In recent years with the growth of digital, interactive products and the need to understand what users need a new term has appeared called User Experience (UX). Many embraced the concepts and methodologies this presented. Others don’t understand what it is and why they should even consider it. In the words of Hugo Froes, El Corte Ingles, Portugal
When I suggested this article for the Markedu Blog, I was convinced it would practically write itself, especially considering that I often have to explain what UX is. The truth was a different matter altogether. Mostly because UX is a very broad concept and is much easier to explain when people ask their particular questions.
None the less I will try and explain UX so that by the end of this article you have a basic understanding of both the concept and its principal techniques
What is UX (User Experience)?
I think the NNGroup’s definition of UXsums it up pretty well
“User experience (UX) encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
UX or User Experience is exactly that. Taking that definition one step further, UX methods and principals were created to put the user in the forefront of product development, making sure that we make the experience as easy and seamless as possible while still catering to business needs.
This is achieved through a series of techniques and exercises whose objective is to give our user a face and personality as opposed to just a number or statistic. In order to obtain the best results, a successful UX professional needs to have empathy for both the user and the stakeholders as well as understand the best moments to follow feedback or go with their own feelings/experience.
General UX Techniques or Workflow
Strategy / Planning / Research
This initial phase is normally the time when we set up a meeting to get the project brief with stakeholders, but here UX differs in the sense that it tries to get as complete a picture of the full projects needs such as limitations and possibilities.
One must also the gather as much information as possible from the user, the stakeholders and analytics through a series of techniques that help the UX professional to organise all the data possible with the objectives.
The objective of the UX professional is to get as complete a picture as possible – what the goals of the project are and what will be the metrics that define the success of the project. Finding out whether something is viable or truly brings value to the product before wasting any resources. This phase is very important and if done well can save the whole team time and money.
Here it is important to be able to understand what information is crucial to achieving the desired outcome.
Usual techniques used in this phase: Surveys | Contextual Inquiry | Surveys | Content Audit | User Interviews | Diary Study | User testing | Heuristic Review | Stakeholder Interviews | Analytics Review | Competitor Analysis | A/B Testing.
UX – Analysis
Once we have completed the Research phase we have to dig into the information we gathered and make sense of it as well as extract the information that will help us to develop our product.
Trying to create as clear a picture as possible of who our user is and what they might hope to achieve with our product can be achieved through a series of techniques such as simple excel tables with the information cleanly organised all the way to large brainstorming sessions with teams and stakeholders. We can create real personas that give our clients a face, name and characteristics as well as set up various scenários of how our product might be used.
In this phase, we often will also need to layout the navigation of our product (Sitemaps, Flowcharts, Experience Maps) or the organisation of categories, which means we have to keep an open mind and understand the basic function or service that our product wants to offer the user, including the flow.
It’s important to avoid the use of company-specific jargon that might not make sense to the user and to analyse the data without absolutes in mind, but it can give us a pretty interesting idea of what we will be building.
Usual techniques used in this phase: Card Sorting | Experience Map | Mental Models | Scenarios | Personas | Affinity Diagramming Use Cases | Storyboards | User testing | Heuristic Review
UX – Design
Although the design phase is nothing new and like any other design stage, we will be creating the look and feel of the product and it’s content. The difference when it comes to UX is that this whole process is done in a more organised and structured way.
The layout and organisation may be decided long before one decides the colour or interactions. We want to avoid cluttering the objectivity of the stakeholders, developers etc. with colours, fonts and other design elements.
Here the UX professional will try and involve the team in drawing out rough sketches or wireframe layouts where anyone can contribute just to decide what content goes where and what design patterns might make sense (ex. Accordions, Tabs etc.). By not creating a very high-quality layout mockup the team feels like they can easily scribble over or move elements around since very little time was spent on the sketches. It also helps to know from the developers what’s is possible long before wasting endless hour with a design that isn’t viable
Once everyone is happy the designer moves onto high fidelity mockups or even working prototypes that give the stakeholders a pretty good idea of what the product might turn out like.
In some cases, a first version is rolled out to the user for beta testing so that more data/feedback can be gathered to improve the product even more.
Usual techniques used in this phase: Collaborative Design | Workflow Diagram | Sitemap | Wireframe | Paper Prototype | Mood Board | Beta Launch | A/B Testing.
UX – Production
Once everyone has given their opinion, either through constant iterations within the team or from user feedback through testing and everyone is happy that the bugs have been worked out the product goes live.
The UX process doesn’t end once the product goes live as we can still keep iterating the product to make it better and closer to what our user needs/wants. We might test user’s interaction with the product or ask users for feedback. We might understand that although the product meets the desired objectives it’s a bit below expectations.
The UX professional needs to rationalise about where changes might be made to improve results. Sometimes the changes might be just a simple colour change or button position, other’s it might be a bit more complicated. With A/B test, for example, we may present the user with two options and their interaction might give us a better idea of which function/design they prefer and thus which should move forward.
Usual techniques used in this phase: User Testing | Beta Launch | A/B Testing
In order to create a good UX experience, one does not need to use all of the techniques mentioned above all of the time. We often need to adapt to the necessity of the product or problem we are presented with.
UX techniques do however help everyone to consider the user rather than just assume that we know what the user wants or fool them into wanting something. It helps us to understand what are their pain points and where we can take better advantages of what is already working.
One thing to keep in mind is that UX is not an exact science and sometimes the outcome can still surprise us, however, UX does help to reduce such occurrences. The real UX professional understands that, but also understands that these issues can also help us to learn a lot and so avoid such mistakes in the future.
The concepts that UX can bring to an organisation can be beneficial to the company as well as to the employees who can develop empathy and understanding, which in turn helps them to consider various aspects in their day to chores as well as question why something is done or alternative solutions to problems.
The next time you’re working on a project considering these aspects could save you time and money and you might find that having someone dedicated to UX might be beneficial to your needs as every project can evolve and grow.