Participatory design: Building a better experience with our users

Nature enthusiast and regular volunteer in tech domains. Enjoy solving problems and crafting user experiences in digital products. Currently working in product design at Mews.

Utilising a participatory design approach in the product design process.

Being user-driven has become one of the core principles for creating great products. As a product designer who focuses on crafting the experience for hotel staff and enabling them to perform their jobs efficiently, it’s essential to always place them at the centre and design for their needs.  

It’s no surprise that designing for B2B products comes with the challenge of finding customers to interview. It’s not as easy as working on consumer-facing products. Back when I designed for B2C, I could do ‘guerrilla testing’, going to the streets and asking passersby for their first impression of the design. But with B2B in hospitality like what I’m doing now, I need to recruit participants with hotel operation experience; otherwise, I wouldn’t get relevant feedback. 

However, during my time at Mews, I’ve been surprised by how different it is from my past B2B experiences. I can easily reach out to customers and get almost daily feedback. That’s all because we have a community of enthusiastic and passionate customers willing to dedicate their time to talking, and even ‘co-creating’ with us. 

This aligns with the emphasis of ‘participatory design’, which involves all stakeholders in the design process to ensure the result meets their needs and is usable. Among stakeholders, customers and end users are the critical factors in the success of our product. In the following content, I will share my experience and observations on how ‘participatory design’ is utilised at Mews to create a great customer experience. 

First, let’s talk about how we, as designers, reach out to our customers in Mews.

Mews Community

As I mentioned, we have a strong community where we can engage with our customers. It’s also a platform for customers to share and exchange feedback and knowledge. Besides actively searching for relevant feedback and opinions on the platform, I find it super helpful to ‘call for help’ for designs I want to test or simply ask for opinions about concepts I plan to explore. Customers are really responsive and appreciate we’re including their feedback and say in the ideation process. 

My post on the Mews Community to recruit participants.
Photo: My post on the Mews Community to recruit participants


UserVoice is another go-to place. It’s a tool where users can submit their ideas or feature requests, and others can vote and share their thoughts. This provides us with qualitative and quantitative data points, shaping our priorities. It’s also a two-way platform, allowing us to respond to requests or engage with customers who submit or vote for an idea. We can then schedule follow-up sessions to discuss in more detail or ask them to try our new design concepts.

Photo: Users can submit their ideas on UserVoices

Customer Success Managers

I always consider Customer Success managers as UX agents, since they help us delve into customers’ needs and quickly share them with us. Apart from introducing us to their customers, they are also experts in providing insights into what customers think and why, and what they might need in certain situations. So, sometimes if I can’t test the design with real customers, customer success managers are my go-to to validate the solution.

Domain experts

Depending on the nature of the topic, we might regularly speak with the specific customers responsible for it. That means we know each other well, so it’s natural for us to validate the design before rolling it out. Sometimes it might just be a sanity check. They are the domain experts, and it’s crucial to incorporate their thoughts and feedback in the process because they know use cases and complexities better than someone like me who sits on the other side of the world. I always appreciate opportunities to speak with these experts, who provide fresh perspectives that often lead to ‘ah, I never thought about that’ moments. 

Though people use various approaches, this is how I choose to approach our customers in Mews. Overall, the strong relationships with our customers and great tools enable me to reach out without too much hassle, and I’ve tremendously benefited from this support. 

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Next, how do we incorporate customer feedback into our process?

Now let’s talk about the activities we do with customers to gather feedback and incorporate it into our processes.

Concept testing 

According to Jakob Nielsen, we should “watch users work”, rather than relying solely on asking what they prefer, especially during early ideation when there are many alternative designs. When conceptualising design, we are often faced with numerous ideas and directions. While internal reviews and peer critiques are helpful, those who use our service in their daily work could offer more relevant feedback. In the early stages, I usually incorporate concept testing into my design process by creating an interactive prototype with a ‘happy path’ and giving them the scenario and tasks to try it out.

