Krissy Scoufis / User Insights / November 11th, 2013

The Truth About UX and Why It Matters in the Real World

A version of this article was published previously by Krissy Scoufis at EmagineGraphic.com.

The world is experiencing a monumental shift in the way we think about interaction and product design. For companies around the world, one thing is becoming clear: a customer’s experience is king. Web design is no different, even though consumer interaction is purely digital.

In the past websites were designed either because they looked cool or did something cool.  And this worked for a while.  But the web has become a vastly different place in the last decade. We’re no longer in the Wild West days of the internet. Websites have become so feature rich and complex that it is no longer okay to build a site just because it looks cool or does something cool.

This trend towards customer experience is nothing new in many industries. The automotive industry is largely considered a leader in marketing, advertising and design. Traditionally, automotive makers spend the majority of their efforts focusing on performance (Yeah, it’s got a HEMI).

And then around 2006 there was a subtle change in the way they marketed their products.

mercedes-needs-a-hero

This ad from Mercedes talks about being a hero and needing a hero.  They’re telling us here that significance matters.

jaguar-bloodline-ad

Jaguar wants you to preserve your bloodline, telling us identity matters.

acura-made-for-mankind

And Acura’s marketing campaign called “Made for Mankind” tells us relevance matters.

So what happened here?

Technological and manufacturing advancements have made it easier to put performance into a car which has essentially leveled the performance playing field.

The same shift is happening in the web world.  With each new release of Adobe CS, new actions and filters and templates and shortcuts are baked into the product making it easier for designers to do their job.  In 2011 Twitter released Bootstrap, the front-end prototyping tool, which has made it easier for developers to do their job.  This has essentially leveled the web development playing field.  So if all cars have a roughly equal chance at performance and all websites are fully functioning, feature rich and beautiful, what is going to actually matter to users?

Going forward in industries where there is an excess of performance or features, the success of interactions and products will be judged on the experience it delivers the users.

User Experience or UX is the term we use when we talk about facilitating this experience. The international community feels UX is critical enough that it is actually governed by an international standard called ISO 9241. This standard tells us that whether you work in a team or as an individual, there are some universal User Experience truths that apply to us all.

UX Truth 1:  Understand the problem you are trying to solve.

In a perfect world, a project idea is born from a cooperative vision.  In reality this almost never happens.  Usually there are many priorities and egos and goals that converge to generate the project need. As UX Professionals, we’re responsible for gathering and making sense of these ideas and then turning them into requirements. Start with interviews of key stakeholders to get a better understanding of project objectives and expected outcomes. This is the time to define what this project is all about.  Ask two-part questions to understand not only what you are building, but why.  Be willing to ask the stupid questions to find out the real meaning behind it all.

Don't make users fight to get what they want. Photo credit: Kris Krug
Don’t make users fight to get what they want. Photo credit: Kris Krug

UX Truth 2:  Understand the people using your product.

In order to truly understand who your users are, you must communicate with them.  As Justin Davis, the founder of Madera Labs once said “A user experience designer, who isn’t talking to users is not a user experience designer. They are just a designer.” Get out there and talk to the people you will be designing for.  Find out what motivates them, what they are afraid of and what they hope to accomplish using the product you are building. Most importantly, find out how and where they will be using the product.

The web has become a multi device world and you need to understand how your project fits into this new world. People may begin the interaction on a mobile device and then pick it up again on their desktop laptop or using a tablet sitting on their couch.  And they may not be willing to perform the same tasks while waiting in line at the grocery store as they are in their own home. Knowing which tasks are important to the user and the environment in which they are using it will help focus development time and efforts.

UX Truth 3:  Get to the party early and be the last to leave.

