Case Study: Design Thinking — Improving Utility Room experience
This project’s primary objective is using the Design Thinking Process to better understand the users’ needs. The goal was to select a specific region of the house — in my case the utility room — and determine the gaps that currently exist in terms of the user’s experience.
The users were none other than our teammates. I chose the utility room as my subject because users don’t like doing chores and I would be able to enhance their experience.
Before we delve into the details of the project, let us first define what is Design Thinking Project (DTP).
Empathize — Here we get to know the people we’re designing for(users) and to understand their needs better. The goal is to gather enough observations to truly begin to empathize with the users and their perspectives.
Define — Use all the user problems observed in the Empathize stage to articulate the users’ needs.. We clearly list the users’ problems and the reason why they face these problems.
Ideate — Using the “crazy 8” technique to come up with as many ideas as possible in 8 minutes. No idea is a bad idea and the number of ideas outweighs their quality.
Prototype — Here we decide on the solution and we create a rough visual representation of that solution. We start considering the impact vs feasibility of the solution
Test — Here we gain feedback from users by showing our prototype(s) to users. We put the feedback together and do improvements wherever required and possible.
Implement -First we Iterate on any of the stages necessary, tweak the design and conduct more UX tests. Finally, we have a design!
The above illustration explains the 5 steps that are part of the “Design Thinking Process”. When a designer solves a problem using these steps, then he/she is said to have solved the problem using the Design Thinking Process.
Let’s see the Design Thinking Process put into action in my project
STAGES OF DESIGN THINKING PROCESS
Empathize — Here I got to know the users — which in my case were my teammates. At this stage, I understand users’ needs better. I obtained enough observations to truly begin to empathize with the users and their perspectives.I documented this on Figma sticky notes in order to gain an overall picture.
Define — I used each of the user problems observed in the Empathize stage to articulate the users’ needs. I clearly listed the users’ problems and the reason why they face these problems on my Figma stickies.
Ideate — For each problem, I used the “crazy 8” technique to come up with as many ideas as possible in 8 minutes. I came up with as many ideas as possible.
Prototype — I picked the best of the 3 solutions by considering maximum impact and easy feasibility
Test — I gained feedback from users by showing my prototypes. I put the feedback together and did improvements wherever required and wherever possible.
Implement -First we Iterate on any of the stages necessary to tweak the design and conduct more UX tests. Finally, I have my design with the help of my users!
Let’s talk about some ground rules:
- I (UI/UX designer) am not the user. Understand the process from this viewpoint
- Avoid the temptation to think of the solutions before the ideate stage
- Challenge traditional assumptions
- Think outside the box (yes, cliche but appropriate in this context)
- Interview and understand users
Remembering “I am ≠ the User” I started with the “Empathize” stage. At this stage, I connected with the users and understood and immersed myself in THEIR perspective.
Below are the questions I created for my users:
- Tell me about yourself.
- How long have you lived in this place?
- Tell me more about your home.
- Where do you spend the most time in your home?
- Who are the people that like in your home?
- What are your chores inside the home?
- Who cleans the vessels? Where do you clean the vessels?
- Who washes the clothes? Where?
- Who hangs the clothes to dry? Where do you dry the clothes? Inside, outside or dryer or a little bit of all of the options?
- Where are your following cleaning products stored?
- Detergent for cleaning vessels
- Detergent for clothes,
- Soap for mopping the floor
- Dusting clothes
- Dustpan etc
- Do you do your own ironing or do you get your ironing done for you? How often do you iron or get the ironing done? Iron weekly and Iron on particular occasions
- What are the two things that would help you do these chores?
- What are the two things that you wish to see in this area?
- Is your utility area visible from other rooms?
Based on the User Interviews, I moved on to the Define StageExplanation of user interviews and conclusion. Below, I have listed the user interview details of 2 out of 5 users
Now is the time to write down every problem that the user faces and describe why the user faces each problem. The user interviews helped me not only to define the problems but also to articulate why the user faces each of the problems
- The user is frustrated that he/she has to wash the dirty dishes in the sink right away
- The user is frustrated that the clothesline comes in the way of accessing the storage cupboard (where detergent and other things like boxes, etc. are stored)
- The storage cupboard is too small and there is not enough room to store detergent, boxes etc.
- No room for the ironing board in the utility room so now it is in the living room
- The user has to do ironing in the living room and the user wants to iron in the utility room
- The door between the living room and the utility room obstructs the use of the utility room. So the door is left open. But this spoils the aesthetics of the living room.
- The user tracks the water from the utility room into the living room.
- Corridor area — 5ft long — for cleaning the vessels is too small.
- The dishwashing area, washing machine for clothes, also mops, and buckets are stored in different places.
- The maid takes cleaned vessels to dry on the terrace and she brings them back. The user puts the dry dishes away.
- The utility room along with the dishwashing area is wet.
