Learning from User Experience

By May 8, 2019


What does “intelligence” mean in the context of biopharma analysis? Given the complex setting, much of the answer comes down to the task a user needs to complete, along with the question of who exactly that user is.

In developing our BioAccord System, we wanted to expand the possibilities of high-resolution LC-MS analysis from characterization to routine analysis. This meant expanding the universe of potential users, from scientists specifically trained in mass spectrometry to scientists and technicians who need the system as a reliable, accessible tool.

The key to accomplishing this lies in how we understand the user experiences of these scientists and technicians—from the subtle to the glaringly obvious.

BioAccord System

The art of listening

Of course, asking customers what they need is hardly a novel idea in product development. Moreover, the process of determining these needs has its pitfalls. For example, when talking to a user, the questioner can consciously or unconsciously lead them towards a desired response, prompting them to validate a predetermined solution or feature, rather than express an actual need.

Alternately, users may jump to a given feature as a solution as they try to articulate a need, for example requesting data in a certain form as a reassurance that an automated system—such as an instrument’s health system—gives an accurate readout. They may draw on what’s available in current products they use, which excludes novel designs. Asking questions from multiple angles can help surface the underlying need.

Recognizing the pain-points in getting set up

The BioAccord System is the first solution to go through a full user design process in our new Experience Design Center. The goal of this process was to uncover user needs we couldn’t anticipate by watching them play out in real time.

Opened in mid-2018, the Center provides a space for testing concepts and technologies against real-world stresses. From the doors and walls to fixtures and benches, the Center feels like any lab you might walk into. Though observed from several sides, the users we worked with quickly put aside their self-consciousness and got down to business as usual.

Experience Design Center Wet Lab and Digital Lab

When they did, we saw how some of the most important impacts occur before a team ever starts up a new LC-MS system. For example, these systems can often be big, bulky, and delivered in multiple boxes that don’t always arrive together. Engineers might not be available for prompt assembly or configuration, adding to downtime and frustration.

We decided to minimize such set-up hassles by delivering the BioAccord System in a single container, with an engineer arriving to give a smooth “unboxing” and set-up experience. While user testing sometimes looks for subtle measurements of how humans perform tasks, sometimes we can learn a glaringly obvious lesson.

By following the entire experience carefully, we helped understand what it took, step by step, to install a BioAccord System. We saw the value of a one-click start-up as greater for users than we anticipated. We also noticed subtle distinctions in the perception of time by users—what seems to take long or short, vs. the actual time a given task takes.

The simple facts of observing setup and usage revealed other prosaic facts, such as the amount of trash the packaging for different elements generates, which we noticed strewn about the lab after setup. The solution for that? Make the packaging itself enable a swift clean-up by having the outer wrapping for the system double as a trash bag.

Keeping customers close

Learning directly from users has been an important experience for our own team. Several cameras, an out-of-sight observation room and a secure online live feed allowed us, and our remote sites, to observe BioAccord users from three different angles, revealing how subtle details made the difference between a fast process and frustrating one. Most importantly, these first-hand user insights helped bring every Waters team member face-to-face with customers’ pain points, generating design that responds to these needs.

Once the true impacts of design choices became unmistakably clear, we could get the BioAccord System and experience design from user-friendly to user-centered. We now appreciate a deeper understanding of what makes our users feel supported from the moment the system’s single crate gets delivered to the time a user runs their 100th analysis and beyond.

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