User experience is a broad field of design and development topics that center on the idea of making products easier to understand and use for consumers. As professionals in an industry where we create experiences for other people, it is highly beneficial for our clients, end users, and products to consider the user experience. In this article, I have laid out some basic user experience guidelines to keep in mind when developing a product.
Understand your client’s goals and wants/needs
Understand what your client wants from the product. Many times your client will have a general idea of a product they want, but not an understanding of how to get there. As a user experience professional, it is your job to sit down with the client and talk through the goals they want to achieve with the product, and the process you will use to get them there. Doing this will not only set clear guidelines on what the client expects and needs, but it also gives you the opportunity to communicate what is possible to the client so both you and the client have the same understanding of the project. By understanding your client’s goals and needs, you can build a product that meets and exceeds the clients wishes and generates them business.
Understand what your users want/need
It is important to always consider your client’s needs but the end users are just as important. As the users are the people who will be using the finished product, it is essential to consider the average person’s point of view of the product. Just because you or the client thinks the product is good does not actually mean it will do well with consumers. Think about how the user will operate the product and why the user would use the product in the first place/goal they are trying to accomplish. To help with this process, try to get feedback from users through usability or A-B testing, as this will give you direct access to user opinions and thoughts on the product. By understanding what people could get out of the product/how the average person would want to use the product and why, you can build a better product that meets user needs and client goals.
Be Empathetic to the Users and Clients
Ever heard the saying “Treat others the way you want to be treated?” Treat the product as if you were going to be the one using it. When you buy something from the store, you want it to function in its intended way and potentially make your life a little easier. You would probably be upset with the given product if it was hard to understand, difficult to use, or just didn’t work well. Understand how people would like to use the product and how they will expect it to function. Make it easy to understand and use!
At the same time however, you should always consider the client’s goals and point of view. As the client is the organization who hired you make the product and expects to profit from the product, the client must see a return on their investment. For example, making a product so efficient that the user only needs to use it one time is fantastic for the consumer but would generate little revenue for the client, as there would not be a great incentive to use the product again. Therefore, a delicate balance must be created in the product that satisfies both the users and the client. Make the product a problem solver that is easy to use and efficient so it keeps people coming back for more. Don’t make the product the be all end all solution.
Wire framing is a draft of a product design layout. This is a critically important step in the development process as it puts ideas on the page in an easy to understand and easy to manipulate way. Wire frames help communicate ideas and visuals to the rest of the team (and clients) and help lead to further development of the product. Wire frames are in no way the final product and only function as a skeleton of the product. An easy and effective way to wire frame is to draw ideas out on paper or a whiteboard. This allows you to quickly sketch ideas out, share them, and change them. For wire framing on a computer, programs such as Axure, Balsamiq, Gliffy, or Pencil Project are great for producing and manipulating designs.
Conduct A-B Testing
A-B testing is a user testing method where two designs are compared to one another. This kind of testing is a generally simple process where the client’s original design is compared to the new design at the same time online. Each design is implemented at the same time and users are randomly routed to one of the two designs. Success is determined by which design out performs the other. For example, success in an A-B test of an e-commerce site could be decided by which design lead to more sales or membership signups during the testing time. A-B testing is a helpful testing tool for building a product because it gives the development team quantitative feedback on the popularity and success of a product through real users and usage. In addition, A-B testing can be very beneficial in earlier development stages of a design. If people do not like the newer design you are building, it is good to find out early on and change it before the team spends too much time and effort crafting the product.
Conduct Usability Testing
Usability testing means to test the given product with real users during the development process. In a usability test, a participant is given a product and a list of scenarios for using the given product. In each scenario, the participant must complete a given set of tasks. These tasks are created by the development team based on how we think people will use the product, including the average and more extreme uses of the product. By testing these “average and extreme uses” through tasks, the development team can determine if the intended use of the product is being met. If the tasks are not being completed by the users in an efficient time or cannot be completed by the user, then we know that we have a problem with the product. From there we record the problems people encounter with the product, and then discuss after testing how we can potentially solve these problems.
Usability testing is generally done either in person or remotely by using screen recording software. Only 5 to 8 participants are needed for a full usability test. During testing, one participant is tested at a time and the test usually lasts between 15 to 30 minutes. A great way to understand what is happening as the participant uses the product is to use the Think Aloud Method. The Think Aloud Method is a testing technique where the participant “thinks out loud” by saying everything they are thinking while they use the product. The more the participant says while they use the product the better, as this means you get more information out of the participant about the product.
Test Early and Often
Conducting A-B testing or usability testing of the product is highly beneficial. As we work on a given product we can get very close to it and not recognize user experience/usability problems. Testing allows real users to give the development team feedback on a product, providing an easy and efficient way to identify product strengths and issues that users encounter. Therefore, the more testing we do, the more product feedback we get from users. In addition, conducting testing earlier on in the development process is very helpful as the basic usability and appeal of the site can be determined before designs get too far along. It is much easier to change something early on in the process than later on.