On International Women’s Day, I travelled up to Manchester to do user research with some of my client’s front line staff. People in this role are 99% men, including all my research participants. I sat in a small meeting room in a government building on the edge of the city and demoed an early prototype design intended to streamline their processes.
Research and co-design
The early feedback ranged from positivity through to uncertainty whether this would be a simpler method. But the advantage of this kind of site visit and speaking those who use the service is that it became an impromptu co-design session.
To give a little background, the prototype was designed by people in the same roles as the research participants. Two weeks prior, we ran a discovery and design workshop where we mapped the service and attendees sketched new designs. These were worked up into an early clickable prototype by our UX designer.
Design workshops involving people using the service are a relatively new way of working for our client’s organisation but hugely important. Having a prototype designed by the same people who are using it automatically makes the majority of research participants more receptive. Designs are less likely to be seen as forced upon them from on high.
Through our session, participants came up with some flaws in the design that we, even with staff and client input, hadn’t considered. Through some rough scribbles and a better understanding of how it aligns to their processes, the prototype is ready to be developed for further testing.
By involving front line staff and our clients at all stages of the design and development process, we’re bringing them along with us as stakeholders, not simply users.
This is why I love user experience and research. A design and development team cannot produce products and services in isolation. It’s highly unlikely that without going out and getting feedback from those who will use it day-to-day that the design will be fit for purpose.
Being a woman in tech
Having a session like this on International Women’s Day got me thinking about my own situation as a woman in tech. Here I was, facilitating a group of eight men. Some were very engaged, some hardly said anything, and a couple, unconvinced that their feedback would make any difference, were initially sceptical of me being there.
Old me, prior to moving into a consultancy role, would have found this intimidating but the more I go out and speak to people, the better my interpersonal skills have become. I’ve found over time, that because I love this kind of work, I relax. I didn’t think of myself as a woman facilitating men, but as an expert working with my client’s staff. From my perspective gender didn’t come into it.
I suppose this relaxed state comes from confidence. I’ve learned that I’m happiest at work when I’m unconsciously competent and experience over time has developed this. The benefit of being able to relax within research sessions is it encourages participants to be at ease too.
When you’re able to take away formality, the results are inevitably better. People tell you what they really feel, not what they think you want to hear. The session was productive, everyone was heard, we had a laugh, and I came away with something much better than I took in.
Building confidence in others
So my question, when thinking about International Women’s Day, is how to help other people, not just women but those lacking self-assurance, gain confidence?
Everyone is responsible for looking out for the user”
– Erika Hall, Just enough research
In the same way that everyone is responsible for looking out for the user, everyone is responsible for bringing people up with them. It doesn’t fall to just line managers and colleagues. It’s family, friends, online interactions, events, communities and more.
Which brings me on to the Women in Tech Nottingham (WiT Notts) lighting talks that took place on Thursday.
@WiT_Notts announces at every event that it is a safe space for its attendees. It always, unerringly is. Filled with such an incredibly friendly crowd of interesting people.
I can’t remember why I turned up the first time. But I am very glad of it.
— Steven Pears (@StevenPears) March 7, 2019
This tweet sums up how I feel about WiT Notts too. In the spirit of encouraging people, we opened up the March event for anyone to speak about anything, code of conduct permitting. There was a range of speaking experience from none to conference-level.
By encouraging a safe space, we had talks from people who had attended with no intention of speaking. With some audience coaxing, they got up there and delivered brilliant talks. It makes me very proud to be a facilitator of this.
Bringing people up with you
There’s not always positivity for women in tech events and for International Women’s Day itself. Interestingly, I find that most disparaging people are women who don’t see the need. They, on the whole, are in high-level positions in male-dominated industries. They have gotten to where they have on their own so why would they need an event?
I’m glad they fought their way to where they are but unfortunately, they don’t always allow others to follow them. Some kick the ladder from beneath them rather than holding it steady. The further I go in my career, the more I want to encourage people and hold the ladder for them. I’m fortunate to know many others who feel the same way.
Being still a gender minority in my industry, historically the ladder has been mostly been held for me by men. I’m starting to see a change, though. The service design team I work in are roughly a 50/50 mix of men and women with a slight mix of diversity but mostly 25 to 40-year-old white Europeans. Within SPARCK 38% of us are women with 55% of new hires being female. This is really encouraging to see and be a part of.
There’s a long, long way to go before we get to diversity equality. It’s not just about gender. There’s a wealth of underrepresented people in tech, be it through ethnicity, disability, or age. It’s about bringing people up with you, whoever they are. Let’s be mindful of this in our work and make sure we’re holding the door open for those coming in behind us, especially the next generation. May they see inclusivity and diversity in technology as the norm, not the exception.