The Venus team began the design journey by mutually agreeing a group charter, ethos, and goals. An agile, iterative approach to delivery was adopted. The team worked in isolation of each other, collaborating through online tools. Personal reflections were done.

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Takeaways: Agree on team purpose and rules. Use research data as an arbiter. Working remotely means give-and-take. Release value fast using agile frameworks; rotate roles for shared learning. Maintain a diary. Do a retro.

Team build

It was important that there was inclusion for the diversity of background, expertise, and ideation; to stay true to a human-centric design approach grounded in user research and evaluation, and to work together by consensus.

Working methods

The team worked remotely from each other using online collaborative meeting and design tools: Microsoft Teams, Mural, Figma, and Trello. Deliveries were made through two-week design sprints in a scrum process; with self-organizing individual team contributions and a rotation of Product Owner and Scrum Manager roles throughout.

Extract of Venus team Trello board.

There was one ‘long’ (60 minutes) direction-setting and deliverable meeting, and two ‘shorter’ (5–10 minutes) progress get-togethers each week, daily digital check-ins and ‘mob-sessions’ of brainstorming and designing together online. These events aligned with typical scrum ceremonies (Scrum Alliance, n.d.) for sprint planning, working, backlog maintenance, demos, and retrospectives.

On reflection, rather than using Figma to create a testable deliverable, getting a lower-fidelity prototype into evaluation earlier would have exposed user value earlier, with more time to iterate downstream (Nielsen, 2003).

A Kanban-style Trello board was used to self-manage research, ideation, design, and evaluation-related tasks.

The team maintained an online diary (or ‘live blog’) to record events and decisions for retrospectives. This approach worked well, although it was felt that limitations of diary study completeness might have been addressed by using daily digital notifications (Salazar, 2015).

Venus team diary, or live blog (descending date order)

Closer to the delivery date, the team became more focused on deadlines. The team worked in an effective way that might be described as ‘Agile With A Bit Of Waterfall Thrown In’ (AWABOWTI), with linear time constraints being a driver as well as effort estimation. As a final step, a final presentation was jointly created and reviewed, polished for design and information, and pilot tested before joint delivery to the class.

Ethical concerns

Ethical issues were addressed using agreed standards of conduct (Sharp, Rogers, & Preece, 2015). The team considered all ideas were valuable and each member’s contribution equal.

User research, insight, and evaluation were critical. However, at no time were COVID19 regulations to be broken; this meant working creatively and remotely with others.

Data and personal privacy was respected in how users were engaged and conversed with, and how the research information was stored and presented. The team complied with GDPR and IADT requirements. All personal information was anonymized.

Publication of images and quotations was agreed upon by consent forms, and all referenced quotes, images, and figures credited. Only free and open-source images were used for the redesign and collateral.

Remote challenges

Working remotely while collaborating online presented challenges to the team. Work done or decisions made sometimes required clarification. Individual work/life balances needed to be respected.

Venus team working together using Microsoft Teams software. Image: Ultan O’Broin

Watching, talking, and listening over the Internet requires anticipation of responses, delays, accommodating disruption of loss of video or audio, and navigating the tool UX. The somewhat two-dimensional nature of shared screen activity militates against more rapid ideation (for example, using Post-its or flip charts in person), but it is effective. The missing face-to-face social interactions, subtle gestures, visual clues, and body language, require candid clarifications and honest addressing of misunderstandings.

However, by working flexibly using a human-centred design and agile framework, and with good humour, the team members contributed valuable ideas, material, and discussion points. Class time was leveraged to supplement the teams’ self-organized communications and engagements. Lecturer comments and feedback were elicited, valued, and taken on board by the team throughout.

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Parent. UX Gunslinger. Curious. Researcher. Marathoner. Dog person. 80s hair & music. Dub. Content in this blog may not necessarily reflect the views of IADT.