User experience is an end-to-end process.  Anywhere you insert user research into the project you will get value out of it, but the greatest benefit is realized when you employ user research early and often. Add value to your project by front loading UX well before development starts. Conduct stakeholder interviews, requirements analysis, persona development, competitive analysis and heuristic reviews to define the project and identify areas of opportunity. During development, validate your design assumptions using user testing.  Following the launch of a project, monitor customer frustrations and expectations using user testing and multivariate testing. Fortunately more and more product owners understand the value of User Experience but sometimes it is still necessary to sell the benefits of continual involvement to both the product owner and the development team.

UX Truth 4:  Verify assumptions using empirical evidence.

If there were one Golden truth to UX, it would be user testing.  User testing is one of the easiest ways to find out what users think about the design and how effectively they can move through it. Surprisingly simple, it involves someone, doing something, somewhere that you can observe them. Even the best designers make mistakes and user testing can help identify them. Correcting mistakes early in development will cost 10 times less than when the project is already underway so it is really important to identify issues as early as possible.

user-testing-in-progress

User testing involves creating a series of tasks you would like the users to complete and then observe them going through each task.  Unmoderated testing is what I turn to most frequently, often using a third party vendor like usertesting.com to help recruit participants based on my demographic requests and record the video observations.

Within a few hours I have video to review that provides a wealth of information about the users expectations and experience interacting with the product.   By incorporating user testing early and often, we are better able to take the guesswork out of meeting the needs of site users and can help both our clients and their customers easily achieve their goals.

UX Truth 5:  Be willing to iterate.

Issues that are identified during user testing can be resolved with design iterations.  It is almost impossible for users to tell us exactly what they want and need from the products we build.  As designers, we take everything we know about the project and everything we know about design and put our stake in the ground as a place to start.  But it is just the beginning; we have to be willing to iterate and improve based on the feedback we receive.

UX Truth 6:  Delight and amaze.

User experience is about more than making something easy, it is about uncovering opportunities to delight and amaze. One great way to facilitate this is through an emotional design strategy.  In the digital world, creating connections that replicate human interactions form positive feedback loops.  When a user has a positive experience, they are more likely to repeat the experience and they will have an easier time remembering it.  Through emotional design, we can replicate a human to human connection in a digital world.  Just like in life, showing emotion is a risk, and some people will not get it.  But the benefits of creating a human connection in a digital world far outweigh the risk.

UX Truth 7:  Play well with others.

Our first solution to a problem is usually not the best, yet it is the one we most frequently go with.  To prevent falling in love with your own ideas, consider lots of opinions from many people.  Great solutions arise out of diverse teams.  At 352, our development teams consist of designers, front end developers, programmers, marketing specialists, user experience specialists, project managers and the product owner.  We all work together to craft a shared vision for what we want the project to be, allowing ideas from the full team to create a great design.

So how does UX affect our bottom line?

UX increases revenue

UX Essentials

When people are able to find what they are looking for on your site, they will take action, whether it is buying a product or signing up for a subscription. When it is easy for them to do, they will not need the assistance of a call center or other support.  When people are interacting with something that makes their lives easier, they will pay a premium for it.  Amazon Prime knows this. I am an Amazon Prime member, and even though I know I can probably find the same products for less if I were to shop around, Amazon makes it so easy for me, I almost always chose to buy from them.

UX reduces costs

UX Essentials

Understanding users’ needs and wants means the development team spends time building the important things and is less likely to omit something critical. Armed with UX knowledge, it is easier to detect and repair issues early in development, and we know it’s cheaper to fix problems the earlier we find them.

UX increases customer loyalty and market share

UX Essentials

When your customers have a pleasant experience with your website, they are likely to tell their friends about it which can increase your market share.  Customers will also continue to buy products from you if they had a good experience.  Studies have shown that repeat customers are willing to spend more per transaction that first time buyers.  Customers can also feel appreciated when they are asked to participate in user research because they feel their opinion is important and valuable to you.

So as our industry changes, we as designers must change too. UX is no longer an industry buzzword, it is an emerging business asset that can have a profound impact on the success of products and interactions. It is our responsibility and obligation to design the right things and make them useful to the people who will be using them.

Photo credit: Daniel Robert Dinu