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User Experience is Everything

Jack Dyer
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January 7, 2016
“A door would seem to be about as simple a device as possible. There is not much you can do to a door: you can open it or shut it. Suppose you come to a door. How does it open? Should you push or pull, on the left or the right? Maybe the door slides. If so, in which direction?
The design of the door should indicate how to work it without any need for signs, certainly without any need for trial and error.”

The Design of Everyday Things — Don Norman

It may seem a simple issue that’s quickly resolved, but it’s an issue that’s existed since doors have existed. And if countless carpenters, designers or builders had given it a little more thought, the issue wouldn’t exist.

This was the most common technological issue before the dawn of technology. Yet it was still the user of the door having a bad experience. Nowadays such a thing may seem trivial; because while it’s still very common, we have a host of other problems whilst interacting with the world. The virtual world on our desktops, tablets, phones and even watches. And a lot of these problems are easily solved and unnecessary.

Most people think of ‘User Experience’ — the big scary buzzword that’s being spoken three times per second at any point in the design and development industry — as unnecessary. Here are a few common responses to the term, given by those it would benefit most:

- “That sounds expensive. Why would we bother with it when our customers already use and experience our product?”

- “I don’t think it’s necessary to improve our ‘user experience’. We know they’re having a good time on the app because we’re making a profit.”

- “Conduct User Experience tests? We already do that with our focus groups.”

It would be unprofessional of me to get angry at these responses… But sometimes, for all of us, it beggars belief when people don’t see things the same way as you. Never mind, a new challenge has presented itself: Time to convince them.

This is not an easy task. Whether you’ve got a startup or well-established business doing well for themselves, it’s because the managers are confident, know what they want and have a vision. They’ve strived for their vision and it’s become a reality. And in their minds is the thought “Well I’ve come this far without whatever ‘UX’ is, why do I need it now?”

The problem (and it is a problem), is that these managers are leading companies that design and develop products FOR the user, without talkingTO the user. This is completely counter-intuitive. Statistically, logically and factually, this is the wrong approach.

A project with concise and documented iterative user research will ALWAYS be more successful than a project built on guesswork.

Why bother?

“That sounds expensive. Why would we bother with it when our customers already use and experience our product?”

That’s a very good question. Imagine that you and a friend are hiking. You’ve walked the journey until this point without any water, convinced that you can continue this method indefinitely. It’s worked so far, you’re not thirsty right NOW, so why would you get thirsty later?

This is a case of taking the past as an indicator for the future, which makes sense 99% of the time. You use previous data to inform your future direction. Weather cause and effect tells you when it’s going to snow, by observing when it snowed in the past and identifying the cause. If you see the cause again, you can be confident that snow will follow.

So, back to the example. You’re hiking. Until this point on the hike, you haven’t needed water. You take that as factual evidence that you will not need water. Your friend whips out his water bottle, taking deep enjoyable gulps. He feels refreshed, and attacks the trail with renewed vigour. It’s only at this point that your mouth starts to become dry. You’ve seen the effect of the water on him and how it has enriched his experience, and you want some too. But as you don’t have water or even access to water, you continue on without. And yet the hike is less enjoyable than it was 5 minutes before.

Don’t you wish you’d planned to bring water with you? So that when your enjoyment of the hiking experience wavered, you’d be able to apply a potion, if you like, and heal your enjoyment back to full health?

User Experience is the refreshing, thirst-quenching cure for a stagnant and dry experience.

We’re already making a profit

“I don’t think it’s necessary to improve our ‘user experience’. We know they’re having a good time on the app because we’re making a profit.”

If you run an app company with lots of frequent users, it’s understandable that you’d think of UX design as ‘surplus to requirements’. You’ve got this far on your own back without it, so what benefit would it serve now?

Let’s imagine that you’re a regular user, potentially one of the users you’re trying to target for your app.

You’ve just downloaded an app that’s been sent live with no consideration for how you, as the user, feels when using the app. It’s beautifully designed and very functional, but there’s something missing…. Something you can’t quite put your finger on. It doesn’t satisfy you, or even engage you. It allows you to meet your requirements, but it isn’t an enjoyable experience in doing so. You uninstall it before discovering it’s full potential, and therefore the company who built the app lose your custom.

