A Take on User Experience
UX is related to Human Centred Design (HCD), it’s about making something that’s desirable to the user (or customer), viable to the business, and feasible with the technology available. If you can aim to meet these three requirements, chances are you’ll create something great for everyone.
There are lots of benefits to Human Centred Design when building software. It assures your product will be easier to understand and use, reducing the costs of training and support. It reduces discomfort and stress on the end users and for the company, provides a competitive advantage, improving brand image. If your products are easy to use and work in a way that delights the user, they are more than likely to keep on with it – and even recommend it to others.
UX can therefore be thought of as an adaptation of HCD – tailored to the designing and building of often digital products and services. UX is not just about usability or just about the users though. It’s not the role of one person in the team or a step in the development process. UX is something that follows through every part of the method and should always be a priority. It’s all well and good making an amazing piece of software that can do anything, but if a user can’t work it – it’s all for nought.
Therefore, the UX designer is a crucial role in the team. Though having one title, they are very likely to take on many roles. Their work may also be that of a content strategist, interaction designer, visual designer and more beyond. When you have larger, more established UX teams, these roles may be spread to different people, with a UX Lead or UX Strategist paving the way with help from their colleagues.
Summarising the UX Process
The UX journey is broken down into five stages – Discover, Define, Design, Develop and Optimise. It may sound unfamiliar at first, but odds are you will have heard of or may already be familiar with what I’m about to touch on.
An idea is born. Everyone might think (or be convinced to think) that it’s great and should be produced as a product or service. As much as someone might want the team to jump ahead into define and start working out how that idea is going to materialise, don’t.
We must ask questions. Why are we doing this? Who are the users and why do we want them? What’s the current state of the user experience for this field? What can we learn from competitors? It’s the answers to these questions that will ultimately decide if the idea is as good as it may have sounded to begin with.
To find the answers, research and analysis needs to be carried out. Things like Stakeholder Interviews to find out what a stakeholder’s vision for the product is and who they think the users of this product are. Competitor Analysis, for finding out best practices and how user’s needs are being met (or not) already. How can we differentiate ourselves from what’s already out there?
It’s just as important to conduct research with real users. As told in a quote from Jakob Nielsen:
“One of usability’s most hard-earned lessons is that ‘you are not the user’. If you work on a development project, you’re atypical by definition. Design to optimise the user experience for outsiders, not insiders.”
Real users give us valuable insight. They inspire better services and innovate ideas. They simplify the question of ‘Who are we designing for?’. Users help us prioritise what features to include and provide us with valuable feedback and valuation.
When interviewing a user, it doesn’t just need to be talk. Sketch a paper prototype and get immediate feedback. Even going through competitor sites with users will identify valuable insights, let them tell you what they like and don’t like about what’s already on the market. This will help you find areas to target with better UX.
When you’ve gathered your research, it’s now time to make a bit more sense of it. You can then narrow down your results to things like personas, scenarios and customer journey maps. Defining these will help you progress to the design phase.
Personas are fictional characters, designed to represent a group of people who have comparable behaviour and are likely to use a product or service in a similar way. They should be based on real data – the patterns you found from interviewing lots of users, plus extra data from things like surveys and analytics. Personas are there to help us remember who we’re designing for and to place focus on a specific user type rather than just ‘everyone’.
Scenarios are like telling a story – following a persona you have created using your product with a motivation or specific goal in mind. They are to illustrate how a user’s goals and needs translate into actions and the context in which these actions occur. Scenarios are to help us keep our design grounded to reality and help identify what features the product will need.
Finally, customer journey maps are series of scenarios strung together to represent a persona’s complete experience of the product or service. This involves considering things like the users’ thoughts, needs and feelings as they progress through the features of the product to achieve their goal and where are the opportunities to improve the UX?
You may think design is something left to the UI designers, but anyone can sketch. Sketching is the best way to get the ideas out of your head, away from your personal bias, and somewhere everyone can see them and start discussions. It’s quick, cheap, and anyone can do it. If you can draw dots, circles, squares and lines – you can sketch!
Take time to look at Design Patterns. In most cases, your job is to choose the right pattern to solve the problem at hand so that it takes little thought to work the functionality of your product. I’m talking about using things like calendar pickers, autocomplete, toggle buttons and dropdowns – these are all basic, well known interface elements that the vast majority of users are familiar with.
Another important thing you should be considering (especially if it was defined within any of your personas) is designing for accessibility. Design your product so that it works for those who are disabled in some way. This can be as simple as using good colour contrast, readable font sizes and adding alt text to images for those using Screen Readers.
You may not think it, but the defining of user requirements and stories also comes under design. There are three different types of UX requirements – Things people say they need, things people actually need, and things people don’t know they need. It’s here we define and prioritise our user stories prior to the development phase.
Develop and Optimise
When your product has been developed and tested internally and everyone in the team is happy, it’s then wise to conduct some usability testing. Whether it be lab-based, face-to-face or remote, getting feedback from users before the product is released is a necessity. You can measure usability from the results you get back – task success, user satisfaction, and number of problems encountered.
When your product is released into the world, it’s not the end! Monitoring analytics and conversion rate will give you further insight to how you can then optimise and improve your product in future iterations. This will help to improve website performance, understand user behaviour and give you the real information you need to optimise your product.
As the world changes, users and their needs do too. UX teams strive to make sure those needs are met in the most efficient and stress-free way possible.
These days, UX is something you can’t afford to not consider when creating a new website or software. If users are met with frustration and can’t find what they’re looking for easily, they’ll take their time and money elsewhere. Keep user experience at the front of your mind, take the time to do the research, ask the right questions and apply your findings to what you build – and you’ll be well on the road to maintaining customer satisfaction and loyalty.