|Photo: Holly E. Morris|
Remember back in seventh grade when your friends didn't like each other and they tried to make you choose between them? You struggled because they each had good qualities that they didn't see in each other, but you did. Why couldn't they just all get along?
We've had a long relationship with efficiency, and it's just getting stronger as resources become more scarce. Budget cuts are real. Sky-high, middle-class eroding tuition is real. We don't have unlimited money (never mind that we could have a LOT MORE if we changed some of our priorities, but that's a different blog).
We have to make college more affordable. We can't afford to turn our backs on the demands of efficiency. Here's the thing: it's forcing us to neglect an important aspect of our relationship with students and other stakeholders. We need to be just as close to the concept of user-centered design as we are to efficiency, but there's an inherent conflict there. User-centered design isn't efficient. Or is it?
Getting Close to Users
In a recent webinar, we talked about the tools to really understanding our stakeholders and students. In order to truly grasp the things they want and need from us, we need to understand who they are, what makes them tick, what slows them down. According to this infographic:
- People are on the internet an average of 27x a day
- Most people won't watch a video longer than 4 minutes
- People unlock their phones an average of 9x a hour
- 80% of workforce learning is on the job via interactions with peers, teammates and managers (58.7% of the webinar found this to the most salient of these four facts)
The parent-supported, dorm-living, 20-year-old college student is becoming an exotic idea. The 25-year-old +, independent, immigrant/minority, working-with-a kid or two is becoming the norm. (See this blog about the characteristics of modern learners.) They share some (but not all of the same) needs and concerns.
Employers are absorbing these demographic shifts alongside massive cultural shifts, like expectations of flexibility, preference for certain benefits over salary, men taking paternal leave—the list is endless. Like the graduates they are expected to hire, employer stakeholders are not well understood by higher education.
In order to really bridge these gaps of understanding, we have to engage in techniques like:
- Individual interviews to reveal nuance and detail around needs
- Group interviews to uncover the extremes (including both positive and negative) regarding user experience
- Immersion studies (using camcorders, journals and onsite embedded observation)
You can check out the slides and recording.
Efficiency + User-Centered Design
Now, it's no secret that engaging in user-centered design costs money. When compared to our usual methods for designing programs (surveys or just plain guessing), it costs a lot more on the front end. Creating prototypes based on that information costs money (even small prototypes take time, talent, and money). And there's always the very real possibility of that the prototype with "fail" (i.e., produce a result that supports scrapping the idea instead of scaling it). Our relationship with efficiency can hardly tolerate these realities. It's enough to flat out stop most people from engaging in user-centered design processes.
Can we reframe this relationship so there's room for us to attend to both efficiency and user-centered design? We can, but it's sort of like ending world hunger. We have the means to ensure that every person on the planet has food, but it requires a certain mindset, different priorities, and a kind of will we haven't found yet.
Source: EDUCAUSE Review