We all know that when we aren't our customer, we make design choices that often don't really resonate with the customer. This can be especially true if you are highly tech savvy and your customer is not. In some cases, we are designing for audiences that are very discrete and specialized. How do you design for them? Well, of course, the standard observational methods and customer research applies. But, here's a quirky way to get some empathy for your customer -- go through training to become them.
This example is completely hypothetical, but go with me on it...
Let's say you were hired to design a web application for LVNs (Licensed Vocational Nurses - the ones who often provide bedside assistance in homecare and nursing homes and the like) to teach them standard care techniques and track what they've done with each of their patients for the day. You've certainly got the opportunity to talk with LVNs, and maybe observe them in their natural habitat. However, one option that you might not have thought of until now is to go through training to become an LVN.
The thing is, the people who best understand what it's like to be your target customer are your target customer. And, if you aren't them, you could put yourselves completely into their shoes by becoming them. The interesting thing about doing the training that they've done is that it exposes you to their vocabulary, the things they've been told, and their expectations. You'll be exposed to how they are treated, and how they see themselves with respect to related professionals. It can help you really connect with what they think and how they feel. And, as I've mentioned before, that is the key to understanding what motivates them. When you have that, you have deep understanding and empathy and the solutions that you design for them are likely to really resonate.