Your friend downloads a different app for the same purpose. It’s poorly designed (which is what put you off downloading it in the first place). It has really basic functionality, which you see as a bad thing (‘It should do everything to meet my needs as a customer, not only basic things’). You look over, and see your friend smiling while he uses it. He’s quickly able to get where he wants to go, perform the task he wanted, and close the app with no regrets. And all this despite the bad design! He hasn’t uninstalled it. It’s still on his phone because he wants to go back to it at some point. He can see himself using it again.

Yes, you may be already making a profit. Yes, you may think that it doesn’t profit you to consider the user experience of your products. But consider this: Only the very determined users, or those that have to use your app, will. If you want to open up your app to more users and therefore more profit, give the experience some consideration. Find out what it’s actually like to use your app, and make it enjoyable. People who enjoy things do them again and again.

Focus Groups

“Conduct User Experience tests? We already do that with our focus groups.”

Every fibre of my being wants to bitch-slap anyone who says this. But instead, I’ll use logic and common sense to debunk the widely-believed myth that ‘Focus Groups = User Testing”. This is a constant pain-point in the design industry.

Focus Groups are marketing tools for obtaining vague, indeterminable data that’s entirely at the interpretation of the person conducting it. You could have 5 people leading a focus group, and if you read each of their individual reports on the group you would notice two things:

  1. The reports are as disparate and vague as the focus group answers themselves.
  2. The data collected doesn’t have quantifiable value, as it’s written up with the bias of the person collecting it.

If this article only teaches one thing, please let it be this: Focus Groups are not ‘User Testing’.

You can ask as many vague marketing-led questions about or to your target audience as you like, but don’t mistake that for the pure, unadulterated facts you’ll receive from conducting user experience and usability tests.

Let your users help you

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and it’s true. But a video is worth a million pictures (if you forget for a moment that technically a video IS a million pictures, all shown in quick succession).

Watching your users in real life, is priceless. I’m not doing a MasterCard advert. It’s just true.

It’s simply incredible. Watching your users interact with your app in an exploratory fashion provides more useful insights into what works well and what doesn’t than ANY focus group, questionnaire, survey, poll or quiz. It allows users to be themselves, which is very important.

When a user is under interview or group conditions they’ll answer questions stoically and with reserve, for fear of upsetting the interviewer or saying something wrong. This is especially true if the interviewer is quizzing them, and asking leading questions. This makes it seem like the USER is the one being tested, rather than the user testing the product. This dynamic makes the world of difference.

When a user is in a focus group, they’ll say what makes them sound smart — nobody likes saying stupid things or admitting to not knowing something in front of people. This completely skews the data. Likewise with a questionnaire — they’ll tend to put an answer that makes them seem like they know what they’re doing even if they don’t.

If you observe them interacting with a product in a judgement free environment, they’ll show when they make mistakes and more often than not, will point out that they had difficulty with something. Watching them struggle with elements that you believed were intuitive because you designed them, can come as a real shock to designers and developers. You might see it happen and want to yell out something like: “It’s THERE! Press THAT button! What are you DOING, are you STUPID?”

The users aren’t stupid for failing to understand what you were thinking when you designed a counter-intuitive button. The button is the gateway between what you’re trying to get the user to do, and the user knowing how to do it. It’s your responsibility to ensure it makes sense.

And even if you’re convinced that it makes sense, do a user test. If the user doesn’t understand it, it doesn’t make sense and needs to be changed.

If you’d prefer to live in blissful ignorance of your users frustration, and continue to live in your own frustration at losing users, that’s fine too. As a User Experience consultant, I’m offering you the chance to change that. I’m advocating the voice of the user, and it’s not my voice. I’m not preaching for my own benefit, or even for yours. I’m sharing the power of UX knowledge to benefit the most important people in your product and your business:

Your users.

You’ll be amazed at what they say if you give them a real voice.

Jack Dyer
Jack is a UX Design Consultant. Advocate of Human Centred Design. Deep thinker; tea drinker; steak eater.

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