- Ancestral home, cannot make any changes. Only option move to a new home
- Maid Cleans vessels in the washroom near the kitchen — Maid takes cleaned vessels in a tub to the terrace to dry. The maid brings it back the vessels in a tub to the kitchen. Mom puts them away
- The washing machine is in one of the rooms (office work area plus bedroom)
- Detergent for dishes stored near the steps(near the washroom)
- Maid stores brooms and mops in the washroom
- The user uses the washing machine once in 3 days — when they get water. The maid takes clothes to the terrace to hang the clothes to dry.
- The washing machine is in the office workroom/bedroom area and the drain pipe for the washer was installed by drilling a hole in the wall. The cockroaches were coming up from the pipe. Later a net was installed to prevent the cockroaches.
- The drain pipe for the washer was installed by drilling a hole in the wall of the office workroom/bedroom
- Flooding when the water from the washer flooded the pipes. The backflow of the water flooded the office workroom/bedroom, damaged the bags and suitcases near the washer etc. The user temporarily fixed this problem by relaying the pipes at a lower depth. Clothes detergent and fabric softener are stored near the washer (not enough room)
- The user needs to climb on the slab in the utility room in order to hang the clothes
- Ironing board in the master bedroom (it cannot be ironed on the slab since its a marble slab)
- The treadmill is in the utility room. treadmill occupies a small space. The user uses the treadmill every 2–3 days in the rainy season.
- Washing machine. Washer detergent rt. nxt to the utility area in the kitchen. The user keeps washed clothes in a bucket. The maid takes clothes to the terrace and hangs them to dry — one of the family members collects the dried clothes.
- The whole utility area is wet when the water from the washer drains. Slippery is a safety issue. The utility room does not dry fast.
- The user irons his clothes. Other family members give the clothes to an outside ironing service
- Maid washes dishes
- Plates glasses vessels left to dry in the utility area
- Detergent for vessels on a shelf in the utility area on a small shelf
I applied an ideation strategy known as the Crazy 8’s which is a well-known design sprint exercise, where you are given 8 minutes to come up with 8 solutions to a problem. It is an effective way to stimulate our minds so they can come up with solutions quickly. Following the method, I tried to figure out solutions to each problem. While some solutions were unrealistic or impractical there were some problems for which I couldn’t come up with eight solutions, but eventually, I was able to come up with about 7 ideas in total. The next step was to narrow it down to the top 3 ideas and solutions for the utility room
- the clothesline comes in the way of accessing the storage cupboard (where detergent and other things like boxes, etc. are stored) — Solution: Have a pulley to lift the clothesline to get the clothesline out of the way
- The dishwashing area and a washing machine for clothes, mops, and buckets are located in different areas — Solution: Create a space for a washing machine, dishwashing area, rags, mops and buckets etc.
- Drill some nails into the wall to hang the mops, brooms etc.
- Rearrange the utility room to make space for all the above.
- The user is frustrated that the use of the utility room is hindered by the door. So the door is left open. But this spoils the aesthetics because the user can see the utility room from the living room.
Use a pocket door/barn door/curtain so the utility room is closed and there is no obstruction with the use of the utility room. The noise from the washer is less too.
Whether the utility room is being used or not, use a curtain to hide the utility room. Noise will be more.
I was now at the stage where I needed to pick one solution to move forward with. I needed to figure out which idea would be most beneficial to the users. I tried to pick the idea that would have the maximum impact and feasibility
The clothesline comes in the way of accessing the storage cupboard (where detergent and other things like boxes, etc. are stored)
The solution I came up with was: Install a pulley to lift the clothesline to get the clothesline out of the way of the cupboard.
After designing the product and creating a prototype, I invited the other members of my group to discuss it. I presented my work to them, and they provided feedback on the product.
Feedback is a crucial step, until you test your products with the user you will not know whether your product works or not. Because just solving the problem is not enough. It is important that it works!
After the testing phase and compiling all the feedback, I formed the prototype
- Design should take into account the top-loading washer, hence the cupboard cannot be placed on top of the washing machine
- The pulley should be moved from the bottom to the top
Apart from their concerns and feedback, they also expressed their appreciation for the product and stated that it definitely seems very helpful.
Let’s move on and explore what the product’s future holds now that we have a deeper understanding of how the various stages work together.
I would like to work on the following:
- Setup a dryer-washer combination
- Providing more storage to the user
- Create a pull-out slab to help fold clothes and use it as an ironing board as well
- Would like to conduct another round of usability testing after making these changes to the prototype
KEY LEARNINGS AND TAKEAWAYS
This brings us to the end of this Design Thinking Project. I now have an entirely different outlook towards approaching any problems in the future.
- I’M NOT THE USER. I must put aside my biases aside and empathize with the users
- I learned to be a good listener. I discovered that this is one of the important skills to identify the users’ problems — we often identify several pain points when we listen intently
- All problems cannot be solved, nor every idea can be executed. I have to keep in mind the constraints such as time, budget and the resources allotted to this project. The solution can be very simple as long as it is efficient and is enhancing the user’s experience.
- Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process. At each stage, I had to go over everything I had done before
- Lastly, the most important thing is to rethink my pre-existing mindset in order to be open to new ideas
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I’m an aspiring UX Designer looking for opportunities in the UX space. Do reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any feedback, discussions or collaborations, I’d be more than happy to have a chat with you!