Designing compelling customer-facing user experiences #BTF09

For the last breakout of the day before the final keynote, I attended Mike Gualtieri’s session on designing customer-facing user interfaces. He started with the idea that application developers have to be involved in user experience design, and not just leave it to the designers (which is, of course, exactly what we did in the bad old days of development when there was no such thing as a user experience designer). Forrester defines user experience as “users’ perceptions of the usefulness, usability, and desirability of a Web application based upon the sum of all their direct and indirect interactions with it”, and propose that a great UX is useful, usable and desirable.

User experience impacts how your customers feel about you, and it’s also not just about the interfaces that the customer works with directly: a second-hand interface can also impact the customer experience, as you know if you’ve ever waited ages while a hotel desk clerk clicks their way through a complex interface in order to check you in. A good UX can increase purchases, retain customers and attract more customers; leaving it to chance hurts your conversion rates, alienates customers and increases your development costs due to redesign and redevelopment.

Gualtieri argues that UX design is Lean (although you could argue that only good UX design is Lean), and sets out best practices for good UX design:

  • Become your users, by listening to their needs, observing them in their natural habitat, creating personas, and empathizing with them. Users typically don’t articulate their needs fully or accurately so it’s not sufficient to just listen to them, but they will demonstrate them if you watch how they do their work. This type of user research is not the same as gathering requirements from business stakeholders; remember the Henry Ford quote: “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. Forrester uses personas in their own materials – for example, representing an application development manager, complete with picture and name – and I’m seeing some companies such as Global 360 use these for BPMS user interface design.
  • Design first, and understand constraints and potential areas of change as well as the different personas that you discovered in your user research. Keep in mind that you have to serve business goals by serving user goals. Create rough prototypes first, and don’t rush into development or lock into a design too soon. There is some amount of art UX design, so don’t assume that tools can do it for you. Keep the basic principles in mind: useful, usable and desirable.
  • Trust no one: test your designs. It doesn’t matter how many experts review the designs, there is no better review of some features than testing the UX with a range of intended users. Remember that this is not just about usability, it’s also about usefulness and desirability.
  • Inject UX design into your software development life cycle. Everyone on the team should understand why UX design is important, and be incented to help create great UX. UX design should be part of your development process, and requires someone on the team to own the UX design efforts. You still need to use the same techniques as discussed in the other best practices, not just do the design in isolation from the users, but having it integrated into the development team will improve the overall software design.

He finished with the ideas that your development efforts are essentially wasted if the user experience isn’t done right, but it doesn’t have to add a lot of time or money to your project. Good UX design is the mark of a great application development team.

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