ROI of UX: Discussion Forum Redesign

I do not need to convince my colleagues of the value of user research, usability testing and overall focus on meeting user needs during product development cycle. They get it: satisfied users are good for business! Yet, stakeholders regularly demand case studies and hard numbers before opening purse strings to fund a project. As a result, I am collecting (and sharing) UX success stories to help evangelize on value of UX and to make future “battles” for funding shorter, less intense, and (fingers crossed!) extinct!

Redesign of website based on user testing lead to the following return on investment:

  • 117% increase in unique website visitors
  • 41% increase in new user registrations
  • 53% reduction in duration of registration process
  • 206% increase in number of daily posts
  • 80% decrease in number of Help Desk support cases
  • 69% decrease in Help Desk cost

These are pretty nice numbers! You can read the full report here.


Transferring Academic Skills to Industry

Academics are surrounded by smart, hard-working and highly skilled peers who can wax poetic on complex statistical procedures and cite authors of obscure theories. Thus, a typical graduate student or postdoc who has been submerged in such an environment occasionally wonders “When everyone else is so highly accomplished, what can I offer to an employer?” Yet, many skills that academics take for granted are highly sought after and admired in industry. Here are some examples:

Solving Problems

Researchers solve problems and through extensive training know how to look for and find answers to questions that have never been asked before. The toolkit of a researcher contains various methods for finding answers: collecting qualitative and quantitative data through experimental, observational, ethnographic, historical etc. research. For someone coming from a strong quantitative (or strong qualitative) research background I do recommend gaining at least passing familiarity with the less practiced data type collection and analysis methods.

Thinking Critically

Researchers think critically about their own process and can evaluate others’ attempts at finding answers. Researchers understand the value of and practice rigorous scientific method. Exposure to statistics has ingrained the concept of illusory correlations, that correlation does not equal causation, and other laws of looking at data.

Managing Projects

At some point in their careers researchers take a leading role in conducting experiments from start to finish. This covers experience in setting up the studies, recruiting participants, setting up the lab, materials and equipment, developing procedures, executing data collection, supervising research assistants, synthesizing and analyzing data, presenting findings to peers and so on. Just this experience of running a study alone covers a lot of the ground that a researcher in industry (e.g. User Experience or Usability Researcher) engages in on a daily basis.

Working with Data

Descriptive statistics (means, standard deviations, ranges etc.) crunches lots of numbers into a handful. Business stakeholders greatly value such summaries of data.

Inferential statistics for comparing sets of data, for assessing whether a rate of change is significant and so on are very impressive skills that can be used to inform business decisions based on data. Graduate level statistics skills are extremely impressive. Experience with neuroimaging data is an example of experience working with large and complex datasets.

Visualizing data, whether in charts or tables, is an impressive skill for telling stories with just a few numbers.

Excel knowledge is often quite sufficient; skills with SPSS, R, SAS or some other software are impressive but unnecessary unless “Data Scientist” or “Data Analyst” is the sought position.

Communicating in Writing

Academics write many papers which means they have, on average, more practice at communicating in writing than a typical job applicant who is fresh out of college. Good grammar, correct spelling, short and to the point written documents win many brownie points in industry. Researchers are often tasked with providing an executive summary of findings and recommendations for the stakeholders: this is our typical abstract in bullet points and even shorter word count.

Speaking Publicly

Lecturing in a classroom, department brownbags, conference presentations, and even Master’s thesis or dissertation defenses are all examples of public speaking experiences. The verbal presentation of ideas as well as the experience of preparing supporting materials transfer directly to client meeting presentations (of which there are always plenty!), when ideas need to be pitched, or defended.

Teaching is a great example of making complex material accessible to novices and non-experts. In the business world such skills are always handy whether during internal or client meetings.

Working in Teams // Managing Others

These days researchers rarely work in isolation. There is always an advisor, colleagues, graduate students or postdocs, research assistants and various other entities outside of the academic lab that in one form or another influence scientific inquiries. Teamwork in business is critical. Experience in supervising junior researchers (even if they are undergraduate students) help develop management skills that can be valuable as one climbs the career ladder in industry.

Working on Multiple Projects

Researchers often run several experiments in parallel; some may be in the data analysis stage, others in material preparation. Juggling multiple projects and prioritizing daily tasks is an absolute must for a researcher in industry who wants to retain her or his sanity in the busy and tight-deadline world.


Matlab, Python, R, SAS and even scripting in SPSS may not be required or even ever used on the job in industry, but these are impressive (STEM-like, if not STEM-exactly) skills.


These are just a few examples of skills academics possess and which can be greatly utilized in industry. I hope this list kindles inspiration!

