Designing applications for professional users requires a slightly different approach from when the user is a consumer or so-called sporadic user, especially in highly regulated and safety concerned industries such as the health and ocean industries. Designers need to cater to high demands on functionality and ensure that we create products and services that present relevant information in a way that supports efficient and fast decision making.
Don’t ask them what they want. Yet.
Contrary to what is often advised in design, we should avoid asking the professional users what they want too early in the process. Simply asking them this poses the risk of merely coming up with incremental changes and improvements to existing solutions. And we don’t want to deliver facelifts. We want to create innovations. Hence, as designers, we need to take more significant responsibility in leading the innovation process. Of course, this does not mean that you should ignore the user, far from it. It merely means that you might want to involve them by doing well-thought-through insight work and avoid too straight-forward questions about wants early on.
Instead of asking what users want, you should ask questions to clarify what the goal is. Do they perhaps need to optimise the current workflows, reduce costs, or ensure a more sustainable service?Katja Egmose, Creative Director and innovation expert, EGGS Design Denmark
Design for situational awareness
When designing for professional users, it’s vital to explicitly focus on content and the so-called situation awareness, i.e., to perceive elements and events correctly for time and space and understand what they mean. It’s essential that the solution we’re designing provides the right amount and type of information and in such a way that the operator has all the support needed to make strong decisions. Hence, information design and information hierarchy are crucial elements to consider for the designer. Without this balance, we run the risk of the user making poor decisions due to a lack of content or cluttered information.
All in all, you can say that designing for professional users is, and should be, a challenge. If it’s easy — you’re probably not doing it right.Paal Holter, CXO EGGS and expert on designing for professionals in maritime industries
As professional users get training and spend time getting used to new interfaces, and the application handles complex operations and processes, the design is less dependent on being purely intuitive, like many interfaces for non-professional users. However, intuitive design is still vital for shortening learning curves, switching between applications, eliminating human error during operations, and making the user experience smoother and less taxing to use. Still, user-efficiency plays a more central role than intuition. It’s essential to prioritize the flow of functionalities and enable the user to perform the job optimally. As designers, we must ensure the right balance between information hierarchies, content, and intuitive use.
Have expertise in the context and industry regulations
Apart from understanding the users and striking the right balance between intuition and efficiency, designers in highly regulated industries, such as the health and ocean sectors, must have a deep understanding of the (often) complex industry structures, regulations, and classifications. These sectors have detailed conventions and constraints that must be taken into consideration. Having — or requiring — a thorough knowledge of these regulations, as well as of the market and business context overall, is vital for designing successful solutions. Moreover, more often than not, these projects involve a high level of complexity, both when it comes to stakeholders and regulations.
All in all, you can say that designing for professional users is, and should be, a challenge. If it’s easy — you’re probably not doing it right.
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