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We have an interesting project which is a prototype for a hypothetical domain specific userbase which does not currently exist.

I'd like to use good design practices and wish to adapt our existing user driven approaches to the absence of actual users.

A few things seems like actual users could be replaced with suitably researched / estimated persona's but certain other techniques like validation of design decisions and gathering metrics seem near impossible.

Here's the best way I can describe the situation:

We have a customer who wants a system to repair flying cars. Flying car's don't exist (quite yet) but if we split the problem in two, we have cars and flying.

  • Car repair is well understood and users can be located.
  • Flying is well understood (but perhaps slightly less so being a newer / more complex technology) but users can also be located.

The combination of flying cars doesn't quite exist and neither do the people who might repair them (in that role). The users who might be the repair people could be mechanics, or aerospace engineers, or neither, or both.

We could create a persona to represent a mechanic, and this would be a fairly sensible approach, it's likely they would be involved in repairing flying cars.

However the process to repair a flying car may be significantly different from their current role, we could model the goal of replacing the tires, or changing the oil from the mechanic's perspective, but we can't be sure those roles would actually exist in the flying car.

Does anyone have any suggestions for this kind of situation?

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I feel it's hard to be specific in answering this...especially given the lack of domain or other context.

Your userbase that 'does not currently exist' presumably does in fact exist (I mean people exist right?) - they just can't be called your userbase yet. And there may be some of those people (domain experts?) you can use to fulfill a proxy user position - not just for persona scenarios but for guerilla research and proxy validation of hypotheses (because that's all they'll be - hypotheses).

You need to get creative in getting as close as you can with what you have and with as many different approaches as you can. And with all those involved promising yourselves that you'll undertake a continual re-validation of design decisions and assessment of metrics as your scenario changes. You need to turn hypotheses into facts, evidence - data points that inform subsequent iterations.

You're probably starting right at the beginning of the design squiggle (below) - and things will likely get a whole lot messier before you get 'direction'!

enter image description here

I've written about some of these issues before, and some of the ideas are relevant to other methods and processes, not just personas.

https://ux.stackexchange.com/a/21916/6046 What research methods can I use to create personas?

https://ux.stackexchange.com/a/29863/6046 How do we validate our persona?

  • Thanks for the insights and useful links! – Mo'ath Jun 19 at 15:20
  • It's hard to be specific due to the project itself, but I'll update the question to describe a representative problem which may make (some!) sense! – dougajmcdonald Jun 19 at 21:11
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Questions have often been asked on UXSE about doing UX design without involving actual end users. In your case it is actually the lack of users and not lack of access to them that is the issue, but given that user-centred design is a philosophy or strategy rather than a specific set of defined methods, there is no reason why you can't still carry out your work in a user-centred approach.

Sometimes it is very difficult for a UX designer to follow the natural/ideal flow of doing research --> design --> prototype --> test in an iterative fashion. Your need of a persona comes from wanting to make decisions for the design phase, but since you don't have an actual example of users or products the outcomes of the research phase is going to be a hit or miss at best.

If you take the example of common software development projects where a solution has already been designed and developed without much research, the UX designer's task here can be either to go back to the beginning and do the research (while a developed product is just sitting there), or use the actual product to do some 'research' by actually testing it.

So it is still possible to be user-centric by prototyping something that doesn't exist and then test the concept with potential users as a way of refining your research strategy. Perhaps it just means having to spend a little bit more time iterating until you can narrow down your focus, but it would not be worse than simply going out and asking people about things that they are not necessarily familiar with and then trying to extrapolate or interpolate the results.

  • Really interesting answer, the comment about pre-existing software development projects is relevant in this example. So part of my decision is whether to go back to the beginning or attempt to test / verify what's there. – dougajmcdonald Jun 20 at 7:47
  • @dougajmcdonald if something already exists, it will be quicker and easier to test it compared to planning a whole new research proposal based on very little existing information. But if time and resources were not an issue, it would be much easier to start from scratch (not a luxury many of us will ever get)... – Michael Lai Jun 21 at 2:58

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