User experience appears to have achieved a position of importance in organisations over the last two years. Executives and senior management are talking about delivering better experiences to their customers and many organisations are establishing internal UX teams. Unfortunately, I often come across organisations where an increased strategic focus on delivering better user experiences hasn’t resulted in proper user-centred design and development processes.
In other words, organisations plan to create better customer experiences, but the process for designing these products hasn’t changed and often doesn’t involve users. This is not to say they do not test their products with users, but the testing often happens with the final product just before launch and only helps in making small, last minute changes.
At Webcredible, we’ve conducted many hundreds of user testing studies and we often find that users are experiencing problems that merit more than a quick fix. Overall, it’s great that user experience is becoming increasingly important in organisations, but in my opinion, many organisations still rely on the ‘good-old’ development process and don’t understand the value of a user-centred process. Below are three reasons why organisations shouldn’t omit user involvement in their design and development processes.
1. Products are ‘consumed’ through digital channels
Although more business executives are acknowledging the importance of user experience, many still don’t seem to realise how important the digital channels are to their business. Today, a range products and services are delivered through digital channels and these will often be the main touch point for customers to interact with the brand. This is an easy concept to understand from a B2C perspective; an ecommerce website or mobile app generates revenue and detailed analytics which identify where users drop out of a checkout process. But digital channels are also used for delivering products and services in many other ways.
For example, an organisation specialising in delivering HR, project management or supply chain solutions can have excellent consulting capabilities in each of these fields and provide client-centred solutions to their clients. However, the whole customer experience is jeopardised if the final solution is implemented through an unusable client-facing application. Consequently, the core capabilities of the organisation seem secondary to the unusable application, which client users are struggling with on a daily basis.
2. It’s risky business
Strategic business decisions are usually backed up by market forecasts and competitor analyses. Executives or senior managers want to make informed decisions and minimise their risk when creating a plan for the future for their organisation. Thus, the strategic decision to launch a new product range is often backed up by insights ensuring there is commercial potential and a return on investment.
However, this insight-based approach to decision making is often not reflected within the actual design process – decisions aren’t backed up by real user insights. This is unusual because involving users in the design process serves a similar purpose as when strategic business decisions are made. User research is conducted to identify new ideas for products, to better understand user behaviour and find out how we can best serve the users in the future.
Essentially minimising risk through market insights is commonly undermined in the actual creation of the product. The result can be a service or touch point which is less likely to satisfy users and fulfill its commercial potential.
3. An imagination-centred design process?
Design and development processes are often directed by business requirements, technical constraints, generic market research and web analytics. These methods detail what’s wrong with current offerings but don’t explain why.
Decisions are made based on these methods but aren’t supported by any insights as to what users actually do when using the product. The design is left to the imagination, I call it an imagination-centred design process.
I’ve worked on many types of design projects and regardless of whether we’re designing a simple marketing website or a complex application, the insights we get from talking and observing users are invaluable. These insights cannot be found in generic market research, search logs or web analytics (although these are helpful too). Insights from user research help us understand users’ attitudes, workflows and multi-channel behaviour. It also helps us create a shared understanding amongst the product team (e.g. through personas and experience mapping), which makes it easier to make informed design decisions. Even if we’re asked to design a radically different solution, observing users interacting with an existing product helps us understand the user needs and set the right design constraints – user research isn’t only valuable for incremental changes to an existing product.
These are just few of many arguments for why organisations should focus on a more user-centred design process. Obviously, there are other ways to ensure a user-centred approach – some better than others – but my main argument is that involving users throughout the design and development process minimizes risk of launching an unsuccessful product through better informed design decisions.
How do you see user experience and user-centred design evolving in your organisation? Are you culprits of an imagination-centred design process?