User Experience is serious business

May 17, 2015

Opinions are like bellybuttons: everybody has one. It’s one of those wonderful little traits that makes us human.

There is of course a right time for opinions; a design process addressing the public interface for your organisation or service is not one of them. If the debate around (for instance) a website descends into contributions such as “I think we need to have our Twitter feed on the homepage”, the alarm bells should sound.

Protracted debate around what is understood to be the design tends to come too late in the day, and represent nothing but a distraction from deep–rooted issues that will dictate the success or failure of an organisation’s digital strategy.

Digital touchpoints now represent the de facto form of initial contact between businesses and customers. A little unfairly perhaps, expectations for these interactions have been set by the giants of the digital world – Google, Amazon et al. B2B transactions are similarly shifting towards B2C patterns of behaviour, in terms of researching and filtering suppliers. User experience increasingly defines the brand in the minds of consumers.

Faced with these stark realities, isn’t it crazy that a design discussion could fixate around colours, logo size or font selection? To put such debate into perspective – how probable is it that a website or app will fail for any of those reasons? More likely, a digital initiative will fail to meet its objectives because those objectives have simply not been defined, or are inaccurate due to a lack of understanding of user needs.

Amid the talk of ‘user–centred’ design and the ‘user experience’, it can be easy to misinterpret the message as something akin to ”the customer is always right” – 5 words guaranteed to raise the ire of many an MD or CEO.

Design for the user experience is more than gauging opinion, or paying lip service to customer satisfaction. The truth is that any effective user– or customer–centred process includes careful consideration of the business objectives for the organisation. Business goals need to be clearly defined in parallel with user needs – it is these that will most clearly define the nature of the digital transactions required for both the business AND users to benefit. This is a symbiotic relationship, not a zero sum game.

User–centred design thinking is the perfect antidote to destructive, subjective discourse. Learning about your organisation through the lens of primary research undertaken with customers and users can be a daunting prospect; it may even unearth some long–buried suspicions and fears.

Once the unknowns are known, design decisions can be informed and supported by evidence as to what is required for users to achieve the goals they want to achieve, which in turn support the business goals for the project. This necessarily brings in elements of overall business strategy, product strategy and marketing strategy.

It is essential to see your business through the eyes of those outside your organisation. Knowing what you represent to your users and customers may affect everything you had previously believed; it is also sure to empower you to focus resources on what really matters, for you and for your customers.

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  • About Rick Monro

    Designing the Middle is the personal blog of Rick Monro, a UX Director, designer & consultant in Belfast, Northern Ireland

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