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Getting the most out of UX

Kristy Former Head of Discovery and Design 30th Oct, 2014

My parents are always asking me to explain what I do. The first time I told my dad I was taking a position as a UX Consultant, he replied, “Oh, good! Does that mean you’ll be coming home more?”. It took me a minute before I realized he had heard ‘US Consultant’ and was excited that I might be traveling often to a potential US location closer to where he lives in Michigan. This made me smile, but was not a surprise. User Experience was not quite mainstream terminology and a difficult concept to get one’s head around.

Explaining UX to my dad via a series of conversations over the last several years has helped to shape my own understanding of what it is that I actually do. Conversations about the benefits and intricacies of focusing on the User Experience with someone who bought his first computer in 2009 and learned how to use a smartphone in 2013 have been surprisingly successful. As it turns out, paying attention to customers is not always so difficult to justify.

So how do I describe what I do as a UX Consultant?

A good ‘UXer’ helps to bring together what is already known about a business with the things we learn about its digital ‘users’ and potential users. Add this to an understanding of current conventions and ‘best practice’ and we can determine best-fit solutions, unique from one organization to the next. UX practitioners’ methods and tools are particularly useful for figuring out what is important to people and can help advise on next steps from the merger of this knowledge. Sometimes our outputs are the wireframes of a website, but they don’t have to be. We also produce insights about users, strategies, persona sets and user journeys.

UX as a mentality

To me, UX is more than just a role. It is a mentality that guides the way I work. It has a lot to do with understanding people. Getting to know them, discovering their wants, needs, behaviours and desires. Understanding their mental models, expectations and goals. Any contact is seen as an opportunity to learn.

UX is everyone’s job. The more an organisation gets to know its users, the better its user experience is going to be. What a good UX consultant does is guide this process, giving organisations the tools it needs to reach this enlightened state.

I recently read an article about Apple’s design success and how it has less to do with hiring the world’s best designers and more to do with good design being a mindset required of every employee. As I read it, I substituted the words ‘User Experience’ where they had referred to design, and found it resonated with the way that I speak about and teach UX.

UX as a practice is an attempt to really understand people in order to make informed decisions about how to engage with them. Incorporating effective UX is less about measurement and more about knowledge. There are countless methods available to utilise to get to know people. It’s really just about knowing when to use what and understanding that the way you design your research can be just as important as the way you design your product or service experience.

Contrary to what a lot of organisations are currently practising, UX should not be thought of as a stage in the process. Ideally, it is incorporated throughout development, helping to identify issues and develop solutions and continuing beyond launch to inform improvements. Though each project is different, there are distinct questions and goals for each stage. There are particular questions to ask and methods to use that vary across a project’s lifecycle. I’ve developed a guide to ‘Getting the most out of UX’ using our process here at U1 which should help to demonstrate how useful us UXers can be.

Embedding UX work into the process

Click this link or image below to open a high res version of table in a new window.

Table of steps describing how to embed UX into the process

For text version of content, please read below.

RESEARCH (also known as EXPLORE or DISCOVERY)

Before creating anything- whether it is a product, service or strategy- this most crucial stage is about exploring intent. It is important to develop a comprehensive understanding of the business and intended audience to make certain you create something relevant and useful for both. Ensure you are designing the right thing. Questions are often open-ended and answers are unknown at this point. 

Sounds like (questions)

  • What additional tools can we provide to our current customers to ensure they are getting the most out of our services?
  • How can we better assist first-time business owners who are unsure of required permits and processes for operating in the city?
  • In what ways can we use our University’s digital presence to enhance our current student experience?
  • How do we ensure that we are providing our customers a seamless experience across both our online and offline channels?

Looks like (methods)

  • Observation
  • Open-ended interviews (both with stakeholders and users/ potential users)
  • Ethnography
  • Diary study (exploratory)
  • Cultural probe
  • Contextual enquiry
  • Analytics review

Leads to (goals)

  • Decision on what to design, define or build
  • Engagement plan (how to incorporate customer feedback moving forward)
  • Digital roadmap

STRATEGY & INTERACTION (also known as CREATE, DEFINE or DESIGN)

Once you’ve determined what you are defining and/or building, it is time to create the product, interaction or strategy. Here, you are focusing on designing the thing right. Many teams make the assumption that UX belongs here, jumping straight to this stage without us, which means they miss out on a lot of useful insights. Ideally, the work done here should help to validate the insights obtained in the Research stage.

Sounds like (questions)

  • How do we organize the information on our website so that it is most useful to our customers?
  • How can we reduce the amount of work/time required for a user to complete our online registration form?
  • What functionalities should our mobile app include (and what shouldn’t be there)?

And to follow:

  • How will we evaluate success for this project? Can it be measured?

Looks like (methods)

  • Participatory or co- design
  • Workshops
  • Focus groups
  • Usability testing (of prototypes)
  • Diary study (focus on particular tasks or behaviours)
  • Card sorting
  • Benchmarking review
  • Competitor analysis
  • A/B testing

Leads to (goals)

  • Prototype or “end” product (for now)
  • Personas and user journeys or storyboards
  • Strategy (Digital, Customer Experience, Content, Social Media, etc.)
  • Information architecture

EVOLUTION (also known as IMPROVE reflect, iterate, evaluate)

Ultimately, we don’t know a product or strategy’s effect until it is launched or employed. At some point, we just need to let actual users help with its evolution. In this stage, you should be monitoring use and reactions and observing behaviours and attitudes. It is important to check in with users to ensure that you stay relevant.

Sounds like (questions)

  • Was this project a success? How do we know?
  • How can we continue to add value to our customers with this product/service?
  • Which features of the new system are useful? Which are getting in the way?
  • Does our strategy still make sense today?

Looks like (methods)

  • Analytics review
  • Usability testing (of “end” product)
  • Focus groups
  • Survey
  • User feedback form
  • Any other sort of ‘check in’ with your users

Leads to (goals)

  • Improved product or service
  • Relevant user experiences
  • Long-term customer loyalty

About The Author

Kristy Former Head of Discovery and Design

Kristy brings great strength in research methodology to U1. She is inquisitive and passionate about human interaction and knows how to look beyond data to provide deep insights. Having completed advanced studies in anthropology, design and engineering, Kristy always aims to ‘design the right thing’, not just ‘design the thing right’. She brings with her a range of experience working with organisations in Australia and the United States on strategy, digital user experience, customer experience and service design projects.

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