Let me start this article with the following statement: User Experience is an absolute must-have in order to ensure a successful development lifecycle of a product.
One of the most common problems that I’ve encountered when first analyzing an application is that it is often built up around what people think the customer wants, rather than an analysis of what the customer actually wants – or even more importantly – what the customer needs.
Let’s say there is a software application that you or someone you know interacts with on a daily basis that could really use an update. You have some ideas on what is needed but, as a stakeholder, you’re hesitant to make a large financial investment in a new software application without a full grasp of what is needed.
Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Do I understand my users’ needs and current frustrations in their entirety?
- How often do my users seek assistance when interacting with the application?
- Is my system built on a strong technical and strategic foundation that will satisfy my long-term goals?
- How can I validate the usability of my application?
These are only some of the questions that are worth considering before initiating a development process. By bringing UX thinking into the very beginning of the process, it helps bring into focus the real obstacles, and subsequently, the strategic approach to overcome them. At the same time, on the back end, whatever has been designed needs to be built. And how something is built plays a major role in how it works for the end user.
Okay, I get it. User Experience is important. But what does User Experience actually mean?
User Experience encompasses the entire set of affects that is elicited by the interaction between a user and a product, including the degree to which all of our senses are gratified (aesthetic experience), the meanings we attach to the product (experience of meaning), and the feelings and emotions that are elicited (emotional experience). (Hekkert. 2006)
A successful software application is evaluated beyond its functionality. The product’s functionality needs to go hand and hand with a positive user experience, no matter the device or the platform.
So, how can I ensure a positive user experience?
A successful development process would include the presence of User Experience all throughout its lifecycle; from conception, to execution, to implementation.
When a user interacts with an application and the results of the interaction can be described as efficient and painless, then you’ve built a successful usable product.
The development process consists on the following phases:
Planning > Design > Development > Implementation
User Experience takes on an important role, especially during the Planning and Design phases. This is also known as the Discovery phase. Its main purpose is to trim off requirements that don’t help the product, and to ensure that the requirements that remain will ultimately benefit the experience. This is where user analysis, environmental analysis, task analysis, and needs analysis are usually performed, depending on the type of project.
There are many methodologies that are used during a User Experience analysis. My responsibility as a UX Consultant is to implement the best strategic UX approach that will generate the most positive results.
A great way to gather information during a UX analysis is to perform user interviews; specifically stakeholder interviews that will provide a valuable introduction to the current state of the application and the needs of the people they represent within the company. The interviews are usually followed by the creation of Personas, a Concepting stage (User Story Boards, User Journey Maps, User Flow, Taxonomies, to mention some) and a Product Planning stage (Content Audit, Sitemap, use cases, etc.)
These methodologies produce a great amount of information that become a strong foundation during the Development phase, and a guideline throughout the entire lifecycle of a constantly evolving product.
This is how we, UX consultants, are able to generate educated assumptions that are later put under scrutiny by a very meticulous validation process. Eye-tracking tests, Heat mapping, A/B testing, Card Sorting, Usability Tests, are only some of the methodologies we use in order to validate proposed improvements.
The last part of the UX analysis heavy lifting duties in this phase is the Prototyping and Wireframing stage. The success of these artifacts are based on the data that is collected from the validation process. At this point of the analysis, the probabilities for an application to provide a positive experience are looking really good. We now have a strategic approach for the execution, implementation, and maintenance of our application.
These UX artifacts are taken as strategic guidelines by the development team and user interface designers during Development and Implementation to make sure the visual and technical recommendations are present throughout the entire process until the product is put into production and available to the masses.
So, is this when User Experience ends?
A constantly evolving product will require User Experience throughout its entire lifecycle. User Experience ends when the product retires. There is always something new to learn from the user. New technologies are constantly emerging and there is always a new way to interact with an application. A product should be able to go through small iterations of improvement without the need of having to perform serious refactoring every time.
User Experience adds a great value to product development. Contrary to what most people believe, User Experience is more than wireframes and user interface design. It is what ensures an efficient and pleasant experience in a functional application. In internal applications, it may help reduce hours of unnecessary training or promote employee engagement and interaction within the organization. In the long-term, this will convert to savings on unnecessary expenses. For an external audience, it can potentially increase your online traffic and produce an increase in your ROI as a result of a satisfactory user experience. After all, understanding your end-users’ preferences as well the technical requirements for short and long term goals, will give you a technological advantage to improve, expand, and grow as a business much more efficiently.
This article was also written to be featured at cdh.com