When can user engagement be harmful?

The main goal for taking different stakeholders into service development is to gain more insight into their perspectives and motives. Through these activities, you typically want to create a common understanding of a topic, work together to create a novel idea, or perhaps motivate people to work together in new ways.

However, many organisations need to consider their own motivation: Is this user participation really being carried out to advance your understanding of user needs and motives — or is it merely a way to sugar-coat your own activities?

The Informed Consumer exhibition in 2016 / The data from our Informed Consumer studies in both Sweden and Finland provide Kuudes with findings that with the expertise of our insights team can be customized to different branches, brands, products and services.

Previously in this blog we discussed the most common pitfalls related to human-centric design. Let’s dig deeper into pitfall #3 and consider if there are some scenarios when customer engagement and co-creation are irrelevant, and might even be harmful.

What are the co-creation warning signs to look out for?

You might want to reconsider your user insight project if you are:

1. Analysing your user insight until you get out the answers you want to see

It’s natural to have a preliminary idea about what your user insight research might uncover. When you get too locked into this, it’s hard to let go, even if your initial gut feeling proves to be wrong.

This is a challenging aspect of user insight for many people. It can bring forth uncomfortable truths about important topics with implications for the organisation. Of course, it’s hard to take when results are not in line with our long-held beliefs. We have to have the courage to accept research findings, accept the new reality and embrace new insight.

With qualitative research, the same answers and results can come up repeatedly after a certain point with no new or relevant output. This is a sign. This is when you should stop looking for more insight, regardless of whether or not you got the results you desired.

2. Increasing the amount of user insight to diminish risk

We have found that some organisations want to scale up their user insight just to make sure that their ideas or services will not fail in practice. This is tricky. User insight can never give you a 100% guarantee that your users will like, utilise and support your ideas in practice.Users don’t always know what they want, don’t necessarily know how to explain their desires in a way that lines up with your portfolio and, moreover, we all know as users ourselves that we tend to act differently from how we talk!

Especially when we are innovating new concepts, it’s very hard for people to imagine something that doesn’t yet exist. This is why insight shouldn’t be treated as a method to find out what you should do. Instead, see insight as the tool to explore and examine information, the tool to help you make better decisions.

User insight can never give you a 100% guarantee that your users will like, utilise and support your ideas in practice.

3. Increasing the amount of workshops to be more human-centric

The term “workshop” seems to have become an automatic substitute or synonym for human-centric design. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. A workshop is one of the many methodologies used in service design for working together on a topic.

However, it might not always be the most suitable method, especially if used too frequently. During the last year we’ve picked up signals that many people are getting fed up with going to similar workshops over and over again. They are experiencing what we call “työpajaähky” in Finnish.

Workshops don’t make your organisation miraculously human-centric. It’s when you are able to achieve the goals you set for your workshops, when you can clearly crystallise the output from them, and when you find a tangible increase in commitment through participation in your organisation.

It’s the quality — not quantity — of your workshops that counts.

4. Already having a stockpile of insight and data you are not using

You probably know the feeling, when you’ve given user feedback numerous times to the same team on a similar topic and they just don’t seem to get it? We can ask for more feedback and gather more insight to a certain point but, in order for it to be useful, the organisation itself has to have the capabilities to take this knowledge further.

We hear about many new insight projects that are implemented without making use of all the relevant data that the organisation has from previous projects, workshops and in many databases. In the worst case, this can frustrate your users and undermine the whole effort: “Why aren’t you using the info I already gave you?”

Organisations should only evaluate their needs for new user participation activities after objectively reviewing their existing insight and data, both internal and external. This will give you an overview on what kind of information you should explore through user-insight. What organisations are missing, in most cases, are the answers to why and how.

In order for the insight to be useful, the organisation has to have the capabilities to take this knowledge further.

Can there ever be too much co-creation?

There is a bright side to all this. These four scenarios are typically caused by positive phenomena in the organisation, an excitement about human-centric design, co-creation and new user insight. So, how can this really be such a bad thing? Well, no organisation has unlimited resources. People with spare time on their hands are thin on the ground. Forced or misleading results can lead to poor decision-making and unnecessary costs. “Over-participating” users can even be counter-productive and frustrate and irritate your stakeholders.

While the main goals of service design are to transform services from organisation-centric to user-centric though user insight, research and design, let’s remember that these same activities, when not consistent, strategic and genuine, can cause damage. All we can do is to keep listening, learning and sharing together — and let’s help each other avoid workshop gripe!


Let’s continue the discussion: contact us or share your thoughts via Twitter @susannaou.

Kuudes is the Nordic insight, strategy and design agency with 40 creatives in Helsinki and Stockholm → WWW.KUUDES.COM

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