User-centred design

Cocoon Labs

Our team, Process, Research, User experience

Cocoon has always been a company driven by data. I joined the team in February 2015, as Head of Customer Experience. My first task was to ensure that our customers are central in our product design process.

The Cocoon team had more data than usual about who had pre-ordered a Cocoon. From surveying and interviewing people who had pre-ordered, we understood more than just average age, location and gender. We knew why people had pre-ordered, what it was about the product they liked, and how they anticipated Cocoon fitting in with their lives.

Great, you may think – and it is. But anonymised data exists in spreadsheets; it takes time to absorb and comprehend. How do you make this information meaningful and useful, so that the customer really is at the heart of what we do? One technique we use is to create personas.

Personas are the first step in a user-centred design methodology. They can be created on assumption alone (following Lean UX principles), on known facts or a bit of both. Personas help you understand who your customer is. They do this by bringing hard facts to life with storytelling techniques – weaving a bit of fiction into the data, to make it resonate emotionally.

What are personas used for?

Personas help get the customer visible in a business, more so than insight and data held within spreadsheets. They can help provide clarity in terms of strategic direction (who you are making the product for) and, in a practical sense, personas help add an objective view to design discussions. Rather than discussions on features and functionality being about the team’s preference, conversations can be reflected to the personas – ‘would ‘Dave’ use/want this?’ If the answer’s no, then we probably shouldn’t be building it.

Lean UX approach

As a development team, we created 3 personas in 45 minutes. This follows Lean UX techniques, where thinking is based on assumptions, with the understanding that it is a living document which will change as you learn more about your customer. You start by imagining who you think your ideal customer is – based on gut instinct rather than insight.

The benefit of a Lean approach is that things can be thrown away. Spending 15 minutes creating a persona document on a flip chart means that when you check the data or speak to your customers and realise something is wrong, it’s OK to rip up the paper, and start again, but from a more informed place.

Refining with data

Running the assumptions, captured in our Lean persona, and working through the data collected from our Indiegogo backers, helped us to refine the work we’d done. We quickly realised where we were wrong and validated where we were right. Adding this insight to assumptions makes the personas more credible.

Refining with testing

As part of our development sprints, I regularly conduct testing of our designs with real people (you might have seen my tweets asking for volunteers!). This exercise means we are getting constant insight into customer attitudes and behaviours, which shapes and refines our understanding of the people we are designing Cocoon for.

Creating personas enables us to ensure that the right people are at the centre of our product design process and ensures that we create a product that really does meet our customers’ needs.