13 Nov. 2023fiber_manual_record5 min read

Expand user insight, build better digital solutions

To make an impact, digital solutions must be grounded in a deep user understanding, including accessibility requirements and cultural sensitivities.
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In brief

  • Are your digital solutions grounded in deep user understanding?
  • How are you evaluating accessibility requirements and cultural sensitivities?
  • This keeps people engaged, compels them to act and fosters better results.

User-centric digital solutions drive powerful engagement, foster brand loyalty, and compel people to take meaningful action. That’s good for top- and bottom-line results. The thing is: truly intuitive user interfaces (UI) don’t happen by chance. Context can change the way a user meshes their mental model and the interface itself. To make an impact, digital solutions must be grounded in a deep user understanding, including accessibility requirements and cultural sensitivities. Prioritizing these areas throughout the design and development process helps ensure the solutions you build reach their full potential.

Putting humans at the centre is always a good idea. Designing new, human-centric ways of working within an organization. Developing seamless, customer-first digital solutions to improve banking experiences. Building out effective environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies with people at the core. Again and again, data and experience tell us that centring strategy around the real needs of real people generates better results. Ernst & Young (EY) research carried out with Oxford University reveals that focusing on human factors can increase the probability of transformation success to more than 70 per cent. That’s huge. But it’s not just the focus on users that matters. The scope of human factors that you factor in makes a difference, too.

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The biggest missed opportunity for success would be failing to get a holistic view of our users beyond the digital experience alone. The studio team is made up of diverse individuals reflecting a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, perspectives and abilities. That’s also true of the audiences we design for. Every user group has its own defining qualities, including specific needs, preferences, sensitivities, languages and more. These characteristics define how users interact with the world around them from day to day. The more insight we have, the more engaging, useful, helpful and valuable our intuitive UI will be. Consider the user who requires assistive technology to interact with an app or website. What does their reality look like beyond the scope of that digital interaction? How else might assistive technology play a part in their day? And how well will the solution you’re building fit into that broader journey?

Think about the cultural factors that shape a given user group you’re designing for. Will the advanced features you include make sense if socio-economic factors mean these users don’t typically have the latest, greatest devices on the market? Could failing to reinforce privacy messaging derail efforts to build trust among user groups where this matters above all else?

What developers and designers don’t know about users can ultimately derail a solution’s success. Doubling down on user-centred design can unleash a whole new world of possibilities for intuitive UI. We see this in practice every day. It came through loud and clear as we built an app connecting tens of thousands of young people (aged 12 to 24) with accessible mental healthcare services. We set out to build an intuitive UI that could speed up access to mental health support and in turn, transform lives. Big goal; big learning curve. To succeed, we consciously put our assumptions about youth aside and got to know this user group with objective eyes.

Assume youth aren’t serious about privacy concerns? Assume nothing. In many ways, this user group was more preoccupied with digital trust than older audiences we’d designed for in the past. They want to know their information and confidentiality is secure. While youth can be loud ambassadors for solutions they love, this group is also apt to share broadly across their network when things don’t work, or trust is broken. Up the ante again.

Project owners and managers on the client side were an amazing guide as we dug in to understand this unique user group. They also represented another dynamic: we had to understand the in-house support professionals as users, too. Our solution had to make sense on their side of things in order for them to field requests effectively, and deliver seamless support experiences for the young people reaching out.

Working with advisors on the client side, we gained key insight about the kinds of devices young people use. For example, think young people automatically want the fanciest widgets, latest app updates and novel features? Think again. Many are using older devices, passed down from parents or purchased second hand. That cultural sensitivity was an important roadblock we had to acknowledge quickly.

These accessibility and cultural considerations had a tremendous impact on what we built, and how we built it. By starting from a deep understanding of who we were designing for, we made important tweaks that drove lasting results. That outcome would be impossible without putting users at the centre of our intuitive process. We had to learn the mental model of the very people who would be using our solution before we could even begin to create something that worked for them. That said, user-centric design isn’t a one-and-done activity. It’s a dynamic way of working that requires us to prioritize users at three unique—and equally important—points in the process. How? At EY Design Studio, we:

  1. Start early. Shifting your mindset to expect the unexpected is essential. That means conducting user research as early in the development cycle as possible to test assumptions about user experience, background and how users might respond when using the solution. We learn the most and build the best when surfacing unexpected insights through user workshops, study groups and other discovery-phase activities.
  2. Check continuously. Keeping the user in mind allows you to see how users interact with the solution in the real-world, and make tweaks. We are always learning and making progress. That can be tricky for stakeholders to understand; folks sometimes expect perfection right out of the gate. But digital solutions become more intuitive and effective over time, as we commit continuously gut-check user experience. That means embedding open, two-way channels for ongoing feedback and implementing an internal process for managing that input, so we remain accountable.
  3. Stay agile. Maintaining agile ways of working must continue long after a digital solution is launched. Make the user’s mental model the foundation of your solution. Create ways to gather and action feedback once it launches. Then? Operate as a curious and inquisitive team that invests to evolve, collaborate and improve always.


Intuitive UI fails when we fail to understand users beyond a single, moment-in-time digital interaction. Putting people at the heart of design improves accessibility, enhances user satisfaction and generates sustainable results.

Icaro Oliveira is a Director, Technology at EY Design Studio. Icaro is a seasoned tech leader with a keen eye for strategy. Positioned at the intersection of people, technology, and innovation, he champions a culture of innovation and skillfully navigates the delivery of impactful solutions. Currently, he oversees a multitude of software development engagements, emphasizing particularly on health projects.
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Yui Sotozaki is a UX/UI Designer - Consulting, Business Consulting, Innovation & Experience Design. Yui is passionate about design for human interaction. He finds inspiration in the desire lines found in everyday things. In his spare time, Yui enjoys mountain biking in the pacific northwest.
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