Experts Blog

Embracing Change With Human-centered Design

  • Mayumi Sugaya

What does it take for human-centered design (HCD) to work? For it not just to remain lip service? The usual answers sound like the titles of self-help books: Look at the bigger picture. Think outside the box. Try a new approach.

Of course, that’s all easier said than done. Especially if you are a large company with several divisions, numerous stakeholders and close ties to the government.

When we optimized post.ch, we kept a strict focus on the user. After a short but in-depth research phase, we tested prototypes based on realistic scenarios very early in the project. This helped us make courageous decisions and bring about real change.

Why “Human”, Not “User”?

But first of all: Who are these “humans”? In the case of the new Swiss Post website, those “humans” are the users, that is:

  • all of Switzerland: personal customers of all ages with the entire set of skills and issues that people may have,
  • job applicants,
  • journalists,
  • politicians,
  • small and medium-sized enterprises,
  • large enterprises.

And in particular:

  • the group of companies itself, represented by stakeholders from various divisions with their own interests,
  • the brand and UX guardians within Swiss Post,
  • dozens, if not hundreds of Product Owners at Swiss Post.
The key is trust. This trust originates in a shared goal: We all want to solve the same problem.

Diplomacy Replaces Consulting

Nobody likes to feel like they are being talked into something. How often do consultants walk that fine line?

The best way to convince people is “from within” and with diplomacy. The key to that is trust. This trust originates in a shared goal: We all want to solve the same problem.

Putting it differently: If you have a good solution, don’t sell the solution. Show people that you have understood the problem and how you can solve it. The rest will fall into place.

Sacrificing Sacred Cows

Making big changes usually requires people to part with fixed views. But this is a world full of sacred cows: ingrained structures and long-standing practices. Any questions as to why will usually be answered with a version of “we’ve always done it this way”.

This resistance is hardly surprising. Imagine a world where everything is running smoothly, and all of a sudden, a group of rowdy rebels bursts through the door and wants to change everything.

In her role as UX architect at Unic, Mayumi Sugaya is the users' advocate.
In her role as UX architect at Unic, Mayumi Sugaya is the users' advocate.

The HCD Joker

This is where human-centered design comes into play. UX experts are the users’ advocates. This is the HCD joker, the demand side. Without the demand side, things won’t work. We build bridges for the end users by making their perspective, their preferences and their behavior visible through research.

An Example of User-centered Decisions at Swiss Post

One example was the new page title of “Franking Parcels”. From an internal point of view, this title is wrong, because the term franking suggests “sticking a stamp on it”. Stamps, however, are only for letters. Parcels need a parcel sticker. The stakeholders in question insisted the page had to be named “Preparing Parcels for Shipment”.

These are the facts we presented to support the title “Franking Parcels”:

  • A Google Trends request with both terms: “Franking Parcels” was much more popular.
  • A comparison with a large competitor: They also wrote “Franking Parcels”.

What does that tell us? If the language of experts differs from that of customers, the language of the customers wins out in the market. To put it differently: If I want to be found, sometimes I have to accept a term in my title that may not be 100% correct. I can explain that in the content.

Taking the Roundabout Way

Sometimes, there are not enough resources to use HCD methods by the book. Is it better to not do it at all, then? Of course not.

With the Swiss Post website, we realized early on: The website will have to advise and assist. Providing assistance with a low threshold was particularly important. Many customers – for instance from small companies - had similar and relatively simple requests. We made it our goal to provide assistance for them on the website. But who might be able to provide the necessary input?

Systematic user research with SMEs would have gone beyond the scope of the project. Instead, we turned to those people who know both sides really well: The entire width and breadth of what Swiss Post has to offer, including all the intricacies and exceptions, and also the needs of their customers. These were, of course the very patient customer service representatives at Swiss Post, perfect at building bridges. Through their day-to-day work, they have already done a vast amount of user research.

When capturing their input, we stuck to the 80/20 rule. If we focus on the most frequent 20% of problems, we will have handled 80% of the requests.

Change requires courage and persuasive power when dealing with stakeholders. Guiding principles can be helpful.

Principles as a Compass

Change requires courage and persuasive power when dealing with stakeholders. Guiding principles can be helpful. Early on in the project, we put together a set of guiding principles that the entire project team committed itself to.

The advantage of principles is that

  • they unite the project team and give it direction,
  • they help make the right decisions,
  • they serve as a cornerstone for communication with stakeholders,
  • they don’t have to be discussed repeatedly once a commitment has been made,
  • and if necessary, they can get the project back on the right track.

These principles serve as our compass. Some of our principles are as follows (the list is not exhaustive):

  1. 80/20.
    Focus on what is most important. Identify the one or two needs that 80% of users have in common. Prioritize these.
    For the Swiss Post website, our main focus was a simple display of prices for sending parcels and letters.
  2. Scroll before click.
    In the mobile age, scrolling is the preferred navigation behavior. Scrolling allows people to explore and provides an overview without a click decision, and associated bouncing and loading time.
    Contents that are requested less frequently are placed at the bottom of the page, not on a separate subpage. This way, we can save users unnecessary clicks.
  3. Speak the language of your customer.
    Use the language of your customers, especially in titles and navigation. User-friendly language also helps with SEO (search engine optimization).
    For instance, we grouped the “SameDay” delivery method with other fast shipping options under the term “Express”.
  4. Start with the user.
    Always work based on a concrete human (persona), a concrete need and a realistic situation (scenario). Describe the solution step by step from the user’s point of view.
    Among other things, this led to the “step by step” module, which helps display processes in the menu and on the pages.
  5. Provide specific examples.
    Show the most popular standard values and avoid generalizations.
    For international letters, Swiss Post displays rates for Germany by default, because these are by far the most popular rates. This way, most users will receive the information they need without an additional click. All other users can change the destination.

Check, Improve, Check Again

Checking back in with users is an ongoing task during the concept and design phase of a project. Just a few weeks after the start of the project, we conducted the first of four iterative user tests with a click prototype. Again — following the 80/20 rule — we used the most important scenarios and the most frequent usage context: Mobile. We made sure that our sample group represented the Swiss population in terms of age and level of education.

Where we didn’t get positive results, we kept adapting and testing the concept until we were sure we had it right. This way, we put the merger of contents for private and business customers through its paces based on various examples. For three full test cycles, we looked for the catch that would keep us from merging the customer segments.

We didn’t find one.

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Reference – Master Candidate 2020 One Experience

We have been supporting the Swiss Post on its path to digitalisation for around 20 years. For this website relaunch, we were in charge of user experience, design, and frontend to backend implementation on Sitecore 9 and more.

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