Once upon a time, a working product was all that was needed to ensure user adoption and retention. But, as users became more demanding a new buzzword popped-up: user experience.
As Bob Dylan once said, “times, they are a-changin.” As technology became a commodity in the professional and personal sphere, expectations grew for intuitive experiences and faster access to information. Suddenly, users were less a commodity and more a customer, demanding better and friendlier experiences that are available anytime and anywhere, forcing businesses to address the digital arena. Soon, it was more the applications that needed to adapt to humans rather than the opposite.
It was in the midst of this new reality that user experience (UX) gained prominence.
So, if you’re looking to smooth your users’ adoption and increase retention, this blog is for you. Here, I’ll discuss six tips for improving user experience and ensuring you’re meeting your users’ expectations.
The Importance of User Experience:
Meeting Exceeding Expectations
User experience is about the sum total of feelings and observations a person has when using your product. How intuitive is it? How pleasing is it to use, and how easy is it to perform the task the user wants to solve when using your product? In other words, UX is about how people interact with your product and the experiences they take from that interaction.
When using an app, whether it's a customer-facing or internal app, users expect beautiful interfaces and omnichannel experiences that operate seamlessly between different devices such as desktops, tablets, and phones. They also expect each application to be available all the time, regardless of whether its an app for leisure or business.
So, how can you ensure you’re delivering the best user experience? The short answer: you have to build your product not just for humans, but specifically for the humans that will use it. Which is easier said than done.
“Design used to be the seasoning you’d sprinkle on for taste; now it’s the flour you need at the start of the recipe.”
- John Maeda, UX Designer and Technologist
Building an app that includes best practices for user experience requires a new approach to the way we have historically built applications. Organizations can no longer afford to assume that if an app does what it’s supposed to, that people will flock to it. The truth is, there’s little difference in functionality between most payments apps, apps that help you buy a car, apps that give you directions, etc. No, the difference now, lies in the experience. Building a better experience, yields a better app.
When starting a development project, how many times have you heard things like:
- "If I run a business and I am explaining what I need, why does the app dev team need to talk with my employees?"
- "If I am the manager of the business unit and I am describing to you what I need, why does the app dev team need to talk with the person that enters the data and fills out the form?"
- "I am afraid you cannot speak with anyone because this is still a secret, and I want to surprise the business unit. Please do not talk to them."
Well, you’re not alone. Head of UX Practice at OutSystems, Silvia Sequeira, wrote an article about user research for enterprise apps that talks precisely about this.
The thing is, the path to UX is also about changing a mindset. That's the real challenge. How can you do it and ensure you're meeting your users' needs in the channels that are most convenient to them, while helping them achieve their goals?
6 Steps to Improve Your Users’ Experience
The first thing we need to understand is that end-user expectations are the most important element to building a good app. They bring their first-hand experiences and expectations to your business, and good or bad, nothing is more powerful than business-user advocacy.
So, whenever you're kicking-off a development project, the following six tips will help ensure you’re delivering the best experience and meeting your users' needs in every touchpoint:
1. Get the Businesses Attention, and the Users’ Heart
Do you imagine that when the dev team showed the project manager V1.0 of the Excel, the PM cared a whit about whether or not it looked good? Of course not. What do data entry users care about design? Turns out, quite a bit actually. That’s why we now have Google Sheets and pretty table formatting.
If, before, pleasing the sponsor of the project was what drove the development team, today your goal should be to meet the user’s needs. When designing something for B2B or B2C, we want to help them get what they need to get done, but make the process simple and intuitive.The reasoning behind it is simple: why should someone adapt to something new if it is not better?
In the discovery phase, your first couple of meetings should include the following:
- You should meet the business stakeholders to understand the business context and what they want to achieve with this project
- You should then meet, in an informal setting, with the end-users to understand first-hand from the people that will actually use the product, how you can help them perform their tasks better.
2. Build the Right Team
As important to finding “talent” who have technical skills necessary to build your app, it is every bit as important to find people who understand the company and the industry, and who have actual field experience designing apps similar to what you envision.
Having someone on your side that can share previous experience and explain benefits and possible improvements is an excellent way to start gaining attention from business sponsors. If you understand the business and can discuss and introduce some pain-points, you are ready to start moving towards success.
3. Sit. Observe. And Ask the Right Questions
To design great apps, you must understand the pains and needs of the end-user. Sit down with them and observe all the steps they take to complete a task. Analyze how they work. Sometimes they’ll show you a shortcut, or point out a problem you never thought about. And then, structure what you observe so that you can use it as productive inputs.
Also, ask questions. Open questions will help you get more context, so avoid "yes or no" answers.
Here' the script you can follow in your next user interview:
You should leave this interview having clearly framed out the problem, and having identified a starting question that will lead the project you're working on.
4. Make It Visual and Create the User Journey with the User
As you get inputs from both business and users, it’s helpful to storyboard the process they're currently following. For example, imagine your client wants to make the process for expense submission easier. Sketch the current process on a piece of paper and, together with the users, identify how you can make the process more productive. Which steps should you add or remove? How can you make the existing steps efficient?
This way, not only will you understand the process better and provide better-informed inputs for the solution, but the users will start to picture the end-result and identify whether it meets their expectations. Once everyone is satisfied, you're ready to create the prototype. You can learn more about this process in Going for the Clickable Prototype: New Adventures in Lo-Fi.
5. Manage Users' Expectations
Once you enter the prototyping phase and have actual working prototypes, you should test them with real users to gather their feedback. Preferably, this should include some of the very same users who provided the initial input. With their feedback, you can go back to the lab and iterate.
Since all IT projects have milestones, this will help you understand where the project stands in terms of your users’ and customers’ expectations and help you adjust timelines and expectations as needed. But, to do this accurately, it's vital that right from the beginning, you make your audience comfortable with providing real and honest feedback from someone other than yourself and your team who will offer a subjective opinion.
6. Find the Right Technology
If you’re aligned with your users right from the start, then the development should move quickly. Today, rapid application development tools can help you accelerate this process even more. Low-code solutions, for example, provide a visual-based, integrated development environments (IDEs) that allow developers, and in some cases, citizen developers, to design and develop software applications faster and with minimal hand-coding.
The vast majority of apps today don’t need a specialized commercial off the shelf (COTS) solution. You shouldn’t have to bring in a host of one-off solution providers to bid on software to fix your call center operations. Conversely, less complicated apps probably aren’t going to rise to the top of ITs “Priority List” any time soon.
That’s why low-code is so valuable. With a low-code platform, you can quickly transform your prototype into a fully working application. You can move from scoping and planning, to development and iteration often in weeks instead of months. When IT gives it the green-light, taking it live can be as simple as a single click.
If you would like to learn more about what is low-code, it’s all right here.
Improving user experience starts with creating the right level of engagement between everyone involved, including your users. In the process described above, the ultimate goal is to make the adoption process simpler, and have everyone excited and committed, and embracing the technology, as soon as possible.
We don’t typically like the work “journey” here, but it’s appropriate in describing user experience. It’s not something you can just cross off a list once you complete all the steps above. Don’t forget that your users’ needs will change over time. So, listen and observe and keep on improving and challenging them to achieve their tasks, goals, and desires.
If you're interested in learning more about how you can transform your users’ experience, check out this webinar about how Humana is using low-code to deploy B2C and B2E mobile applications with pixel perfect UX.