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Utilizing Human-Centered Design to Inform Products and Reach Communities

I had the opportunity to attend the 2021 Women In Analytics conference on February 10-11 and was excited to connect with a fantastic community of women that are doing some pretty impressive things in data and analytics. Similar to other conferences taking place in the COVID-era, this event was virtual but was well managed and there was plenty of time allocated to network, ask questions, and interact with the speakers. One of the talks from the conference that really resonated with me was Design Thinking in Analytics, presented by Alison Magyari of Eaton. Some of the key concepts that I took away from the discussion were:

  • Design thinking: empathy + innovation + iteration = usable product
  • Four steps that guide Alison when she gets started on a new project:
    • WHAT IS: Start with the customer’s current state experience and sentiment. It’s important to tap into the emotional state early on to understand the challenges and pain points. To summarize the current state, Alison often uses caricatures to represent a situation e.g., an octopus could characterize someone that is juggling multiple priorities simultaneously and is a bit frazzled. Caricatures are a nice way for people to quickly understand the dilemma and empathize with the situation.
    • WHAT IF: The future state, this step examines what things could look like if changes were made e.g., if manual data entry was reduced by 25%, there would be more time to focus on higher value analysis. This is the step where mock-ups and visualizations are shared based on the feedback gathered.
    • WHAT WOWS: Entails gathering additional feedback to create a wish list for utopia. This step involves a lot of creativity and innovative thinking to imagine an ideal end state for a product or solution – no idea is off the table.
    • WHAT WORKS: All feedback is taken into account from the mockups, interactions, and planning discussions and there’s agreement and movement on the key features surfaced from the WOW list.
  • Using Agile methodologies instead of Waterfall reduced a lot of stress and allowed for designs to be more innovative since there were frequent opportunities to iterate and make adjustments based on feedback.

I think what I enjoyed most about this presentation was that it reminded me of an experience in a former work life where I was semi-embedded on the product dev team. I had the opportunity to experience the power of human-centered design (HCD) and Agile at its best; I was a senior analyst that was brought onto the dev team to provide input into the media monitoring and reporting tools that were being developed for internal consumption and for commercial use. I clearly remember working with one of the product leads – she shadowed me for several days and observed my behavior, asked questions here and there while fastidiously taking notes. We discussed requirements, pain points, wishes; we walked through current processes and identified where there were ongoing issues in data capture, data manipulation, and reporting. We talked about how nice it would be if x was addressed so that y could be accomplished more quickly or better represented in reporting. The amount of time, care, and attention that went into this exploratory process was so important because without it, the tools would have been designed in a vacuum with little input from those that would be using them on a daily basis and in some cases, selling directly to our clients. Alison’s presentation touched on all of these elements that I experienced and solidified that this type of design, input gathering, and iterative approach is so important no matter what you are creating.

So, knowing that HCD is important in product design and critical for complex data and analytics work, what kind of role does HCD play in local government and community engagement? I came across an informative article from Harvard’s Civic Analytics Network that referenced A New City O/S by Stephen Goldsmith and Neil Kleinman that stated: “cities must widely adopt a user-centric orientation that mirrors the private sector’s success in meeting customer needs through the framework of user experience (UX). While technology is certainly an enabler of the proposed moved toward ‘collaborative, distributed’ governance — allowing for data-driven insights and the development of more responsive solutions — achieving user-centered government requires more fundamental changes to the ways in which our cities operate, and the methods by which they work to understand and meet resident needs.” The article continued to provide some use cases for public works initiatives as well as designing open data maps for public consumption. While these may not be deep, heavy tech examples, the approach is important for city leaders to consider so that when it comes to exploring and designing solutions to meet the needs of a diverse population whether it is setting up a new portal for voter registration or city permits or accessing vital records, it is informed by empathy, innovation, and the design process is iterative so feedback is continuously captured and any necessary tweaks to the experience are made. After all, the purpose of creating a new product or solution is for it to be used and provide value so inviting diverse perspectives that can contribute candid feedback and articulate specific needs and anticipated barriers should not be overlooked.

If you’re interested in learning more, a great resource that is part of the IIA community and quite knowledgeable on this topic is Brian O’Neill from Designing for Analytics. I highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter and you can view his recent IIA webinar on AI Product Management Design here.

Lise Massey is the Program Manager for IIA’s Analytics Leadership Consortium (ALC) and has been with IIA for six years. The ALC is a closed network of senior analytics executives from diverse industries who meet to share and discuss best practices, as well as discover and develop analytics innovation, all for the purpose of improving the business impact of analytics at their firms. Prior to IIA, Lise spent over 10 years designing, managing, and leading media analytics programs for a diverse portfolio of clients and has experience in many aspects of program and project management, account management, strategic and tactical planning, business development, and training. Lise is a graduate from the University of Oregon.

You can view more posts by Lise here.

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