Defining the Design Problem

You’ve heard it before: design is about solving problems.

Whether it’s building a new playground or developing a mobile app for pet groomers, there are multiple ways to satisfy a project brief. However, in order to design a product that successfully delivers business value, it is critical to first clearly define the design problem.

Ask your clients these three key questions at the start of every project:

  • What is the business objective?
  • What is the context of product use?
  • What are user goals?

What is the business goal?

This is the most critical question that some design teams still don’t ask stakeholders.

Understanding business objectives helps your design because it allows you to drill for more specific information. Follow-up questions can unlock a wealth of insights that influence the design approach:

  • How do you know this is an issue?
  • Who is affected by the issue?
  • When and how often does this occur?
  • What benchmarks do you have and what change do you expect?

Imagine that your client aims to reduce tech support calls for an e-commerce site.

If customers struggle to complete purchases, drilling into root causes might reveal that logging into an account is a major hindrance, or that the website refuses to validate shipping addresses. Interviews with tech support teams can also reveal pain points that customers are experiencing.

Understanding business goals also helps the design team focus and refine work through iterative user testing before full product launch.

For instance, if time on task is expected to decrease by 15% following an interface-lift, that’s a clear target to test against with prototypes.

What is the context of use for this product?

Answers to questions using where, why, when, how often, and so on, describe the context of product use and elucidate multiple design decisions.

At a macro level, context informs what technology should convey the design. At a micro level, context places restraints on interactions and the visual treatment of the interface.

Imagine a food manufacturer who wants his quality control technicians to enter production data (such as oil temperature) on a kiosk-based laptop on the factory floor. On the surface, this is a simple problem. But would this be a wise technology choice if the technicians have to enter multiple production values every five to ten minutes? A tablet that the user can carry would be a better choice given the context of use, but if the client doesn’t volunteer such information, how could the design team know to make this recommendation?

Technology platforms have their own sets of best practices and capabilities. However, designers still have to consider interactions and visual treatment of the interfaces.

For instance, an athlete might count out loud a number of burpees to her smartwatch, yet ambient noise could obscure her voice commands. Similarly, luxurious colors and fancy button animations are suitable for a gaming app but not for a paramedics’ emergency response devices when used at night.

Drill deep to understand the intended context of use by interviewing and observing users in their environment. Do not assume that your client has done the necessary research to uncover the needs of her users, or that she understands the implications of context requirements on the design.

What do users expect?

Business and user goals can be very different. Successful design finds common ground to satisfy them both.

Business stakeholders are often biased or completely naive about their users, making it all the more important to conduct research directly with the intended audience. Understand not only what users need to do, but also what motivates them and what attitudes they have toward their tasks.

When business and user objectives are mapped out, designers should create user flows that support desirable user behavior while satisfying user needs and aligning with their attitudes.

For instance, Amazon prompts shoppers with additional products while at the same time offering hassle-free one-click ordering. Similarly, TurboTax has helped its success by using a clean and playful design that supports users during a task they likely find tedious, unpleasant, or even anxiety-inducing.

That said, a fine line exists between supporting users and driving the client’s business. Calls to action that appear too frequently or lack of information to drive user decisions will fail to satisfy either the users or the business.

Conclusion

Design briefs present a problem that can be solved in different ways.

By investigating business objectives, context of product use, and user goals, you’ll gather necessary data that helps narrow down and refine a single design approach.

Data—rather than assumption-informed design—is the secret sauce of successful business products. You just need to ask the right questions.

This post was originally published here.

ROI of UX: Mozilla Support Site Redesign

Nielsen Norman Group recently shared a great case study showing return on investment of utilizing user-centered design and usability testing for a website redesign. Take-aways are:

  • Mozilla support website redesign took 560 hours (or 14 weeks)
  • Multiple UX research methods uncovered pain points and areas for improvement
  • Designs were tested as prototypes and improved based on user feedback; 7 versions were assessed during project lifecycle
  • As a result, there was a 70% decrease in support questions submitted, and
  • 80-90% of submitted questions were answered within 24 hrs, an increase from 40-60% rate before re-design

 

Why Software Dev Projects Fail: a Classic Reference

About 25% of software development projects fail before launch (source). For many businesses such failures can be the straw that broke the camel’s back. In his 2005 article Why Software Fails, Robert Charette discusses common factors that contribute to such poor outcomes. While some responsibility can be laid on the doorsteps of stakeholders and managers, lack of team-wide focus on user needs and user-focused requirements are also among the culprits. Although it’s been 10 years since the article was published, little has changed in how software development projects are executed. Hence, use this reference to help evangelize user-centered design and user experience practices internally and externally!

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 BreastCancer.org 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.

 

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.

ROI of Mobile UX

This article presents a case study comparing user behavior on an e-commerce website before and after it was optimized for mobile devices. Improving user experience by optimizing the website for mobile devices lead to, among other things:

  • System Usability Scale (SUS) increased from 57 to 73
  • Website bounce rate decreased by 50%
  • Unique page views increased by 41%
  • Particular product sales increased by 31%
  • Overall sales increased by over 70%