Introduction to Design Thinking: A Beginner's Account of User Research

By Ciara Zervantian, Center for Economic Development Research Assistant

Julia Casey and Ciara Zervantian participate in a design thinking workshop held at the Anchorage Museum.

Julia Casey and Ciara Zervantian participate in a design thinking workshop held at the Anchorage Museum.

Walking into the classroom, I had no expectations. The design thinking workshop was like nothing I had experienced before. Elina Zheleva, the expert instructor and facilitator, divided us into groups with the challenge to see how we might develop low-cost ideas that will beautify and improve the user experience at a parking garage located downtown. A 45 minute timer was set, allowing us time to complete three things for user research portion of the challenge:

  1. Ask people open-ended questions.

  2. Observe people and the space.

  3. Try it ourselves.

I was already parked in the garage and made a few observations. I liked the spaciousness of the garage, but didn’t like thinking I would have trouble remembering where I parked. I asked some mall-goers their favorite and least favorite things about the garage. Security was a common concern for those parking there and was one of the main challenges the groups took on. I saw someone who had just packed up from sleeping overnight in the building so I understand why people might be concerned for their safety, especially when it is dark. The biggest surprise to me was the basketball court, ice rink, ping pong tables, and a seating area for a local cafe located on the 6th floor of the parking garage. I wasn’t the only one who had absolutely no clue about this set up surrounded by beautiful mountains. I thought the garage could use a garden and trees on the top floor as well as on top of the businesses roofs just below the garage. It could a simple way to attract customers and beautify the space.

It is fascinating the details the groups observed when they were asking people open-ended questions, observing people and the space, and trying it out themselves. The user research allowed me to better notice details in the parking garage and lead us to the next part of the challenge: to improve the user experience at the parking garage.

For some inspiration check out The First Secret of Design is Noticing

Thank you to the Anchorage MuseumCenter for Corporate and Professional Development, and Alaska Pacific University for bringing the design thinking workshop to Anchorage!