What this is about
The Autodesk ReCap team wanted to understand the usefulness of a mobile solution amongst a random set of customers, while capturing their broader workflows, or “data stories."
"Data stories," for us, meant understanding how they moved from the reality capture process through registration, computing, and on to their final deliverable.
Autodesk University: an annual >10,000-person trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Autodesk's Experience Design team has a dedicated pavilion for customer research activities.
The story of how we devised our activity is a bit uneventful. After weeks of racking our brains, we couldn't identify anything specific to validate. And rooms at the convention center where we could set up equipment to test active prototypes were a hassle to book, especially when we didn't even know what prototype(s) to prepare.
So we zoomed out, and decided to do a broad, overall check-in. It'd been a while since we'd even double-checked that we knew what our customers were doing and what they wanted.
We were also getting into the mobile space, with a partnership with Leica on their then-new BLK360 laser scanner, and we wanted to gauge interest/demand in that kind of mobile solution.
We also found ourself sketching in a left-to-right fashion when talking about how to capture people's workflows, which pointed us to...a left-to-right-oriented activity, where participants literally mapped out their current reality capture workflow.
Prototyping thought process
Within the context of a left-to-right flow, I tried going big again:
- digital drag-and-drop exercise? something tangible?
- peg board, piggybacking off what the AutoCAD team had done a couple of years prior? or something lighter-weight?
(lighter-weight, due to budget concerns and general logistics of transporting the board from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas.)
- yarn board (laying out individual options to see where the lines would run) or something more freeform?
(yarn and pin board, using icon cards of customer industries and our app's features. freeform could possibly get too chaotic.)
- granularity: focus on what tools they use within ReCap, or take a step back?
(try to capture as much detail as possible, hence creating cards of in-app features, in case they decided to use them.)
The final design
Ultimately, this was the final product I landed on, with feedback from my manager and fellow designers. We stripped away all the distracting background text, trusting our users to get the flow and ourselves to provide help where needed.
The intent was to mount it on foam core to allow for easy interactivity, and to laminate it for durability.
Validating the prototype
I did a quick yarn-and-pin prototype test with non-UX colleagues in the office. It seemed to go okay, minus some logistics with the yarn.
So I went out, printed and laminated the boards, and printed and produced all the cards.
Then I tested the final product. And things derailed quickly.
Rather than use the yarn or cards…my colleagues reached for whiteboard markers and started to write on the laminated poster.
At first I was dismayed. But then I was amazed. It was turning into a brilliant whiteboarding facilitation activity. So, I ran with it.
At the conference
We got a prime spot right at the entrance of the Idea Exchange/VOC pavilion. Hundreds of people passed our activity.
We had at least 2 people at our station during our time slots. I facilitated nearly all the sessions and the other attendee took notes.
How it went (a quick rundown)
- 8 customers from 3 countries
- Session lengths: 30-60 minutes (if they wanted to keep talking, we happily let them)
- Industries: architecture, engineering, national railways, public utilities
- 100% whiteboarding, 0% icon cards or yarn or sticky notes
Our position at the front of the pavilion put us in view of our division's head of UX research. She was so enthralled by how successful our activity was—from the design of the whiteboard poster to how well I facilitated—that she asked to take one of our whiteboards back to the San Francisco HQ office to display as an example of successful user research.
Action shots (the fun stuff)
We gathered a rich and varied body of data. I spent a full week after AU trying out multiple synthesis formats. (It wasn't dissimilar to my efforts figuring out the format of the actual activity!)
- another digital yarn-and-pin board, using icons and labels to indicate major outcomes
- a purely visual, iconographic study, focusing on images for technologies and tools used
- The winner: color-coded text tables in PowerPoint. (Sometimes simplest is best.)
Part of why PowerPoint won was that presenting my results to our leadership team involved a multinational screen-share. This was by far the easiest format to create AND peruse AND refer back to later. All the following images are directly from the slide deck.
At the share-out
It couldn't have gone better. I'd introduce a slide, let the group sit in silence as they absorbed it, and a marvelous conversation would spring forth from the assembled managers and stakeholders. My team was already very pro-design, but this was beautifully received.
Leadership would refer to these results for months, and—most importantly—they did organically impact strategic product decisions going forward.