursary enabling me to attend Realities 360. It bills itself as a hands-on event for early adopters and learning technologists to investigate first-hand Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and other simulations for learning which fall under the umbrella term of Extended Reality (XR).

What’s the reality with Virtual Reality?

Here are my reflections from Realities 360:
  1. What’s the problem VR can solve?
VR technology is still emergent. So, how do we use this new technology to do something existing tools, tech and media, don’t already enable without risk of being accused of ‘technology drive’ (as opposed to ‘pedagogy driven’) solutions? My personal take is that neither are desirable and, in fact, they need to be mutually supportive which leads nicely on to the following…
  1. Human-centred design
Find your problem. Opt for a user centric approach. IDEO have a design kit to get you started developing empathy with users and gain better insights into their needs/context. If your product has value to your users, they’re more likely to adopt it.
  1. Start small, pilot, evaluate and (re)iterate
It’s easy to be critical of emergent technologies. Best practice hasn’t emerged so we’re all learning: start small, learn and then (re)iterate.
  1. ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’
This is something that has been said within our team but something Linas Mockus and Joseph Scott, Instructional Designers at Penn State World Campus, Penn State’s online campus, pointed out twice in their presentation entitled ‘Is online education ready for VR and 360 video’. Linas and Joseph are and plan to make their research findings public. In the meantime, you might want to take a look at the news pages of Penn State’s website.
Higher education has been slow to adopt VR but there seemed to be plenty of like-minded colleagues from higher education in this session. At present, AR/VR simulation conferences seem to have a bias towards the training sector but there’s an obvious need for mechanisms for educators to share practice and learn from each other.
  1. xAPI might be your new best friend
VR experiences generate a lot of data as they’re computer mediated. Some of this is structured data, such as responses to in-experience questions however, there’s also unstructured data, such as what users are looking at, determining the meaning of their responses (e.g. sentiment analysis) etc. The ‘x’ in xAPI is short for “experience,” and gives a deeper level of behavioural insight taking things that aren’t structured and giving them structure, e.g. by recording who did what, what was done, what it was done to (i.e. an object) and a host of contextual data.
xAPI is well worth considering to get a better insight into what your learners are doing and gauge that learning has taken place by designing in activities/tasks that you set out to monitor. This will improve the experience and reduce reliance on those in-experience questions which I’ve seen lots of over the past few days.
Thanks UCISA for the bursary enabling me to attend Realities 360. During my time here, I’ve met colleagues travelling from as far away as South Africa who, like me, haven’t found conferences closer to home that fit the bill.
This blog first appeared on the Open University, Learning Innovation blog
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Disruptive statistics, Linux containers, extreme web performance for mobile devices

Giuseppe Sollazzo

 

 

 

Giuseppe Sollazzo
Senior Systems Analyst
St George’s, University of London

 

 

 

 

Day one at the Velocity conference, Amsterdam

What a first day! O’Reilly Velocity, the conference I’m attending thanks to a UCISA bursary, is off to a great start with a first day oriented to practical activities and hands-on workshops. The general idea of these workshops is to build and maintain large-scale IT systems enhancing their performances. Let me provide you with a quick summary of the workshops I have attended.

Statistics for Engineers
A statistics workshop at 9.30am is something that most would find soul-destroying, but this was a great introduction on how to use statistics in an engineering context – in other words, how to apply statistics to reality in order to gather information with the goal of taking action.

Statistics is, indeed, very simple maths and its difficult yet powerful bits allow practitioners to understand situations and predict their outcomes.

This workshop illustrated how to apply statistical methods to datasets generated by user applications: support requests, server logs, website visits. Why is this important? Very simply because service levels need to be planned and agreed upon very carefully. The speaker showed some examples of this. In fact, the title of this workshop should have been “Statistics for engineers and managers”: usage statistics help allocate resources (do we need more? can we reuse some?) and, in turn, financial budgets.

The workshop illustrated how to generate descriptive statistics and also how to use several mathematical tools for forecasting the evolution of service levels. We have had some experience with data collection and evaluation at St George’s University of London, and this workshop has definitely helped refine the tools and reasoning we will be applying.

Makefile VPS
This talk presented itself as a super-geeky session about Linux containers. Containers are a popular way to manage web services that does not require a full-fledged physical or virtual server. They can be easily built, deployed, and managed. However, they are rarely properly understood.

The engineer who presented this workshop showed how in his company, SoundCloud,  they build their own containers to power a “virtual lab” in order to simulate failures and train their engineers to react. His technique, based on scripts that build and launch containers at the press of the “Enter” button, is an effective solution both for quick prototyping and production deployment whenever docker or other commercial/free solutions are not a viable option (due to funding or complexity).

As much as this was quite a hard core session, it was good to see how services can be run in a way that makes their performances very easy to manage. This is definitely something that I will be sharing with my IT colleagues.

Extreme web performance for mobile devices
A lightweight (so to say!) finale to the day, discussing how mobile websites present a diverse range of performance issues and what techniques can be used to test and improve. However, the major contribution from this session was to share some truly extraordinary statistics about mobile traffic and browsers.

For example, the fact that on mobile 75% of traffic is from browser and 25% from web views (i.e. from apps) – 40% of which is from Facebook. Of course, these stats change from country to country and this makes it hard to launch a website with a single audience in mind. For universities, this becomes incredibly important in terms of international students recruitment.

Similarly shocking, we have learnt that the combination of Safari and Chrome, the major mobile browsers reach 93% on WiFi networks but only 88% on 3G networks; this suggests that connections speeds still matter to people, who might opt for different, more traffic-efficient browsers in connectivity-challenged environments (for example, OperaMini goes up from 1% to 4%)

One good practical piece of advice is to adopt the RAIL Approach, promoted by Google, which is a user-centric performance model that takes into consideration four aspects of performance: response, animation, idle time and loading. The combination of these aspects, each of which has its own ‘maximum allowed time’ before the user gets frustrated or abandons the activity, requires a delicate balance.

There was also some good level of discussion around the very popular “responsive web design”, a technique that has become a goal in itself. The speaker suggested that this should be just a tool, rather than a goal: users don’t care about “responsive”, they care about “fast”. Never forget the users is a good motto for everyone working in IT.

Summary
Velocity’s first day has been a very hands on day. The overall take-home lesson is simple: managing performance requires some sound science, but with adequate tools and resources it’s not impossible to do it on a shoestring budget and in an effective way. As I’m an advocate of internal resource control and management with respect to outsourcing, today’s talks have surely provided me with some great insight on how to achieve this smartly.

Aside from this summary, I’ve also been taking some technical notes, which are available here and will also contain notes from the future sessions.