What is user-centric research — and how we apply it at Contentful

Illustration of two circular patterns, representing research centrailzied on users.
Published
March 15, 2021
Category

Product

User centricity has become a buzzword over the past few years in the field of product research. But what exactly does this buzzword mean? We’ll look at what it means, and how we’re implementing it at Contentful.

User-centric design, explained

The term “user-centric design” was popularized by Donald Norman and Stephen Draper when they published their influential book User Centered System Design in 1986. The term has its roots in human-computer interaction. User-centric design was initially used to design more effective computer interfaces. The main goal is to design a solution tailored to the user’s needs, expectations and perspectives. 

The main idea is simple: include the user throughout the whole research process. This often looks like developers and users work together to develop something valuable for the customer. 

Key to this approach is creating a connection with the users. A team practicing user-centric design needs to constantly interact with users to gather feedback and develop a solution in accordance. This process should continue throughout the product’s life cycle — instead of stopping after the launch. 

This approach lets you create a product that actually serves the end user, rather than give them a tool they don’t need. 

Illustrated image depicting flexible assembly

How to implement a user-centric design approach, or design thinking

Knowing how to implement a user-centric approach is important for product researchers. 

Multiple models have been proposed for implementing a user-centric approach in all kinds of research processes. One of the most popular models is the design-thinking model, theorized by the Hasso-Plattner institute of design at Stanford. Here the user-centric process goes through five stages.

1. Empathize

The first step is to empathize with the people facing the problem that you want to solve. We’ll call those people the user group. Talking with the user group and putting yourself in their shoes can help generate empathy for them. Often research is already conducted at this point through need-studies or interviews. The problem could be better understood by running secondary research or consulting experts. This first step is important in order to remove any prior bias or assumptions about the problem to fully embrace the user point of view.

2. Define

Next, define the problem from the user groups’ point of view. This is done through careful analysis of the empathy stage to make a problem statement. It’s important not to make the problem about the institution surrounding it. You don’t want to say, “We need to improve our information flow.” Instead, the user needs should be the focus. Try formulating your problem statement like this: “Our customers are in need of more information about our product.” This approach ensures everything that comes next is tailored to the user. 

3. Ideate

At the third step, researchers are ready to ask and begin answering questions about solving the problem statement. Questions such as, “What can we do in order to provide our consumers with more information?” This question could be answered in any number of ways, and brainstorming helps researchers discover several with the most potential. Many ideas and solutions should be presented before one is chosen. 

4. Prototype

Designers then produce one or more minimal prototypes of the solution to test it either internally or with a small external group. Through testing different ideas, the team goes through a trial and error phase, always evaluating and reexamining ideas.

5. Test

Once the best possible solution has been identified, it can be continuously tested by evaluators or be launched to the public. This is certainly not the end of the process. Instead, the process is iterative. Teams can use the insights from the testing to redefine problems with the ever-present goal of understanding the user better.

Illustration of a lego block

How we implement user-centric design at Contentul (and you can, too!)

The user at the center of this approach becomes more and more clear. At Contentful, one of our four core values is to start with the customer and work backwards. This aligns with the idea of being user centric. The first question we ask is, “What customer need does this solve?” We treat each customer with empathy. Nothing is more important to us than our existing and potential users. 

Contentful has always done user-experience testing. With our fellow Contentfuler@s (that’s what we call Contentful employees!) and customers, we test new and existing features to evaluate their success in close collaboration with our product department, the research team and our customers. For example, we run usability tests for new features, where a customer is interviewed for an hour while interacting with a prototype in order to get in-depth feedback and insights. The voice of the customer is at the core of our platform and of every improvement or new release. 

Contentful research panel

A recent initiative is our research panel, which contains Contentful customers, users of other CMSes and even potential customers. With this panel, we want to build our platform on user centric research. 

People who participate in the research panel have the opportunity to take part in our exciting and diverse research projects — and receive cool thank-you gifts like digital vouchers. You can learn more about the research panel and even sign up! 

Sign up for the research panel to take part in shaping Contentful and contribute to the user-centric movement.

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