User Experience (UX)
THE KEY TO INCREASING APPLICATION ADOPTION
On average, companies that provide a superior experience have 14.4% more customers who are willing to consider them for another purchase, than companies in the same industry offering a poor customer experience.
User experience (UX) refers to how a person feels when they interact with a system – whether it is a website, a web application or desktop software. This involves focusing on a high-quality experience for the user to ensure the system meets their needs.
As such, it is important to consider end-user perceptions, moods, beliefs, prior experiences, state of mind and location when developing both internal and external systems. Focusing on UX throughout the software development process will deliver an application that creates greater business value.
By incorporating UX in software development, a multitude of benefits can be realised including:
Increased software usage
Reduced time for performing tasks
Reduced defects and rework
Increased ROI – estimated benefit of between 10:1 to 100:1 – for every $1 invested in UX, one can expect returns of between $10 and $100
This article explores the importance of focusing on UX in any new software application, whether it is internal or external. It also differentiates between UX and UI, and suggests ways in which UX can be applied at each stage of the software development lifecycle.
Previously, design decisions were based on two things – what the developer thought was remarkable, and what the client wanted to see. The developer would build the interaction based on what they assumed would work, with little thought to how this would affect the end-user. This resulted in poor systems uptake, as users failed to commit to intuitive applications that were difficult to use.
According to statistics, as a result of not including UX designers, 97% of websites and web applications fail at user experience and suffer from frustrated users and poor conversion rates.
UX is a critical consideration in the development of a software application. Success will depend on the level of user loyalty achieved – based on an enjoyable user experience in which tasks can be completed efficiently. What is User Experience? User experience refers to how a person feels when they interact with a system – whether it is a website, a web application or desktop software. This involves focusing on a high-quality experience for the user to ensure the system meets their needs. The role of UX in determining customer satisfaction User experience activities form a core part of the design and development process of an application. Research activities enable an organisation to understand the users, and importantly, what they want to accomplish with the application.
Determining the defining characteristics of a subset of the target audience, such as their situation, needs, traits, bottlenecks, other tools used, and the people and devices they interact with, helps to create a persona detailing exactly what is required of the system. Once these needs are set, responding to them achieves a simple, easy-to-use experience. A system that is easy to learn and achieves what it sets out to achieve will increase user satisfaction.
Failing to focus on usability can be detrimental for an organisation, for both internal and external systems. Internally, employees are discouraged by applications that negatively impact the ability to achieve their tasks. The necessary features must be available to enable employees to complete their tasks effectively.
For external systems, ignoring usability can deter customers from discovering the advantages of using the system. It is no longer viable to simply make the tools available within the application – rather, the user must be able to easily access and understand these system features.
Examples of organisations benefiting from user experience EXPEDIA By making a small UX change in one of its online forms, global online travel company Expedia earned an additional $12 million in profit. Previously, Expedia provided an optional field for customers to input their company name. Simply removing this resulted in increased conversions and profits.
ASOS Clothing retailer, ASOS, found more and more users were abandoning products in their cart when prompted to create an account at Checkout. Altering the UX to remove the mention of registering, ASOS has halved its abandonment rate. Although customers still have to create an account by entering a password as part of the standard checkout requirements (e.g. contact name and email address), they are less likely to abandon purchases.
RDIO Online music app, Rdio, provides a consistent user interface between its iPhone application and the desktop application offered. In addition, Rdio has been praised for taking a step further and only enabling users to download whole albums on mobile devices using WiFi – this avoids hefty mobile bills that may be associated with 3G downloading. Small details like these enable a memorable user experience. The difference between User Interface and User Experience Too often, organisations fall victim to the theory that if the software ‘looks good’, the user experience (UX) work is complete. In fact, UX is commonly perceived to be the same as user interface (UI). However, whilst the visual design of a software package and interface play a significant role in the purchasing decision process, this approach is likely to fail in the long run if the developer is unaware of the difference between UX and UI.
UX refers to the user emotions that come into play before, during and after interaction with a piece of technology or software. As such, it is important to consider the end-user perceptions, moods, beliefs, prior experiences, state of mind and location into the user-experience decision-making process.
UI is the portion of the system that communicates with the user, i.e. what is designed on the screen. Although UX is typically considered interface and visual design, it is important to note that UI only forms a component of UX. Whilst UX incorporates UI, a multitude of other items come into play.
When developing a software application, it is important to think of UX in terms of how the user answers the following questions:
Can I do what I need to do?
Do I have to learn new tricks?
Do I understand the terminology?
Am I in charge?
Can I get help when I need it?
Do I know what the system is doing?
Can I recognise things? Is the design clear and appealing?
Are mistakes hard to make and easy to correct?
Can I find my way around?
Focusing on UX throughout the software development process will deliver an application that creates value. In some cases, an organisation will select a third-party vendor to develop the system, and in doing so, developers often become detached from the experience of a first-time user.
It is essential to ensure the vendor enables a specialised UX team to focus on building usability features into the application.