Usability testing

Like concept testing, usability testing involves getting users to really interact with our proposed design, allowing us to observe and seek improvements. The difference between concept and usability testing is that the latter often occurs in the later phase when we have a clear design direction and comprehensive design flows. Participants are given specific tasks based on the scenarios and are required to perform these tasks using the design prototypes. The purpose of the testing is to validate if there are any usability flaws or identify detailed cases that we may have overlooked. 

Photo: Moderated usability testing with customers (sensitive data and photos masked)

It’s also worth mentioning that for moderated sessions of both concept and usability testing, sharing feedback is more interactive, enabling us to dive deeper into specific areas. However, participants may be reserved about their thoughts as I’m both the designer and the one requesting feedback. For this reason, I sometimes find it more beneficial to conduct unmoderated sessions as participants can freely share their thoughts, whether positive or negative. In unmoderated testing,  we use a tool to set up the tasks and record participant feedback. Once again, this highlights the importance of having effective tools in our process.

Photo: The result from one of the unmoderated tests (sensitive data masked)

Co-creation workshops

Co-creation workshops are collaborative sessions where stakeholders from different backgrounds come together to understand problems and generate solutions. While I haven’t had the chance to lead one at Mews, some of our designers have successfully facilitated workshops with our hotel customers, delivering great outcomes from these activities. 

Although co-creation workshops are relatively time and resource-intensive, with extensive preparation required in advance, working together in real-time with customers from diverse backgrounds fosters collaborative problem-solving and drives diversity. This approach also ensures alignment of goals, priorities, and customer expectations.

Photo: On-site workshops with customers led by designers at Mews
(Left: workshop led by Zuzana Hrušovská, right: workshop led by Irene Mallafré and Jorge Delgado)

How do we maximise the value of customer feedback to benefit others?

With the ever-growing organisation within Mews, feedback collected from the activities above could benefit other teams or departments. Apart from proactively sharing insights through relevant communication channels, we have a tool helping us build an inventory of customer feedback insights, which is Dovetail. Some of its features, like uploading and transcribing video calls and topic tagging/labelling, allow colleagues not in the interview to easily search for and watch the playback. They can also label relevant insights for discovery purposes and tag stakeholders to share the findings. This tool enhances the participatory design approach and even enables the teams to continue insight mining interactively, making 1 plus 1 more than 2, benefiting wider audiences within the organisation.

Photo: Dovetail helps us build an inventory of customer feedback insights (sensitive data and photos masked)

What’s my take?  

Having been with Mews for quite some time, I find it valuable to be able to work closely with customers who are always willing to provide feedback and passionate about sharing their insights with us. Here are my highlights:

More than just feature requests

Being user-driven is more than just fulfilling feature requests; it’s about striking a delicate balance between meeting user needs and aligning with business objectives. When we talk with customers, we gain insights into why they want specific features. Understanding the “why” behind their requests allows us to develop solutions that not only address their needs but also align with the overall product strategy. It’s a constant battle to ensure we prioritise features that bring value to both users and the business.

Being too close to customers can be both a blessing and a challenge

While working closely with customers helps us understand their needs, it can also lead to frustration when resources are limited, and business needs continue to grow. It’s essential to maintain a balance between meeting immediate customer demands and scaling our solutions for long-term success.

What’s the guiding principle? Being value-driven

In navigating the complexities of product development, our guiding principle is being value-driven. With a participatory design approach and the resources at Mews, I can effectively incorporate user feedback into my design process. Delivering value to customers isn’t just about adding more features or meeting every customer request. It’s about presenting solutions that bring meaningful value to our customers while aligning with our business goals and providing a great experience to our end users.

Special thanks to Barbora Hanousková and Mathias Coudert for advocating for users during the process and joining the testing sessions, Zuzana Hrušovská, Irene Mallafré and Jorge Delgado for allowing us to share their workshop photos, and Alaa El-Shaarawi for reviewing the article. 

Nature enthusiast and regular volunteer in tech domains. Enjoy solving problems and crafting user experiences in digital products. Currently working in product design at Mews.

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