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5 User Experience New Year Resolutions

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Use your common sense to give customers a better user experience

This is a brief summary of five frequent pitfalls when working on user experience, and five things that can be done to make 2012 a better year for user experience.

(1) Use common sense

There have been huge improvements in the IT industry in the last 10 years. We now have faster more efficient delivery (Agile development) of technical projects. User experience professionals working with developers in agile scrum teams have also had to think about how adapt. Agile and UX courses provide excellent theory but if everyone follows textbook theories without common sense the end result tends to be a user experience car-crash. In many projects common sense is a rare commodity which gets a better voice when people focus on the customer.

Promise 1: Make your customer’s voice the leading voice in any project, and focus on that. If you encounter a debate come back to ‘what does the customer need here?’

 (2) Make understanding your customer a bigger priority than delivering anything by a deadline

When product development is led by the need to deliver something, anything, by a deadline – and not to have the patience understand customers’ needs, the result is a user experience mess.

Agile development requires user stories for the basis for each piece of work. You can’t magic user stories out of thin air, these need to be based on knowledge of customer needs and behaviour. Without this insight, formally researched or informally gained, the user stories are just stories and development is based on fiction, not market-based facts. An end product will be delivered, which may accidentally meet customer needs, but is usually a waste of time and money if the direction has not been informed by customer insights.

Investing time initially in customer interviews to understand their needs, and spending time developing customer propositions based on those needs, will mean development will produce the right products, not just any products. In the same way, if user experience is done in isloation, with time and money being invested in understanding the customer, but none of the development team who will be asked to build something are involved in that learning stage, a project is quickly doomed to fail. The business needs to allow developers who are not in a build phase to learn with the rest of the project team about the cutomers’ needs.

 Promise 2: Ensure user stories are based on real customer insights, and make sure the people who will end up developing the product are involved in those customer research sessions.

(3) You are not your customer

A real danger sign in a project is when someone on the team who represents the customer assumes their own ideas and needs are the same as the customer’s. They really won’t be.

All proposition development must be grounded in real customer research.

When developing customer propositions you understand your target users, segments corresponding user personas, develop use cases and stories, user journeys and process flows which can start to feed into the first development of test-able outputs. Without these steps, and development work just starting, a development team will be able to tick a box they’ve delivered something, but what’s the point if that product simply sits on the shelf unused.

 Promise 3: Challenge user stories, ask ‘how do we know the customer needs this, where’s the evidence?’ Where user stories are made-up works of fiction drop them from a backlog.

 (4) User Experience is not just about a website

The experience for a customer starts with the first time they hear about your business, it could be through an ad, or someone talking about your company in the pub. That first contact will start to shape their perception and interaction with you. Their experience becomes more tangible when they come to something like your website or shop and physically interact with you, but their behaviour and perception will be shaped by many external intangible factors, before they get to your website, and once they leave it. For example, when they call you and speak to you, or meet you or someone in your business, when they use your product or if something goes wrong how that issue gets resolved, and any communication they receive from you. All of their touchpoints with your business are shaping their experience. If one part is out of kilter, it weakens the whole thing, no matter how good you are as an individual, or how good your website may be.

 Promise 4: Look at your whole customer journey end-to-end, all the touchpoints where they interact with your business, and ensure each one supports your brand promises.

 (5) User Experience is not only about what your website looks like

The experience of your website comes together from different elements combining, only one of these being the visual layer they see (things like the colours and fonts and layout). It’s also how fast they can find what they’re looking for, how easy your site is to use, if it gives them the functionality to do the things they need, if it feels useful and helpful, the tone of voice of the copy you have on your website.

 Promise 5: Approach website design by looking at customer needs first, creates an information architecture based on customer needs, and each element of the design consistently supports customers needs and delivers your brand promises.

 Every good example of great user experience will have recognised and managed these common issues. Every example of poor user experience has probably fallen down as a result of one of these pitfalls.