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User Empathy


     Emerson's flagship product, DeltaV, is a distributed control system (DCS) that automates process from oil refinement to pharmaceutical manufacturing. Most notably, DeltaV was used to produce the over 40 million doses of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine. My role as a UX consultant is creating a streamlined and easy user experience to minimize plant downtime and increase user safety by developing prototypes, conducting user test, and facilitating UX workshops with developers. The following highlights the process in which we follow to create this application.

User Empathy

     As a motto, our team always says, "Remember, you are not the user." By that we mean empathizing with our real users and personas will ultimately lead us down the right roads that address the real problems at hand. We engage in empathizing activities early in product development 

Gemba Walks 

     Walking a mile in our user's shoes was a crucial part to empathizing phase. For this stage, we  made several trips to the J.J. Pickle Research Facility by the University of Texas Austin and spoke with plant operators and field technicians to understand their pain points in locating assets, addressing process alarms, and other day-to-day conflicts. We were able to run short usability tests with existing prototypes as well as conduct contextual interviews to gain a better understanding of how our user's think. Ultimately, this trip informed many changed to the design include accessibility enhancements and reduced processing time. 

Empathy Mapping

     Often, access to our users is limited due to their availability and location. However, we don't let that stop us from empathizing with our users via personas and empathy maps. Empathy mapping allows us to critically analyze a persona to make a user's goals, pain points, and processes more tangible. By using a well-researched persona as a starting point, we examine how this imaginary user would think, feel, speak, and more in an effort to better generate solutions that address the right problem. We often use empathy mapping during feature refinements to highlight the importance of UI improvements and their effects beyond the scrum team.

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Nigel, a Scrum Master, leads a group through an Empathy Map exercise.


     Emerson uses 25 personas that cover many of the common positions you'd find within a processing plant. These include Field Technicians, Batch Operators, Control System Engineer, and more. We use these personas to understands how users will interact with others in the plant, the type of technology they use, their goals or motivations, and other basics surrounding their role. These personas are also often used to create narratives and customer journey maps in which we see our characters solving common problems with innovative solutions. 

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A redacted persona for Jenny, the control system engineer. 
Problem Framing

Problem Framing

Heuristic Reviews 

     When user testing isn't an option to find usability errors, we turn to heuristic reviews to comb through the application to find violations. Emerson has it's own set of ten heuristics adopted to address the unique need of our highly specialized users. Heuristic reviews typically consisted of groups of developers and designs walking through common user flows and marks violations with their severity. The most severe were then complied into a set of user stories from scrum teams to address at their on pace. Heuristic review on applications like Batch Control and DeltaV Explorer uncovered a large set of errors that spark complete revamps of their interfaces. As a practice, we try to encourage scrum teams to keep copies of the heuristics close at hand and develop with them in mind. 

Grace, the UX Manager, describes the Emerson heuristics to a group of developers.

Statement Starters


     Big ideas come from even bigger questions and the way we create those big questions is by using statement starters. Often using the phrase "How might we..." to begin our statements, we encourage participants to create queries that are bold or dramatic in scope. For example, instead of asking "how might we may our product safer" we would ask "how might we may a product that would ensure a safety incident never happens again?" By doing this, we create a foundation in which only radical ideas can answer the question.  

Ideation and Brainstorming

     Generating ideas for solutions is mainly done around the newly framed problems, the limitations of the software and the time commitment from the development teams. Find solutions often feels like a puzzle, however clear organization, design thinking strategies, and collaborative working environments create answers that meet the needs of our users. 

Customer Journey Mapping

     Mapping out the flow of our application gives us an opportunity to ensure we address pain points, design challenges, and area of improvement in our design. This collaborative effort is used to inform features for upcoming products and improvements to existing ones. These maps typically consist of "swim lanes" that are use for documenting the problems addressed, designed opportunities, quotes from the user, screenshots of prototypes, and illustrations of the narrative's scenes. The example below, we use customer journey mapping to plan the flow of an in-person demonstration of future DeltaV concept product for the annual Emerson Exchange conference. 

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A customer journey map used to highlight the flow of an Emerson Exchange conference demonstration of future DeltaV concepts. 

Creative Matrix

     Diverging and casting a wide net of bold ideas can help when teams feel pigeonholed into a certain solution of have a narrow view of what could possibly be done. Creative matrices, or as I like to call it the "Billion Dollar Idea Machine", are structures that encourage ideating on a problem statement through a specific lens. It forces a participant to consider new technologies, policies, and practices that otherwise may have been overlooked when viewing a problem with inherent biases and preconceived notions. 

User Story Mapping

     Unlike Customer Journey Mapping, user story mapping allows us to break down a feature into smaller user stories and arrange them in a way that presents a comprehensive flow. This visual tool is great for understanding the scope of the product and ideation for new functionalities within a feature. This tool is also used by the team informally to plan out internal work or ensure that all aspects of a prototype are planned for. 

Design System
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On-the-fly Prototyping 

Collaborative prototyping is one of the most useful tools we have when creating a new product as it allows us to generate ideas outside of a design vacuum and gives agency to SMEs who are encouraged to take ownership of designs. Typically, on-the-fly prototyping is done at low fidelity level and on a platform such a Mural so that participants are an active part of the creation process. 

High Fidelity Prototyping

When full scale mockups are required, we help by providing modern designs that adhere to brand standards. Our preferred tool is Adobe XD for hi-fi prototyping, however we do also rely on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for some design work. 

UX Training
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Remote User Testing 

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Customer Engagement 

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Design System

Icon Library

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UX Training

UX Boot Camp

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