GUEST COLUMN: Adam Banks from ux-study on the adoption of standard UX research and design practices

The AV world has not yet been forced to embrace standard UX research and design practices. It soon will be, says Adam Banks, founder and director, ux-study.

We’ve seen extraordinary advances in technology in the past 20 years - mobile technology and the web are virtually unrecognisable from then to now. Much of this change has come from a stronger focus on the User Experience of systems - a change from an engineering-led mindset (where design decisions are made primarily for the convenience of engineers building the systems) to a user-centred approach (where all decisions are informed by the needs of end users).

In that same 20-year period, what has changed in how the AV world approaches design? Systems are still designed and built in broadly the same way … still almost no research nor testing is done with real users … very little iteration and re-design happens based on user testing and feedback ... and there is virtually no use of standard design systems. So, what has changed? Slightly higher resolution control panels? Nicer fonts?

Think of companies like Uber, Deliveroo, Monzo - each took over their respective industries not by creating new technology but by providing a better experience for users. As Google famously enshrined into their Ten Founding Principles: “Focus on the user and all else will follow”. The AV world needs to accept that it’s not providing just technology, and that its primary purpose is to provide an experience to end users.

Change is never easy - the simplest thing to do tomorrow is what we did yesterday - but the AV world has been following that mantra for far too long. Industries that remain stubbornly NOT user-centred risk losing their users. It’s easy to think that “the world will always need AV companies, no matter what they do” but to think that is to ignore history. The Black Cab industry in London was, for a long time, set-up primarily to serve the interest of drivers.

The needs of passengers (users) were secondary to the needs of the people running the industry. They assumed that users would always need black cabs, so there was no strong need to become more user-focused. Then Uber appeared, and the Black Cab industry has now basically gone. The same can happen in the AV world, if manufacturers or designers meet users’ needs without the need for integrators or consultants in the middle.

The current explosion in “meeting bars” is a clear example of this beginning to happen: what role does an AV company have when connecting a pre-built all-in-one bar to a screen?

I’ve heard from many people in the AV world that “we can’t access end users”. This belies a big problem across the industry: that people don’t know what they don’t know. A consultant or integrator building a new system for <big bank>, who thinks they need to speak to the exact people from <big bank> that will use their system, does not understand the basics of User Research. I know this, because that used to be me (before I left AV, retrained in UX, and now run my own UX agency). I now know that the type and number of users needed for research is nuanced, and changes depending on the fidelity of the design and the point in the iterative process.

What does it mean for an AV system to “work”? I could design the most amazing AV system - it could use the latest technology to do incredible things with signals and network and streaming and displays - but it’s totally pointless if it doesn’t meet users’ needs. It could be that my wonderful piece of engineering wasn’t needed at all, and we could have met users’ needs in a much simpler way.

Or it could be that an entirely different engineering approach more closely meets users’ goals.The only way to know is through iterative user research with real people.

So … what can an AV company do to catch up? Embrace change, accept that you DO need to move to new ways of working, and that this is good both for your users AND for you as a company.

Other industries - especially the digital/tech world - are far ahead of AV in their ability to learn from users and in iterative research and design processes. Start using standard practices from those industries.

Many people I speak to in the AV world think they know how to talk to their users. They don’t. By this I mean: the skill of extracting useful, actionable insights from your users takes a very long time to develop. Bring in experienced researchers from other industries and learn from them.

The AV world can beginto catch up … but it will take commitment and the willingness to change.