As far back as the days of ENIAC and old-school IBM punch-card computers, users have been trained to adapt their experience to the capabilities of the computing devices available to them. And, as we all know, there has been a 30-year evolution of usability and functionality that has been working towards the clear goal of making every aspect of the tech experience easier. Whether it be a device, an operating system, a web-site, or a dozen of the every-day amenities of life, the shift in priorities is clear — User Experience Matters.
This was the overwhelming message from Cennydd Bowles and James Box of renowned UK design consultancy Clearleft as they spread the gospel of UX. They were speaking at Tech4Africa — a prominent technology and innovation conference. Their message can be distilled into five salient points, detailing the critical UX has to play in product design.
1. Why UX Matters
First and foremost, User Experience (UX) matters because, when the emphasis is on the ease of use and learning, you are saving people time and hassle to use your products and thus your business goals are more easily achieved. Companies that succeed in this, regardless of their niche market or type of product, will succeed in the long run, take a certain heavy-hitter of Silicon Valley, Apple.
“Let’s move away from the rhetoric, it’s hard to deny that Apple products have made people’s lives easier,” Box said as he spoke about how the tech giant has changed UX for modern computing. Apple has successfully captured a substantial market share based on its ability to cater to their user by understanding its needs and intuiting their wants. UX studies have shown that emotional factors are undeniable when it comes to the success and integration of a product and the user.
2. UX is an umbrella discipline
As UX evolves as a practice, with a flood of both Generalists and Specialists, Bowles feels that “the waters can become muddled.” Bowles and Box both agree that UX should be seen as an umbrella discipline, as it fosters many other disciplines such as content strategy, design, development, and information architecture. Both agree, however, that no matter what your position or your discipline, believing that UX should be involved in everything you do is a key factor in getting the most out of quality UX.
3.Understand your user
A key factor for UX is understanding the how’s and why’s of how people interact with your product. “Metrics will only tell you what is happening; they will never tell you why it’s happening,” says Bowles. “The more you understand your users, the better your UX will become.”
When doing research for your UX, the two suggest creating a typical user persona to test with. Give this user a real identity with a photo, demographics, and personal information like hobbies and hometowns. Interpret your data to create accurate user representation so you can design for people and not for numbers.
4.Capture the Intellectual Capital of your Team
Maintaining a high level of visibility and transparency to your project is a great way to keep it open and keep it fresh, make contributing to the process welcoming and invite feedback by leaving simple things such as sticky-notes on an ideas board available. Yes, there is UX to a UX project! Take advantage of your team’s diverse experiential and educational backgrounds and create collaborative design and foster their participation.
Some of your team members will feel more comfortable opening up Photoshop or Fireworks to convey a more end-product visualization, where others are conveying some of the most valuable ideas on a sticky-note with a black marker. “But this behavioural baggage is hard to manage; it’s easy to become over-protective about design,” Box points out that a better UX for your end-users will come out of ego-less design.
5.Document your process
Remember the more detailed your design becomes, the more detailed your process becomes. So document your process to chart the evolution of your ideas and concept. The process of your deliverables is often worth more than the product you’re delivering as it’s capturing the worth of your team and the creative process of advancement. Also, remember to stay focused and communicate easily, how do you resolve design disputes via email and basecamp? It’s difficult and often takes away from the momentum of your project, “I’m surprised by how many design problems can be solved with a simple sketch and a conversation,” says Box.
Image: Christopher Labrooy