Understanding the Value of User Research and Experience Design

Jen Hill

Why UX is important, and how to get started

Why do you create/manage your website? For your users, right? Your users are the be-all and end-all of your website or application. Many project owners think they know what is best for their users, but without thoughtful research and analysis, they can’t be sure. User Experience Design puts the users in the center and plans everything around their needs and objectives.

What is the purpose of User Experience Design? 

To make things easy; to make it so your user doesn’t even have to think about how to do something. 

Who/What is a User?

A user is a customer/patient/visitor/etc.

  • They are unique.
  • They have needs, emotions and feelings (which evolve over time).
  • They have previous experience and expectations.
  • They have context to each use of your application/website.
    • Day, Time
    • Mental State (Mood)
    • Environment

The purpose of identifying and acknowledging the user is to realize that while I have my own opinions, that does NOT mean I know what other users want.

Who Practices UX Design?

UX is a combination of many disciplines. Creating a successful user-centered design can involve:

  • Information Architecture
  • Content Creation
  • Visual Design
  • User Interface Design
  • Interaction Design
  • Website and Application Design/Development
  • Industrial Design
  • Usability Engineering
  • Psychology

Regardless of discipline, all UX practitioners seek to:

    • By talking to users, we learn their wants and needs while observing their context and struggles.
    • By learning about the users, we can defend their best interest while representing their point of view.

UX Process

  1. Research
    The starting point for every UX project, research is what identifies/confirms what the key problems are for design. Research can be in the way of interviews, online surveys, field observations, competitive analysis, etc. and usually results in the creation of a Persona or Journey Map. This tells us more about the users - their behaviors, their goals, their motivations and their needs. Which sets the direction for Design.
  2. Steve Jobs Design QuoteDesign
    Through Research and analysis of the findings, UX Practitioners are able to identify the key areas for improvement and features development. Once ideas are solidified, Sketches, Wireframes and Prototypes are created for review, reiteration and testing.
  3. Test
    Testing is a critical part of the UX Designer’s job and UX Design Process. We test because it identifies ways to improve upon the original product/idea/prototype. Testing is the best way to identify and eliminate user problems and difficulties that were unforeseen in the design phase. Identifying these problems early on makes it much easier (less-costly) to fix before implementation.
  4. Design Again
    Applying what was learned from User Testing, Designer’s re-think the user experience and improve upon the original product. This might involve making steps more obvious for the user, enlarging text or buttons, adding additional instructions, or even simplifying the process.
  5. Test Again…
  6. Repeat… 

With any luck, you have all of the time and resources in the world to design and test infinitely until you are 100% happy with your product. First of all - who are you, and how can we work with you? Second of all - we know that’s not the case for most projects out there. So you define your priorities, and stick to your timeline and budget as best you can always referring back to the user and your priorities.

Qualities Essential to the UX Process

  • Empathy - the ability to understand why someone does something a certain way. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes. 
  • Curiosity - the desire to understand why people behave the way they do.
  • Attention to Detail and Clarity - the ability to understand and re-think detailed processes for analysis and improvement.

What makes something a great user experience?

In 2017, it’s more than common for people/businesses to have a website - it’s a necessity. Even further, it is increasingly common to also have applications and mobile-friendly versions of websites. But, just because you create a website or app, does not mean it’s usable or enjoyable to use. Take a look at this hierarchy diagram. Most sites/apps out there are “Acceptable”. That’s because, the further up you go in the triangle the more work it is to complete. Those with the time and budget to take their UX higher can design more rewarding and beneficial tools for their user. 

Make your user experience a successThis is why understanding your users and what they want, need and like is important. Beyond that you decide, what are your priorities and what is required for your experience to be a success?

  1. Is it Functional?
    1. Yes. That’s acceptable.
  2. Is it easy to use? (Usable)
    1. Yes. That’s good.
  3. Is it enjoyable to use?
    1. Yes. That’s great!

In Conclusion...

If you're trying to decide whether it's worth it to invest in your User Experience Design, think again about why you are creating your website or application. If your goals are to make things easier on your users and to make sure they accomplish a certain task (conversion), you should at least be willing to invest in Good UX. And, if you're lucky enough to have the time and resources to conduct research, testing and prototyping to achieve Great UX, by all means it is a worthy investment. And remember, just like any other agile web project - there is no one size fits all. Creating a hybrid of UX tools and processes to fit your needs is absolutely feasible as well. Happy planning!

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