Regardless of how many great slide deck presentations and reports one can create as a UX researcher, there still seems to be a disconnect between user data and the product teams who design and develop for them.

I wanted to bridge that gap with more hands-on activities (or active learning), and not just for stakeholders but entire teams – developers, designers, QA, PMs, and product directors.

During a research sprint for an e-sign product, I discovered during user interviews that there were underlying issues possibly affecting the product’s low adoption rate – arthritis and vision. This wasn’t something built into any of our personas or discussed amongst product teams.

Describing disabilities to your team can present some challenges. We can present the information verbally, in a slide deck, or a well-written document, but those forms of data presentation are lacking a key element – empathy. How could we better communicate some of these user needs to our product teams?

Behold, the empathy workshop. Why not simulate some of the common struggles our user demographics face on a daily basis?

Emotion has a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem solving. Emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention, especially modulating the selectivity of attention as well as motivating action and behavior. 

Tyng CM, Amin HU, Saad MNM, Malik AS. The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory. Front Psychol. 2017 Aug 24;8:1454. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01454. PMID: 28883804; PMCID: PMC5573739.

Using this information was key in engaging our company as a whole with active learning and empathy-building activities to bolster more conversation and action towards creating more accessible products.

We set up multiple tables, each simulating a different disability that would be most common for our user base, according to primary and secondary research. For team members who could not make it in person, we established a facilitator who could move between tables with their iPad and walk participants through the activities using materials they had at home.

Each table had a facilitator from the design team to guide participants through the activities, scanning QR codes with their phones to activate the assigned task.

Towards the end of the hour, we gathered some of the company’s leadership team to participate in an origami activity while simulating all four disabilities at once. The results were hilarious, but sparked an amazing roundtable discussion with the company afterwards.

Allowing our teams to experience just a small fraction of the physical challenges that our users faced made a huge difference in the way that the company approached building products. The effectiveness of an hour and a half workshop proved invaluable by “simply” engaging our product teams in using all of their five senses and emotional intelligence.