Experience Design: the Ultimate R&D Reality Check

Amazing innovations are fundamentally flawed when they fail to comprehend the everyday user experience.

By Hank Shaw, a Xerox contributor

There’s a common disconnect in Research & Development Land.

A new breed of experts -- experience designers -- help bridge the gap that exists between R&D and real-world practicality.
A new breed of experts — experience designers — help bridge the gap that exists between R&D and real-world practicality.

It happens when researchers develop a startling new technology that misfires in the workplace. The cause? The vision behind the amazing innovation is fundamentally flawed, because it fails to answer some critical questions that are deeply rooted in the everyday user experience.

Do people really want the new technology? Will they use it? Will it help them in their actual work environment? Will they have to change their work processes to accommodate it? And last but not least, will they willingly change the way they work to benefit from new functionality and more automation?

These questions have a major impact on technology design and development these days. And they give rise to a new breed of experts called experience designers who help bridge the Grand Canyon-esque gap that sometimes exists between R&D and real-world practicality.

A product of holistic thinking

Experience designers typically have a big picture focus on the issues involved in bringing new technology to the workplace. And they often use a multidisciplinary approach that can encompass everything from computer science, ethnography and psychology to business process analysis, and business and brand strategy.

These holistic experts think intensely about the impact of new technology on users, work processes and the business. And they often rely on a specialized research activity called work practice studies to gain insights into the way work is a handled in a specific operational setting.

This kind of behind-the-scenes investigation can reveal undocumented processes, and other ‘hidden truths’ about the nature of business processes and workflows that would not be readily apparent to someone in R&D.

These insights help designers create a new, transformational experience–revolving around new technology–that fully accounts for the realities of work.

An increasingly valuable complement to industrial design.

Of course, experience design and work practice studies are not a sure cure for the failure of new technologies by themselves. Instead, they should be combined with a disciplined approach to prototyping and industrial design.

Together, these carefully coordinated efforts can help bridge the gap between R&D and the workplace. They can accelerate user and customer adoption. And they can give experience-focused businesses a significant advantage over competitors who fall in love with technology without answering the big, reality-check questions:

Will it help people do things better? Will it fit into their actual work environment? And will they really want to use it?

Based upon the article “Experience Design: The Path from Research to Business,” authored by Xerox Research Centre Europe (XRCE) researchers Antonietta Grasso and Caroline Privault, as well as Yves Hoppenot who is in charge of transferring R&D technologies to our managed print services business

It is from a series of articles from XRCE researchers that celebrate the lab’s 20th anniversary.

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