Sprinting away from the UX theatre

Sprinting away from the UX theatre

At Coconut we’re focused on people, passion and performance. As a designer, being focused on people means empathizing with the people who use our products and finding ways to improve their experience. It also means including those people in the design process.

There’s a term gaining traction these days called “UX Theatre”. Originally defined by user experience (UX) specialist Tanya Snook, UX theatre is where organizations make great claims about being user-centered but don’t actually include any real users in the design process. According to Snook, it’s an all-too-common game of make-believe:

Organizations have latched on to “user-centered design” as a buzzword. In many cases, executives seem to misinterpret it as a euphemism for “thinking from a user’s perspective.” … For all the talk about users, there is no consideration given to including them in the design and delivery process.

There are lots of ways we include users, like branch managers, tellers, wealth advisors and financial institution leaders, in our design process at Coconut, including one-on-one interviews and doing live usability tests with both prototypes and working software. Those activities are great for informing and validating design decisions. But what about that time in between—the time when we’re actually making design decisions? We want to include users in that part of the process, too. That’s why we’ve been including users in ‘design sprints’.

And we love them, it’s a multi-day (typically five days) process for designing a solution to a nasty problem that would otherwise take weeks or months to solve. It’s a flexible, efficient, and low-risk way to innovate.

A traditional design sprint is an in-person collaboration with a handful of participants. Five straight days on a video call is an exhausting prospect, so at Coconut we’ve adapted design sprints for remote work and reduced them down to just a couple of half-days. We’re able to get everything we need out of a sprint while respecting the participants’ busy schedules as well as avoiding Zoom fatigue.

Speaking of participants, we ensure our design sprints include perspectives—not just designers and engineers. Everyone at Coconut is a designer regardless of their role. Design sprints are a great way to ensure everyone’s valuable design ideas are heard equally.

And because we’re not interested in doing UX theatre, we ensure our design sprints include an actual user or two. Luckily our customers and users love the idea of contributing to the product in such a hands-on way.

Recently we ran a design sprint to solve a particularly tricky problem around managing assignments in Coconut. We included a designer, engineer, product manager, customer success manager, and implementation manager from Coconut, plus a Coconut user from one of our credit union customers. 

Across two early-summer afternoons we virtually met up to ponder:

  • “How might we” questions
  • Map user journeys
  • Identify goals and questions
  • Then sketch a few solutions

There were a lot of virtual sticky notes and heart stamps in FigJam, zero arguing, one really great Pretenders song, six amazing solution sketches, and one unanimously-approved storyboard ready for prototyping. We learned a lot about the problem and discovered that at least one of our Coconut users has pet chickens. We also left feeling great about our solution, understanding that it still needs to be validated with more real users.

Designing with users, and not for users, is just one of the ways we ensure we’re living our Coconut manifesto of people, passion and performance. It also means there are no tickets to the UX theatre available here.