A great user experience gives competitive advantages to companies and make them successful in the market by differentiating them from rival products. If your product offers the whole new approach to tackle user problems it goes without saying that the easiness to learn and use will remove any frictions that keep users from adopting it. In general, a great user experience is beneficial to companies that provide because it 1) builds trust with users, 2) differentiates them from competitors, and 3) reduce costs for maintenance or user supports.
More importantly, users are not any more passive consumers. Informed and networked users are active in sharing their experiences and advocating good companies. As C.K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy introduced in the book, The Future of Competition, the value will be increasingly co-created by the firm and the customer, rather than being created entirely inside the firm, so smart companies understand the power shift and try to leverage active users from the early stage of the product development. (see also: Co-creation in Wikipedia)
The definition of user experience
A good user experience design is far from beautiful interface or visual design of the products. Instead, it implies that all the elements working together provide an emotionally and intellectually satisfying experience to the users throughout their journey. As it was clearly defined by Forrester, user experience is users’ perceptions of the usefulness, usability, and desirability of a product based upon the sum of all their direct and indirect interactions with it. (see also: Best Practices In User Experience (UX) Design – Adobe)
Who are the target users? What are the goals they are trying to accomplish? Do our products solve their problems? The usefulness is determined by the degree to which users achieve their goals. The benefits of using the products should be clear and communicated precisely throughout users interactions with the products.
How easy is it to use? Are our products accessible to the target users? How long or many steps does it take for users to achieve their goals? The usability of the products is measured by the degree to which users can complete their tasks without pains.
Do our products appeal to the users’ emotions? Do they find using our products delightful? Do they want to use the products repeatedly? The desirability is influenced by usefulness and usability, but it is also influenced by the attractiveness of the products, so users can build emotional engagements and positive feelings.
How to create a great user experience?
1. Understand Users
The first step in designing a user experience is to understand your users. Many times designers and developers make a mistake that they know users by simply gathering requirements or interviewing a few. It happens more open when the development team has the limited budget or the project owners have many experiences in the similar products. Sometimes, they simply follow the direction of the decision makers, not considering the user research as a critical part of the product development.
However, you can never tell who is your real target and how they will need your products before you actually meet and talk to them. There are three steps you need to take to thoroughly understand your users, and the user research at the early stage is the only way to identify users real problems. More importantly, early user engagement should be considered as the generation of ideas rather than the simple assessment of current situations.
Listen what users need and want to set the right direction. Interviewing them directly is the best way to collect useful information, so try to find as many users as possible. Everybody might have somewhat different opinions on the same products or problems, and some of them would be able to provide good ideas that would shine a light on your project. If you have difficulties in finding users to interview still you may leverage forums and social networking services where people with the same interests get together. Find most relevant communities and try to reach out them. Simply posting what you want to know and what you are trying to do, you might be surprised by the answers you get from active users.
Observation usually provides more interesting findings about users. Seeing them struggling with your or competitors’ products will give you a better understanding on the problems that users cannot articulate. In order to get the best results, you may need to see them in the real environment because the context and their environments are also important resources to gain deep insights about users.
Empathy is the great ability for designers and developers to come up with good solutions. Based on what you have learned, you can now build user segmentations based on their goals and create personas with vivid images, give them names, and write down their problems. You also need to become one of users to completely understand their needs and wants. Imagine their daily lives or follow their journey on how they deal with their issues. You can generate insights from exploration and put down design criteria using mind mapping tools.
Customer Segmentation – New Framework for Customer Segmentation
Journey Mapping – Visualizing the customer experience using customer experience journey maps
Persona – Executive Summary: The Inmates are Running the Asylum
2. Set strategy
User research provides good insights about users, so sometimes you may feel like you already have all the answers you need. However, there are several things you need to consider before you start designing. Creating a great user experience needs a strategy, meaning that your solution should be acceptable under the context of your organizations and realistic to be built within limited budget and time. Moreover, you should consider all the on-going changes until and after your products are released.
