In today’s digital economy, user experience, or UX, has become intrinsic to business success. A positive UX can create dedicated customers and has the power to transform companies into cult-like brands. Just look at powerhouse companies like Apple and Tesla — both of which have driven growth and amassed millions of fans by putting the UX front and center.
by Antti Aaltonen
Fortunately, the principles followed by these UX-centric brands can be easily adopted by tech companies of any size, enabling them to create products and interfaces that delight customers, drive sales, and boost loyalty. Those principles can be broken down into three key pillars, which form the cornerstones of excellent UX: understanding, relevance, and use.
THE CORNERSTONES OF EXCELLENT UX
- Understanding: getting to the heart of user needs.
- Relevance: concept development to meet those needs.
- Use: making designs a reality through prototyping.
Understanding: Getting to the Heart of User Needs
With any design, the first step must always be to understand the needs of the user. This requires both establishing exactly who your target audience is, and recognizing that you can’t design something for everyone. Each individual will have different needs, and if you try to meet everyone’s, you risk meeting no one’s.
Instead, take the time to develop in-depth personas by interviewing target users and launching online surveys to gather qualitative data. Keep in mind that users don’t always know what they need, may not be able to express it, or may have conflicting ideas of what they want. So the most successful studies are ones that ask users about their goals, how they currently achieve them, and what their pain points are.
If you already have an existing product, leverage big data insights on how users are engaging, and use these to inform your design. If possible, watch your target audience interacting with your products in a real-life situation to get contextual insights on how the product is used. Ideally, combine data insights with field studies and qualitative research to build a comprehensive picture of user behavior, and what they’re looking for from your solutions.
It is important to also look at your competitive landscape. Through analyzing competitors’ offerings, you can establish which features you must have — your hygiene features — as well as what makes your product unique. These insights can then be used to ensure you create a differentiated product that meets all of your users’ requirements.
Relevance: Concept Development to Meet User Needs
The concept stage helps ensure you’re creating something truly relevant for your users. Here, collaboration is critical. When sketching initial ideas, it is important to not just validate them with your own research and insights but with your peers, which will enable you to quickly create the core of the product.
As you progress to wireframing, the process of really mapping out the look and feel of the prototype, collaboration is even more integral. User interface (UI) designers, motion designers, visual designers, and developers will all need to work seamlessly with one another.
As the product moves from sketch to concept, visual designers will be focused on visual style exploration and the UI style, developing iconography, and establishing color palettes to ensure it is both appealing and in line with your brand identity. In parallel, UI or interaction designers will be mapping out workflow tasks and features to ensure the product meets requirements, while developers will be looking at how to turn these designs into code.
If these groups are working across different frameworks, you risk creating a gulf between developers and designers, resulting in endless feedback loops, slower workflows, and stifled innovation.
A unified framework that allows designers to look at the graphical view and developers to look at code ensures collaboration between all parties is simplified and streamlined. Brands can also ensure all parties are clear on how the UX should look and feel, and what considerations and restraints there are. Without this collaboration, you could end up with a UX that doesn’t function properly on the target hardware, creating problems for users.
Use: Making Designs a Reality
Now you’ll have the foundation to build your interactive prototype — and the quicker you can build that, the quicker you can source feedback from your target audience in beta mode to see how they’re using the product and refine the product to ensure it meets their needs.
To aid the prototyping process, make sure to validate designs with the target hardware. The design on hardware will differ significantly from designs on computers, so it’s important to check as soon as possible that the visuals and animation function as they should.
It’s also at the prototyping stage that the UI really comes to the fore. In many instances, the UI is the most important touchpoint to a product’s UX, making it vital that brands nail the UI to create a great experience overall. The prototyping phase provides an invaluable opportunity to test how users are interacting with the product, source data insights, and make adjustments to the UI to improve overall UX.
When testing products, carefully review how users first interact with your product. This can lay the foundation for understanding and enjoyment of the product, and a bad first-time user experience can turn off new users, extend the learning curve, or even make users abandon altogether. To help promote a positive first experience, ensure the product is intuitive, consistent, and approachable, and try to leverage the users’ experiences of existing UI patterns to promote ease of use. If you expect that most of your users will have an iPhone, for instance, having iPhone-like controls and gestures will feel comfortable, even for new users of your product.
Achieving Excellence in UX
It can be difficult to measure the success of UX itself. UX is subjective as well as cumulative. Expectations of a product build over time, based on both your experiences with the product itself and others similar to it.
When evaluating the UX of a product, you should therefore measure a range of factors, including both behavioral and attitudinal key performance indicators. For example, in addition to surveying consumers’ perception of your product, also look at factors such as task completion time and usage patterns to paint a comprehensive picture of how your UX is working.
While UX can be hard to quantify, one thing is clear: Brands that prioritize UX perform better. According to research undertaken by Forrester and commissioned by Adobe, businesses that focus on experience see 1.6 times higher brand awareness, 1.9 times higher average order value, 1.7 times higher customer retention, and 1.6 times higher customer satisfaction rates.
By building UX best practices that center on understanding, relevance, and use, you can develop products that delight users, build brand equity, and ultimately supercharge business growth.
This article originally appeared in BuiltIn. Photo by Marc Rafanell López on Unsplash.
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