• Jason So

Embracing Ambiguity - My Experience Design Experience


On 29th May 2022, I graduated from a six-week Experience Design course run by H Academy. Before those six weeks, I was a graphic designer, a video editor, an animator. A pixel pusher. Robotic and mechanical, I created what my seniors at work told me to do. I felt stuck, I wanted to know ‘why?’. Very often I questioned myself ‘Why are we creating this? How does it benefit us or the target audience? Who IS the target audience??’. Little did I know, this was already the beginning of design thinking, I just didn’t know what it was at the time.


Key Learnings - Research

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in other people's shoes, to see things from another's perspective - what are they feeling, thinking and experiencing? In experience design and research, empathy is the thing that creates the spark. But why is this important?


In experience design, the user comes first, so it is imperative that us as researchers detach ourselves from our own assumptions, opinions and experiences. Having empathy means understanding not only the users needs, but their background, culture and any of their other attributes. This allows us to be problem spotters, what sort of pain points does a certain target group have?


Personal thought During this course, we were taught to write down what a user might say, think, feel and do in a certain situation. This felt very comfortable to me, since I've always been taught to consider other perspectives from a young age by my family.

Validation

Great, we have now found a problem to solve! Right...?

Not quite yet, YOU ≠ USER.

Having empathy is an amazing skill, but at the end of the day, that is still our own assumption. We THINK the user has a certain pain point. Well, let's go talk to the user to see if these assumptions are true or not.

But before that, we have to turn these assumptions into questions. How can we actually contact these users? Design a questionnaire to be sent out to the masses? An interview with a focus group? These are some aspects we have to consider in accordance to the nature of the project.



But... what if our assumptions are not valid?!


There are times when the assumptions we made are not the same as what the user actually thinks, does or feels. This is fine!

If you are to fail, fail fast and fail quick.

Failing early in the research phase is always better. Imagine if you spent all the time to create a product and then realized the users don't even need it? Isn't that worse?

As experience designers and researchers we must learn to accept that some assumptions will not be true, and realize it is a learning of the user in itself.


Key Learnings - Design


Iteration, re-iteration and iteration again

Nothing is ever finished, everything is a protoype. Upon hearing this, the completionist in me shed a tear. How can a product never be finished?

Once a product completes it's cycle from ideation to being pushed out to the users, the design loop begins again. From there, usability testing of the product will find new issues - people change, users change, technologies change and cultures change. It's important to understand that new problems may emerge, and we as designers and researchers need to find these and address them.



'Don't think, just do'

Ok I must admit, this quote was not from the course. It's actually from the new Top Gun movie. However, I found that it's very applicable in design, and represents something that I learnt during the course. Sometimes we judge ideas and thoughts before we even present them or say them out loud. During the ideation process in my project, I learnt to throw ideas out, no matter how idiotic or out of reach it is - we can deal with that later. These 'crazy' ideas perhaps could be tuned or changed into one that is feasible. Perhaps they could even be combined with other ideas! Don't be afraid, don't think too much, just do.


Personal thought I've always had a problem with judging my own ideas too early. Self-doubt is always present in design, but learning that there is no right or wrong answer helped me get over this hurdle.

Final Reflection

Applying for this course was definitely one of the best decisions of my career so far. Not only did I learn a lot during the course, I met some amazing people who had the same passion and interests.


Also, in addition to theories and hard skills, I developed a lot of soft skills during the course. Some examples are active listening, public speaking, storytelling and writing skills. This was particularly prevalent during the final project, where we had to manage client meetings, user interviews and a final presentation (documentation can be found here).


During this final project, I tried to take on a leader role within my group - but this didn't mean I had the final decision in everything. In fact, it was recognizing my team's strengths and weaknesses (including my own) and delegating tasks to each member, and curating a healthy environment for everyone to be comfortable with sharing ideas.


In my opinion, this course isn't only for those looking to be an Experience Designer, or have any design background, but for anyone who wants to learn to solve (and find) problems creatively.



Shoutouts A big thank you our instructor, Michael, a Global Design Director at IBM. Not only did he introduce us to new ideas and theories during the course, but also encouraged anyone to have their own point of view, as there is no right or wrong in design.


Learning facilitators Shirley and Julia, who were alumni of the course, provided a lot of support with their experience.


Julio, for the behind the scenes support, organizing equipment, stationery and most important of all - snacks in the classroom!


My fellow classmates, for being curious and willing to step forward together. Especially Sharon and To, who I worked with during the final project.