1) Know your business:
A great user experience serves business goals in many ways. It can increase revenues, attract new customers, enhance brand image, or reduce maintenance costs. Therefore, you need to know what’s the purpose of the project and what your organization wants to realize through it. More importantly, following the market dynamics and understanding competitive landscape will help you see the bigger picture and provide you an ability to build more compelling ideas on how to create values for your organizations.
2) Know your constraints:
To create realistic solutions your ability in knowing and dealing with constraints such as time, money, and technology is critical. Even though you have great ideas, if they are impossible under the limited budget you should try to think differently. I believe that the limitation you have will become great assets to stimulate your creativity and think outside the box.
Often many designers try to find the perfect solution that makes everybody happy, but I would say that there is no such thing. Instead, focus on the most important features that yield great user satisfactions. (see also: Kano Model at the Mind the Product blog)
3) Design for changes
Creating a new user experience is like inventing the future with your feet in the real world because what users need and want will change as the society, economy, and technology evolve. There is also a time gap between your user research and product release, so you should keep your eyes open and develop products for the future. Prepare future scenarios in the short- and long-term where you describe what are the major changes in the market, what are the most attractive product features, and how your target users would react to the changes. Taking a long term perspective and designing for changes is not easy, so reducing the product release cycles, scheduling frequent, simple upgrades, and designing the technical architecture to be easy to modify will reduce the risks and make it easy to keep your product up-to-date.
3. Create with users
All the researches you have implemented are the valuable resources, but they would not guarantee the success of your products. Moreover, the overwhelming data can make you feel suffocated and lose where to start. In that sense, as mentioned before, developing concept maps and personas helps you identify the key customers, key issues, and the most important features to start with. In the designing process, you also need to engage users to make the most meaningful experience for them, and keep it in mind that creating a great user experience is the on-going process you will never stop as users evolve constantly.
1) Generate Ideas:
Hold a brainstorming session, invite key stakeholders, if possible include some of your target users, provide the clear issue descriptions and goals of the projects, and let them participate in idea generation process. Designers will find values because it allows them to have more interesting ideas that would not be possible if done on their own. However, the main pitfall about brainstorming is that participants try to assess the validity and feasibility of ideas, although not explicitly, and based on their assessment point the winners, which becomes a shackle that blocks designers explorer more options. Therefore, be aware of that your goal at this stage is not jumping to the conclusion but generating as many ideas as possible you will keep developing later through convergent thinking.
2) Design Fast:
Draw your ideas on papers or sticky notes to create low-fidelity prototypes. You can choose any materials that show your ideas clearly in least amount of time but exclude any decorations, such as colors or typography that would distract users’ focus. Test your ideas with users and allow them to change some of the features or elements in your design. Once you gain confidence you can move on to high-fidelity prototypes like wireframe. The wireframe offers more precisions and some interactivity, but still you need to avoid to make it look like the final product. Instead, keep focusing on fast development and easy, repeating modifications.
Usability testing is not an option in product development process, but it should be considered as continuous check-ups of your products over the extended period of time. It is helpful in collecting useful information, validating your ideas, and settling down different opinions inside the development team. More importantly, seeing users struggling with your products will give you a great opportunity that you would get inspirations and feel responsibilities. Therefore, you have to find the way to prepare the effective usability testing within time and budget and implement it quickly with the most results. (see also: Usability Testing Basics by TechSmith )
4) Launch, Evaluation, Reiteration:
Creating a great user experience is the ongoing journey as trends, competitions, and users change all the time, so your job cannot stop even after your product is released. Instead, more chances to evaluate your product in the real world will come since actual customers start using your product. Analyzing key performance metrics and conversion funnels with analytics softwares is the basic step to understand the level of users engagement with the product. Measuring Net Promoter Score through user survey tools is also one of the useful methods gauging user satisfactions with your service, while A/B and multivariate testing is beneficial in constant improvement of key features and elements of your products that drive big impact on conversions.