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Two of the most important yet neglected things in UX

Two of the most important yet neglected things in UX

Imagine you have $100 to spend on your website and you want to spend it as wisely as possible.  And so, you get yourself a hundred $1 bills and some pots.  You label these pots research, CMS, hosting, navigation, task analysis, creative design, content, usability testing etc.  How much do you put in each pot?

My experience from a quarter of a century of involvement in web projects is that many project teams extensively overinvest in pots which users don’t care about (and have negligible impact on product success) and significantly underinvest in pots which are central to user satisfaction (and thus represent the beating heart of product success).

While I appreciate that there is overlap between pots, too many project teams manage their $100 as follows.

  • Significant overinvestment – creative design
  • Underinvestment – research, usability testing, direct user feedback, prototyping, content
  • Chronic underinvestment – navigation, flow

It seems incredulous to consider that too few organisations ask the simple questions which almost exclusively determine how they will treat their customer through digital channels.

  • Who comes to our site / app / digital product?
  • What tasks do the majority of those users wish to complete?
  • How can we help them find the starting point for those tasks as effortlessly as possible?
  • How can we help them complete those tasks as effortlessly as possible?

When I deliver training, I always ask delegates if they have had an online experience recently which has caused them to feel angry.  The question acts as a great opening ice–breaker but it is also seeks to scratch under the surface of how users feel treated by the online products they use.

Usually 100% of all hands go up.  If the question is asked on a Monday morning, you can almost guarantee 100%.  So, I ask people what they were trying to do and what made them feel anger.  Typical answers are the following:

  • Trying to buy a product on an ecommerce website
  • Trying to find the time that a bus or train leaves the station
  • Trying to find and buy a ticket
  • Trying to renew a service such as insurance
  • Using their company’s intranet

No one has ever said:

  • The lazy designers got the RGB references in the colour scheme wrong
  • They used Helvetica when I prefer Arial
  • Their image strategy conflicts with my tastes

Two things strike me about the answers:

  • No–one is trying to unlock the nuclear codes – they are just trying to do regular stuff
  • The task which has caused them to feel angry is one which both they and the company they are transacting with want to do, i.e. if the company made it easier then everyone would win

Tracking this back to product success, it is unforgivable to be in a situation where the customer wants to buy and the company wants to sell, and the vehicle built to do this has been so poorly designed that it makes that harder not easier.

Project teams need to work harder to spend their $100 wisely, and part of that is resisting the inevitable internal pressures to comply with business priorities at the cost of user needs.  Your primary responsibility is to achieve business goals by helping your customers do what they wanted to do all along.

Invest much more in navigation (helping users get where they want to get first time) and flow (helping users move from the start of their task to the end).  The torturous and interminable discussions around layout, typography styling and hero images should be the first victims of the revolution.

Cover image: Lewis, M., HeadSmart Media (photographer). Waterfall at daytime [digital image]. Retrieved from Unsplash / Cropped and filtered from original.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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