The beginning of a new project: Your client needs help with a redesign of its website or application.
“We want to improve the user experience, it has to be jaw-dropping for our customers, we want them to fall in love with our product.”
Here is the good news: Your client is aware of User Experience (UX), cares about customers’ needs and sees the value in investing in a great user experience. They asked for an expert with UX skills to help, but do they really understand what it means to deliver an exceptional user experience?
UX is more than a bunch of rules and heuristics that you follow in your product design process. UX is subjective, as the name suggests. It is the (subjective) experience that a user gets while using a product. Therefore, we have to understand the needs and goals of potential users (and those are unique for each product), their tasks, and context.
As a UX expert you should already be familiar with the maxim, It all starts with knowing the user.
Now for some bad news; this is the point when you discover your client’s misconceptions about UX.
UX expert: “Ok, let’s start with your users: Who are they? What do they do? What do they want? What are some of their pain points? I would like to talk to them, observe them, learn from them…”
Client: “Oh, we don’t need user research, that’s a waste of time.”
In this post I will try to explain why, and hopefully, help fellow UX specialists in their efforts to convince clients that good UX is next to impossible if it is not preceded by good user research.
No Need For User Research? There Is Always A Need For User Research
You cannot create a great user experience if you don’t know your users or their needs.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Don’t simply accept the common argument that there is no time or money to do any user research for your project.
User research will shape your product; it will define the guidelines for creating a product with a good experience. Not spending any time on research, and basing all of your design decisions on best guesses and assumptions, puts you at risk of not meeting your user needs.
This is how senior UX architect Jim Ross UXmatters sees it:
“Creating something without knowing users and their needs is a huge risk that often leads to a poorly designed solution and, ultimately, results in far higher costs and sometimes negative consequences.”
Lack Of User Research Can Lead To Negative Consequences
Skipping user research will often result in “featurities,” decisions that are driven by technical possibilities and not filtered by user goals.
“My wife would really enjoy this feature! Oh, and I heard from this person that they would like to be able to xyz, so let’s add it in there too.”
This leads to things such as overly complex dashboards in cars, where the user’s focus should be on driving, not on figuring out how to navigate an elaborate infotainment system.
Tesla’s cutting edge infotainment system, based on Nvidia Tegra hardware, employs two oversized displays, one of which replaces traditional dials, while the other one replaces the center console. Yes, it looks good, but it was designed with tech savvy users in mind. In other words, geeks will love it, but it’s clearly not for everyone. It works for Tesla and its target audience, but don’t expect to see such solutions in low-cost vehicles designed with different people in mind.
Poorly designed remote controls are not intuitive, so casual users tend find them overwhelming, resulting in a frustrating user experience.
But what about the purely digital user experience? Too many fields in a form, or too much information may overwhelm and drive your users away.
Instead of creating the opposite behaviour, poorly designed and implemented interfaces are more likely to scare off potential users.
Start User Research With Sources For Existing Information
Yes, user research will expand the timeline and it won’t come cheap, but both time and costs can be minimized. You can start with existing, and easy accessible, sources of information about user behaviour to gain a better understanding of user needs. These are:
- Data Analytics
- User Reviews and Ratings
- Customer Support
- Market Research
- Usability Testing
Let’s take a closer look at each of these sources.
If you are working with an existing product, your client might have some data and insights about its use. Data analytics assist with getting a good overview about general usage: How many visitors are coming to the website, what pages are most visited, where do visitors come from, when do they leave, how much time do they spend where, and so on.
But here is what this data is not telling you: How does the experience feel? What do users think about your service, and why are they spending time on your website? Why do they leave?
For example, your data indicates that users are spending a lot of time on a specific page. What it doesn’t tell you is why. It might be because the content is so interesting, which means users found what they were looking for. On the other hand, it could be an indication that users are looking for something they cannot find.
Data Analytics is a good starting point, but it needs further qualitative data to support the interpretation of the statistics.
User Reviews And Ratings
Your client’s product might have received some user feedback, already. There might be a section for feedback or ratings on the website itself, but external sources may be available as well. People might have talked about it in blog posts or discussion boards, users may have given app reviews in an app store. Check different sources to see what users are saying.
However, be aware of limitations. People tend to leave reviews and ratings about negative experiences. Don’t take this as a reason to shy away from user reviews or to ignore feedback!
“All these complainers… These aren’t the users we want, anyway!”
Instead, try to look for patterns and repetitive comments. Here are a few tips for making the most from user input:
- Check whether any action has been taken on negative comments.
- Compare the timing of negative comments to releases and changelogs. Even great apps can suffer from poor updates, leading to a lot of negative comments in the days following the update.
- Do your best to weed out baseless comments posted by trolls.
- What are users saying about the competition? Identify positive and negative differentiators.
- Don’t place too much trust in “professional and independent” reviews because they can be anything but professional and independent.
User reviews are a good source for collecting information on recurrent problems and frustrations, but they won’t give you an entirely objective view of what users think about your product.