Jason Agress was an invaluable participant in my #ETTsummit #DEEPdt session (truth be told everyone in the room were invaluable yet Jason made the monumental pivot & insight during the session by making an observation and asking the question).

As the rapid cycle of DEEPdt was drawing to a conclusion, designers (participants) were sharing out their HMWs? and solutions to their questions. And as most sessions go mainly due to designers not being given enough time to dig deeper into understanding the User, there was a lot of surface empathy. Again, this is no fault of the designers instead it is the fault of the session design due to TIME.  So a majority of the designers saw needs and insights to the character Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And Veruca gave us a lot to work with in terms of who she is, what’s she like, and her impact on others. Here is the 3rd person writing the designers used during this design cycle.  There is a lot of depth and awareness of Veruca as she is a well known literary character.

The HMW? example I put forth was HMW…disrupt the hostage dynamic between Veruca & her parents to create a more peaceful relationship?” 

A majority of the solutions centered around showing Veruca others’ point of view in terms of being on the receiving end of her “personality” thus hoping to CHANGE her ways.

Now because this was a rapid design cycle designed to experience the process more so than the core power of DT which is empathy, the solutions of changing the User are typical (especially when the User is so “unlikable”). And this is where Jason created a monumental pivot & insight for all of us that made it so much richer of a session because it wasn’t me pointing it out.

As I asked the designers if anyone had brainstormed the idea of having Veruca undergo electric shock therapy (no one had admitted to thinking this), and going into the idea of 30,000 feet brainstorming, Jason spoke up at the perfect moment.

I am paraphrasing the best I can...

Jason asked, “If we are supposed to be empathizing with the User, how come we are trying to change her? Why are we not trying to understand why she is having tantrums?  What’s it like being spoiled?  How does she feel when her parents give in to her every whim?”

And that my friends is the most crucial part of the process in trying to gain a better understanding of your User. Empathizing is not trying to “change” the person because their behaviors or “needs” are not mainstream or beneficial to themselves and/or others. Instead empathizing with Veruca is simply trying to understand WHY she does and says what she does and say. Veruca is not a very likable character in literature, however, I wonder if there are some aspects to her personality that make some envious?  And as Veruca is not very likable, and her personality is somewhat toxic the natural inclination is to fix her, to change her.  I will admit, I got caught up in this creative aspect of the process yet I’m so thankful Jason pulled me back from my electroshock solution.

Its not about liking the User. Its about understanding the User exactly where they are. And its not about judging either.  One thing I have to be more aware of is my bias to jump to solution, and also think I have enough understanding of the WHY.  I hope to be more aware of this and make the WHY a more visible and demanding requirement before moving forward into the beloved HMW…?

For more about this #ettsummit experience, please read Johanna Prince‘s post found HERE I hope to write a reflection on this moment & Johanna’s reaction one day soon.