Benefits of incorporating usability in software development FOR THE USER
Easy to learn and use the software
Reduced time for performing tasks
Reduced training time and effort
Intuitive workflow-improved navigation
FOR THE SOFTWARE PROVIDER
Increased software usage
Increased market for software as new users are targeted
Reduced cost for user training
Ability to manage scope and releases
FOR THE SOFTWARE DEVELOPER
Increased measurability of performance
Reduced customer-reported defects
Reduced defects and rework
BOTTOM LINE = INCREASED ROI Time and time again, the benefits of introducing usability activities throughout development have been shown to far outweigh the associated costs.
The estimated return on investment (ROI) for usability engineering is between 10:1 and 100:1. In other words, for every $1 invested in UX, one can expect returns of $10 to $100.
Utilising UX in the Software Development Cycle A good user experience cannot be applied to a system after it is built. Rather, it must be a part of the development process, from start to finish and beyond. Regardless of the diligence of the design team, there will always be unanswered UX questions that arise, due to gaps in design deliverables or unforeseen technical limitations that require workarounds. Leaving these decisions to the implementation team can lead to serious inconsistencies and usability problems in the final product.
As developers become close to the system, it becomes difficult for them to imagine the experience of the first-time user. The ideal situation is to involve UX designers and researchers in the development process to ensure the final product matches the intended design.
Concept Phase During the concept phase, project objectives are clarified as the UX team work to understand the needs of both internal and external end-users. This phase corresponds with the user-centred analysis stage of the usability engineering lifecycle. At this stage, organisations profile the users, analyse tasks, develop general design principles, establish usability goals and develop style guides. The user profile will determine high-level user requirements of the system.
Surveys, interviews and focus groups are conducted to establish user preferences and behaviour. This will depend on the end-user and whether the system is internal or external. For external systems, all three methods can be used. For internal systems, interviews and focus groups are most appropriate.
Answering the questions below will help you establish audience emotions and expectations, which can be factored into system design:
Which emotions are triggered before using your software?
Do your users feel they are catered to?
Can your users trust you, or will they believe you see them as guinea pigs due to AB and price testing?
How quickly do you respond to customer contact?
If you offer a software trial, do you ask for credit cards before allowing the trial?
Do the current systems work? If not, how can they be improved?
Which emotions are triggered before using your software?
Which emotions are triggered during use of your software?
Can your users trust you to develop a system that will help them achieve their tasks?
When users need help, who can they contact and how quickly can an issue be resolved?
Do users feel as though their feedback is being considered?
Design and Development Phase When designing the system, the UX team should consider all aspects of the design: visual (how it looks), interaction (how it works), information architecture (how it is organised), content (what it says and how it sounds), and functionality (what it does).
UI plays a major role in this phase. Since UI differs for each system, there is no single right way to design the UI. Organisations can follow usability guidelines and best practices during this process to make it easier.
Additionally, the UX team will need to reinforce the idea the system is the best tool for the user to get the job done (for both internal and external applications), by offering:
A good onboarding process to make it easy for users to get started, for example providing in-software help and direct links to the IT department for internal systems, and webinars or ongoing emails for external systems
Gamification elements that enable the enhancement of the UX
Support for users when they have problems – referring them to an FAQ page is not as helpful as providing proactive support
Many organisations utilise user-centred design during this phase to determine how people will respond to the initial release. During this process, the organisation can resolve defects as they occur. This is crucial, as the cost of fixing errors after development can be considerably more expensive than during development.
For internal employee systems, the organisation may choose to deploy the system to a subset of employees so they can test the application. Using 5 employees uncovers 85% of defects and allows the company to take a proactive approach to development.
This approach can also be taken for external customer-facing systems if the version of the system plays no impact on the use of the application.
Implementation and Post- Implementation Phase Before implementing the system, it is essential that final usability testing is conducted. This often occurs during user acceptance testing (UAT), where a subset of actual users test the system. This will ensure any issues that arise can be rectified before being rolled out to the wider audience, minimising the risk of implementing a faulty system.
Once implementation has occurred, the UX team should work with the development team to resolve implementation issues as needed. In addition, the UX steps taken when users are not actively engaged with the software are just as important as the ones executed when they are using the software. During post-implementation, the organisation should maintain a relationship with the user. This can be done by:
Using ongoing emails to give hints about how users can further benefit from the software
Listening to user requests and improving the software based on these ideas
Creating a simple avenue for users to share how successfully they are using the software with others
Conclusion User experience is a fluid and dynamic process. To ensure the best possible solution for the end-user, it is important to focus on delivering a simple, user-friendly experience throughout the entire application process. User satisfaction will increase, allowing a strong user-base to be built in the case of external systems. For internal systems, a good experience increases uptake of systems as employees realise the value in utilising the system.
As users become savvier, they require different software experiences. Although the end usage of the software remains the same, the experiences surrounding usage shift constantly. Keeping up with this trend is a must for organisations wanting to maintain a competitive advantage and grow.
For many organisations wishing to stand out in the crowd, the new challenge is to setup multiple UX paths based on the user’s sophistication levels. This will guarantee better, more engaged users that will assist company growth and increase employee productivity.