Blog is part of series on transitioning to industry from academia

Color, Culture and User Experience

Artists and designers often talk about different emotions that colors elicit, and suggest specific use for them in mobile app and web designs. Interestingly, across cultures different colors can be associated with very distinct emotions. For example, while anger is represented by red in the Western world, it is depicted as black in Hindu culture. Love is yellow to Native Americans and blue to Africans! So, while crafting away at the next project, keep these cultural flavors in mind. David McCandless has created a handy color-culture reference!

User Research as a Business Strategy

I originally published this blog in January 2015. Instead of rewriting the same ideas in new words, I’m reposting the contents of that post and discuss why conducting user research (not market research!) is a smart business strategy.

Why user research?

Mobile app demand is at an all-time high in both the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-enterprise (B2E) domains as companies strive for an advantage against their competition. While third-party mobile tools are emerging and might seem like a quick and good solution, they are not always the optimal mobile strategy. Such off-the-shelf solutions, even when industry or work-role specific, are developed for no particular combination of users and company. Sometimes such products meet business needs, but often times they do not. Because success of any software project critically depends on user adoption, generic mobile tools can be an unprofitable investment if they fail to support users in the context of their work. Specifically, a mobile solution must optimize operations as performed in a specific company – even a well developed software package that does not fit within the particular ecosystem of a given business will not be used.

This is particularly true of B2B and B2E domains where workers with identical job titles that are employed by two different companies operate in distinct environments using specific tools and follow disparate workflows. In fact, 60% of software development efforts produce substandard or ineffective products in large part due to lack of clear project requirements that address business and user needs. Investing in user research as part of the company’s mobile strategy, on the other hand, can greatly improve user adoption of technology, target specific business objectives, and yield returns beyond the initial investment.

Stakeholders Carry Incomplete or Incorrect Assumptions about Users

Project stakeholders often outline broad business objectives, but not the specific requirements that are truly necessary for the implementation of a mobile solution. For example, should a mobile data-entry form be in a portrait or a landscape view? Should it have an automatic save feature? Do certain fields need to be emphasized over others? Do users need to export the forms or look up old ones? While stakeholders may have answers to some questions pertaining to a particular mobile project, they often carry incomplete or wrong assumptions about the users. Lack of clear requirements for a product and relying on an opinion or an uninformed preference can jeopardize the project.

User Research Determines Specific Product Requirements

User research uncovers and formulates very specific and explicit requirements for a product. Ethnographic research or contextual inquiries yield insights into User Experience (UX) by exposing user needs, tasks and workflows, environment, tools, motivations and attitudes. For instance, UX research on a mobile data-entry form for industrial warehouse inspections might reveal that additional features beyond those originally requested by stakeholders would drive bigger business improvements than the initially defined feature set. Research may reveal that inspections would be more efficient if users could attach photos of equipment and tag them with notes and information about the visited location and pull up historical records of previous inspections. These insights allow for better formulated user personas that not only help in deciding the best solution between using an off-the-shelf package, customizing an existing product, or building a full custom application, but also focus and guide the design, and any development efforts that follow.

User research also significantly informs visual direction of a product by employing the User-Centered Design (UCD) methodology. For example, if users wear gloves and their interaction with the mobile device requires a stylus, the interactions with the interface will differ from what it would have been if the app was created for complex hand gestures. Similarly, the color palette and contrast will be greatly influenced by users’ lighting conditions. A mobile solution developed with UCD methodology improves UX by removing workflow bottlenecks, facilitating tasks, and presenting users with intuitive, user-friendly and aesthetically appealing interfaces. The likelihood of accomplishing this is greatly reduced without user research.

UX and UCD Target Business Objectives

Engaging in UX and UCD processes with industry experts like ChaiOne uncovers very particular product requirements that throw the one-size-fits-all attitude out the window and targets specific business objectives. First, expertise in an industry allows for smooth communication among all parties (e.g., stakeholders, users, researchers, designers, developers, managers, etc.) because everyone shares a common understanding of the terminology, context of the industry, its operations, business motivations, and challenges. Second, the expert possesses collective background knowledge about user needs, experiences, motivations, attitudes, workflows, user pain-points and so on. This allows a better focus in research and targeting of questions to uncover areas for improvement to the specific mobile product that is being implemented, people who will use it, and the business that the mobile app is intended to profit.

UX Yields Significant ROI

In a typical scenario, failure to conduct user research creates the risk of spending scarce time and resources to build a generic tool that fails to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of users or optimize the company’s processes, and therefore yields no sizable return on investment. In the worst case, as software failures in the enterprise illustrate, ignoring UX and UCD can significantly harm an organization by implementing a tool that negatively impacts operations, slows processes, and leaves the company behind its competition or worse.

The seriousness of such consequences is underlined by 93% of executives placing UX as one of the strategic priorities of their businesses. As mobile solutions become integral to business operations, and as the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technology find their ways into the B2B and B2E space, companies wishing to remain leaders in their industry must persist in developing tools that continue to optimize their business processes. Understanding the value of UX and its benefits for a business is the first sure step toward success.