user-experience-design

I’m on the advisory board for our community’s tech advocacy group, Tech Frederick. Once a month we meet to discuss how to build opportunities, grow talent, and solidify a community for the tech industry in our town.

During one of these meetings, the chair of the advisory board, Vaughn Thurman, principal at Swift Software, said something that really struck me…

“Better UX is a compelling new feature.”

First, some context. Vaughn was talking about a UX course that Tech Frederick will be offering in the future. He was telling the story of his team’s experience with the training firm that will be presenting.

Vaughn’s company has developed a very robust and feature rich work and workflow management software called JobTraQ. While it did everything potential customers needed it to do, it was suffering in the user experience department.

Vaughn and his team wrestled with how to make the product better. They knew that it had all the right features. His clients and even his prospects were telling him this.

It didn’t, however, have a good user experience.

So, instead of trying to add some whizzbang new feature (yeah, I said whizzbang), he realized that better UX is the compelling new feature JobTraQ needed most.

Sometimes more is not better. Sometimes better is making the existing system easier to use.

What is UX… Really?

UX (user experience) is as it sounds: the experience a user has and continues to have with a product or system. UX is often confused with UI (user interface) or design.

While UI and design play a part in UX design, there is much more to UX. I’ve seen many UX definitions and read quite a few books on UX. The definition that my friend Joe Natoli gave me a while back is still the best I’ve seen…

“UX isn’t just about users; it’s really a value loop in three parts:

  1. The person using the website/application has to perceive that it’s valuable to them.
  2. That perception has to be validated through use. Proof equals trust, which means they use and/or purchase.
  3. When both things happen, value comes back to the business/creator in increased market share, customer loyalty, money made or money saved.” – Joe Natoli, GiveGoodUX.com

UX Is More than Just a Slick Interface

UX is so much more than just design. Vaughn’s problem was partly a design issue. But, it was also a value and trust issue.

His customers knew the features they needed were there. But the poor UX was getting in the way of them seeing the value. His clients feared that their team would not use a system that has a negative UX, even with the features they needed.

In other words, you can have all the features in the world but if using your website or app is frustrating, you will not build trust or show value.

Vaughn and his team worked with the resources they got from the UX consultant, performed extensive usage studies, and then, armed with real intelligence about what their users liked, hated, or were just confused by, they proceeded to completely overhaul the interface and flow of JobTraQ.

The core functionality did not change. They simply made it easier to use.

This was a turning point for the product. Sales improved. Existing users raved about the product. Vaughn and his team provided proof that the system was a valued and trusted solution for their client’s needs.

Is UX a Problem for You?

There is one sure-fire way to test your website or app’s user experience. Watch a customer use it. Note when it works well for them. And note when it causes frustration.

But, before you can do that, you need to know the needs of your target audience. And you need to have a clearly defined set of goals for your website or app.

You need to identify the key performance indicators or KPIs.

Your Website or App’s KPIs

Be careful. The KPIs need to be user-centric. And they need to support your business goals. You need to identify your priorities.

For example, if you are looking to improve conversions, you need to see where these conversion goals intersect with the user’s (website visitor) goals…

A good user experience is one where the user’s needs are met and the business goals are achieved. The only way to know if your website or app is aligned with these priorities is to track users.

Some of this can be done using Google Analytics. Using Google Analytics, you can track things like…

  • Pages visited – which were popular? which were not?
  • Time on page/site – did they look around, read content, use the system?
  • Bounce rate – do they get to your site, turn right around, and bolt?
  • Conversions – are they taking the actions you need them to take?

These are all indicators that show how well the website is functioning. But they do not give a complete picture of the UX.

Getting User Feedback

You have to get user feedback. Real feedback. Ideally, you should set up user sessions where a group of customers actually use your website or app.

Record them using the site on video. And screen capture their activity. The video will show you their body language. Do they look frustrated? Or is the experience visibly pleasant for them.

And the screen capture will show you how they use the site/app. You’ll see the paths they follow and the choices they make. You might be surprised by how they get to the information they need. It could be completely different from how you expected.

All of your assumptions about how your website or app is being used could get tossed out the window. And you might find that the experience is not a good one for your customers.

Be prepared for this. And use the information you get to improve the user experience moving forward. This is not a time to place blame or fret over past mistakes. Learn from them instead.

The High Cost of Ignoring UX

User experience design is not an event. It is an ongoing process. This might sound expensive. Sure, ongoing UX design will cost money.

Designing and building a system for the wrong person and the wrong reasons costs a lot more. If your website was built to satisfy the personal tastes of a manager or boss, it will not be a success. They are not your target audience.

And building something based on assumptions or incomplete data could be a huge waste of time and resources (money).

At Wood Street, we hear the following all the time…

  • “We need an app.”
  • “We need to redesign our website.”
  • “Our website needs video.”
  • “We should add a Facebook feed to our homepage.”

I could go on but you get the point. Our response is always “why?”

  • “Do your customers need an app? Will they use it?”
  • “Is your website not doing what it should? How do you know?”
  • “Do your clients need more video? Have they asked for it?”
  • “And do they really need to see your Facebook posts on your homepage?”

Better UX Is Your Compelling New Feature!

Instead of adding a new feature or shiny new object that some social media guru suggests, add something that the user needs. Find ways to provide value.

Remember, trust is built by consistently providing value. And that value comes back to you in goals achieved.

So, the next time someone suggests a new feature or some new technology, ask them why. Perhaps the compelling new feature you need is a better experience for the user!

Jon-Mikel Bailey - Before co-founding Wood Street in 2002, Jon worked in sales, marketing and business development for technology and marketing firms. A popular speaker, he gives seminars on marketing, internet marketing, branding and web design to chambers of commerce, trade associations and colleges. He has a BFA in Photography from Frostburg State University and still shoots photos for Wood Street clients.

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