In recent years many corporations and government agencies have embraced the idea that User Experience Design is good for business. In 2015, Forrester Research revealed that “implementing a focus on customers’ experience increases their willingness to pay by 14.4%, reduces their reluctance to switch brands by 15.8%, and boosts their likelihood to recommend your product by 16.6%.” All too often, however, user research and testing are the first things removed from software development scope when the budget or timeline is tight.

Here are a few reasons why I think this is the case.

UX sounds new & mysterious (It isn’t)

Don Norman (expert in the field of UX and Human Computer Interaction) puts it succinctly when he says:

“The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use.”

Best practice UX methodology goes roughly like this:

  1.  Identify the user, discover what the user is trying to accomplish, and when and where the user will use the product
  2.  Imagine potential roadblocks to the user and ideate several solutions
  3.  Create prototypes based on hypotheses
  4.  Test prototypes on users by observation
  5.  Refine and repeat with the goal of making the simplest, most enjoyable experience for the user – all before the first line of code  has been written

UX is not a new field; it has it’s origins in the latter part of the American Industrial Revolution when Industrial designers first started thinking about the way in which humans (as physical and intellectual beings) interacted and experienced mass produced products. The goal was to differentiate from competing products. One such industrial designer named Henry Dreyfuss (1904-1972) was particularly influential in the field of what we now refer to as “ergonomics.”

Dreyfus spent years researching the anatomy and psychology of the average man, woman, and child in the United States, thus giving him greater insight on how his designs would be received by users. Dreyfus routinely tested his prototypes and made revisions before release. These methods have informed much of what we do as designers of products in the virtual world. The process is not mysterious or complicated, but it does involve intuition, human-factor knowledge, and experience on the part of the designer.

(More on Dreyfuss and his influence on modern day product design in my next blog.)


Humans are quick to assume all people think the same

“One of usability’s most hard-earned lessons is that ‘you are not the user.’” – Jakob Nielsen (Usability Expert)

Companies and designers are not the customer. We can guess what the customer wants, we can form a hypothesis, but without testing it with the user, we are bound to trip up on our assumptions and possibly build something completely useless. As business owners, product owners, and designers, we almost certainly have a different perspective: we have a deeper knowledge of our business model and technology. Looking at the problem as a novice and creating user personas helps us drop those assumptions.

Research and Testing is too expensive

“Discovery work always gets done—one way or another. So why not call it what it is, do it up front and then proceed with implementation in an informed fashion? It reduces heartache for the person writing the check and heartburn for the person managing the implementation.” – Peg Bogema

UX experts Nielsen-Norman agree that testing simple paper or digital prototypes on five users finds the majority of usability issues. There is a quick and dirty way to do this:

Create a prototype based on one particular user task. This could be as simple as sketches on paper. Find some users – ask the mailman, anyone will do – (as long as they are not expert in the subject). Give the user a task and have that person verbalize their thought process and what they are experiencing. A key to testing is to observe, not lead the user. Repeat this process with four other people, learn from your user’s pain points, then upgrade your prototype. Repeat until the majority of your users move intuitively through your prototype. This will surely surface issues you didn’t see coming and end up saving money in future development time.

Today’s user is a tough audience

It’s been almost ten years since Steve Jobs introduced us to the iPhone. Today, smartphones are ubiquitous: 72% of adults in the US report owning a smartphone – furthermore 13% are “smartphone-only”, meaning they don’t access the internet with other devices. Smartphone users are savvy and their expectations have grown in proportion to rapidly evolving technology.

Users have become a bit cynical as well – what was once regarded as “magical” is now often met with a shrug. Recent studies suggest the average human attention span has shrunk from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015, perhaps in response to the constant flow of information we are all subject to.

Neuroscience confirms that there is only so much the human brain can process at one time, therefore users must be discriminating, it is self-defense. Mobile technology has matured so that it is no longer enough to create something new, pretty, or trendy. A product must be useful in order to engage and retain customers. There has never been a better time to embrace the tenets of UX and human centered design than now.

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