Collaboration with users during the research and design of new solutions at Exact has just taken a new step. Our first workshops with Dutch freelancers has highlighted again how important listening to customers is – an essential step in translating user requirements into solutions that genuinely meet their needs.
The last month Exact invited two groups of freelancers for a workshop. Most were quite surprised when they found out what we wanted them to do. The aim? For them to talk to each other about freelancing, and for us to listen – not for us to bombard them with questions and do all the talking. Furthermore, the workshop wasn’t about software. In fact, it wasn’t even about bookkeeping. It was just about being a freelancer.
So why are we suddenly so interested in freelancers? Why has ‘the user’ in general become so important? Well, to create effective solutions for certain groups or types of users, one needs to understand them. And understanding a user is something different than understanding the job they do or the tasks they need to carry out every day. Of course we’ve talked to users in the past, but mostly concerning their business activities or the applications they use. However, really understanding the user can only be achieved by listening to and observing them carefully.
In line with this we invited some freelancers to tell each other about what they like and/or dislike in their professional environments, how they manage their working and private life balance, and perhaps most importantly, what brings a smile to their face. We just sat, listened and tried hard to absorb the information they were offering us.
The freelancers in these first two workshops have already given us a great deal that we can use in designing and developing solutions for them. It’s not just about the struggle to get their administration done and send in their VAT return, but also about how they manage their customer relationships and find new jobs using their personal networks. I really appreciate their openness and willingness to share this information.
It was also pleasantly surprising to learn how willing the participants are to contribute further along in the design and developing process. It tells us that users are willing not only to tell us about their needs, but really want to be involved in collaboration throughout the whole process. In the world of industrial design this is often referred to as co-creation or co-design. Industrial designers refer to product development in such close proximity to the customer user centric designs – essential for them in developing successful innovation. It is only fair to say that as software designers, we can and will also learn a lot from their approach.
We have already planned another workshop for September, which I have to say I’m really looking forward to it. For those of you who are interested, I’m sorry to tell you that all the seats are already booked. But please do keep your eye out for more initiatives to come concerning user collaboration – we’d love for you to be part of our research and help us in designing solutions that make a difference. In the meanwhile I will certainly keep you posted on our progress and share the results with you as they unfold.
The author of this blog post is principal research engineer at Exact, focusing on researching business services offered through Software as a Service.