Building user-centered products from a remote office
User-centered design is an iterative process that focuses on an understanding of the users and their context in all stages of design and development.
If you’re a designer, you’re probably familiar with the different design techniques around this — user interviews, surveys, card sorting, focus groups, prototype validation, etc. But with the growing popularity of remote offices and work, how can product, design, and engineering teams deeply understand users that live half a world away?
At Instawork we have two product+engineering teams — one in San Francisco and one in Bangalore. But, all our users are in the US (for now!) — so we’ve been faced with the challenge of building empathy and products for users across the globe. We’ve experimented with a few different approaches and here’s what we’ve found works for us.
1. Meet your users where they are
Ultimately, there is no real substitute for meeting your users in person and understanding their behavior in the context of where / when / how they use your product.
So, we’ve made the decision and investment to send each member of the product and design team to the US twice a year to spend time in person with the local teams and Instawork’s professionals and partners. This is expensive and time-consuming, so not a decision we’ve made lightly. But, we’ve learned that a well-executed trip can pay significant dividends if you do it well. When someone from the team goes out and spends time directly with users, everything they learn and experience ultimately gets shared with the full team back home. When one person from the team visits the US, a little bit of every other team member also gets to share in the journey.
We take preparation for these trips seriously, in order to maximize our learnings. We also try to plan trips around the beginning of each quarter so that the things we learn can impact our product roadmaps for that quarter. Here are a few things we do before each trip:
- Define a clear goal
- Build hypotheses and user questions for achieving the goal
- Build a research plan to validate our hypotheses
We plan our trips down to the hour and will have a full agenda scheduled beforehand to ensure a great use of everyone’s time.