Designing engaging methods of soliciting in-person feedback

Arin Bhowmick
Oct 30, 2018 · 7 min read

How IBM Analytics designers recently created some delightful, interactive experiences to gather user feedback.

“Weight of Decisions” interactive feedback stand designed by Andro Zuzul and the IBM Analytics design team.

I’ve written previously about the vital role of user research in design. It’s what helps us understand our customers’ needs and contexts, it enables us to test our assumptions, and it provides us with essential feedback on our early design explorations. We use different generative research techniques to find out more about our users and their worlds, and various evaluative research methods to evaluate prototype designs.

Sometimes we do site visits where we’ll engage with our customers at their places of work. Other times we conduct video calls to interview users remotely. And other times we go to places where lots of users (or potential users) are already gathered. In this article I’m going to focus on the latter — and specifically how the IBM Analytics design team, part of the IBM Cloud Design mission, sought to engage attendees at a couple of recent IBM Analytics conferences.

The IBM Analytics design team hit the road

In the last few weeks, the IBM Analytics design team has been in attendance at a couple of major IBM Analytics events — one in Stockholm, Sweden (17–20 September) and one in Miami, USA (2–5 October). These events focused on IBM Analytics and Hybrid Cloud offerings, including IBM Cloud Private for Data, Unified Governance and Integration, Data Science and Cognos Analytics.

Our design teams ran various design workshops, where they asked attendees to provide feedback on a number of topics, including their current analytics pain points, their favorite learning experiences from other products, and how AI could potentially help at various stages of the analytics lifecycle.

One of the many design workshops that our design team facilitated.

These design workshops were really successful — with customers from many different organizations engaging with us and providing further insights into their needs and goals.

“I’ve been coming to the conferences for a number of years, and the design, the experience, and the improvements shown have been outstanding.”

So far, so good. But what about all the conference attendees who don’t get to attend one of the design jam workshops?

We always knew that due to sheer breadth of the conference agenda, there would likely be many attendees who wouldn’t necessarily make it to one of our design workshops. So, in the months leading up to the conference, the Analytics design team put a lot of work into coming up with ways of engaging conference attendees outside of the workshop sessions.

The result of their work was a couple of creative and highly engaging interactive stands that were available for attendees to engage with throughout the duration of the conference, as well as a demo stand where customers and business partners could see and interact with a prototype of one of our future products.

The “Weight of Decisions” interactive stand

What?
A large interactive display board, along with 5 labelled weighing scales and 6 pots of colored marbles.

When?
This interactive display was available to attendees throughout the duration of the conference.

Why?
To help us understand what the greatest workflow inhibitors are to different types of analytics users.

How?
Participants were asked to pick a colored marble that corresponded to their particular role (developer, data scientist, director, etc.) and then place it in the weighing scale that represented the most significant pain point for them.

What we learned

This interactive stand was certainly well used during the conference, allowing our design team to gather lots of data. The results will help us better understand the relative importance of the various pain points for different types of analytics users.

In addition to the quantitative data we received from analyzing people’s marble placements, the stand also acted as a great conversation starter, enabling our designers to have many informative ad-hoc conversations with conference attendees.

IBM User Researcher Toni Aguilar discussing analytics scenarios with customers at the stand

The “Business Bento Box” interactive stand

What?
A large interactive display board, along with blank bento-box-style cards and a selection of possible analytics capability “fillings” to choose from.

When?
This interactive display was available to attendees throughout the duration of the conference.

Why?
To help us assess which analytics capabilities are most important to different customers and roles.

How?
Participants were asked to look through the list of possible analytics product capabilities and to pick their top 3, placing them in their bento box in order of importance. (People were also able to write in a different capability, not already listed, if desired.)

What we learned

Again, this interactive stand was very well used during the conference, and enabled our design team to get some good research findings. The team was able to view capability priorities at an overall level; as a breakdown by primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of importance; and split out by job role (i.e. the relative importance of a given capability to a developer, to a data scientist, to a director, etc.)

Involving our customers in our design work

Customers were also told about our ongoing Sponsor User program, which involves IBM partnering with Hybrid Cloud product users that work alongside our product teams to help refine IBM offerings by providing feedback, ideas, and domain expertise, typically for the duration of a product release.

Because the design jam workshops and the interactive display boards were so popular, our designers were able to meet and have meaningful conversations with many customers during the conference, and dozens of organizations are now interested in joining our Sponsor User program. This is fantastic news as it benefits everyone involved and helps us to ensure that what we deliver the analytics market is a great match for what customers want and need. As our Customer Experience Lead, Tracy McGoldrick put it:

“Customers often feel like they don’t have a voice. But if they become a Sponsor User with IBM, they most definitely have a voice.”

An ever evolving story

Earlier this year at the IBM Think conference in Las Vegas, the Analytics design team led an Enterprise Design Thinking session focused on re-imagining what a mobile experience for Cognos Analytics might look like. The workshop explored customers’ favorite mobile applications, why they liked them so much, then looked at their need statements for analytics, and ended with a fun mashup activity that joined all of these insights together.

The outcomes from the Think conference sessions inspired the design team to envision a new mobile experience for IBM Business Analytics and together with Development and Product Management colleagues, they created a prototype. This prototype was on display at the recent IBM Analytics University events in Stockholm and Miami. Customers were able to interact with the prototype on smart phones, tablets, and on a large touchscreen TV, and could share their feedback with the design team.

There was much excitement around the prototype, with many customers clearly impressed with what the future holds for IBM Business Analytics. There were some customers present who had participated in the initial Design Thinking session at Think back in March and they were very impressed to see how the insights they provided had been taken seriously by the design team and were amazed at how quickly the prototype had been created.

And, of course, the story doesn’t end here. We’ll be incorporating the feedback we received from attendees at the Stockholm and Miami events to inform our next round of designs and prototypes. So look out for us at IBM’s Think conference early next year (San Francisco, CA, 12–15 February). We’ll be there, eager to meet and partner with more of our analytics product customers.

A big shout out to my creative and dynamic IBM Analytics portfolio design team who made all of this possible:

Amanda Pasquali, Ana Manrique, Andro Zuzul, Ceci Gómez, Christina Larson, Lisa Marie Chen, Marc-James Abi-Jaoude, Marie Lee, Meghan Corbett, Natalia Bagan, Rachel Miles, Renee Mascarinas, Rene Rodriguez, Toni Aguilar, Wen Xiong, Yasmine Taha, Zoë St-Aubin, and Tracy McGoldrick.

Some of the IBM Analytics portfolio design team out in Miami.

Arin Bhowmick (@arinbhowmick) is Vice President, Design at IBM based in San Francisco, California. The above article is personal and does not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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