Getting to the Heart of the UX Problem

Finding the Heart of UX Problems

It’s 7:55 a.m., and you’re standing at the door of your doctor’s office waiting for them to open. After feeling terrible for the past three days, it’s finally time to get help. At 8:01, the receptionist opens the door, brings you to the front desk to fill out paperwork and ushers you into the exam room. When the doctor walks in, she checks your vitals and asks what brought you in today.

You: “I’m miserable. I’ve had a fever, nausea and this weird rash on my arm for the past three days.”

Doctor: “Ok, I’ll write you a prescription. Feel better!”

End scene.

Writing a prescription before even discussing the symptoms or analyzing the root cause? Unless your doctor has gone off the deep end, that will never happen. Aside from violating ethical standards, it’s unlikely that the prescription would solve the problem because she didn’t even diagnose your illness. Chances are, you’ll end up right back in that same office a few days later feeling frustrated and even worse.

This scenario may seem ridiculous in a medical setting, but it happens every day in UI/UX design. Our team at Drawbackwards has “patients” constantly come into our office searching for a cure for their latest ailment.

“We just need to fix these three pages,” they say.

“I need an app,” they explain.

“We need to design this one thing, and it has to be really fast and easy.”

We can’t blame them for asking. Like you, they’re probably getting similar requests from internal stakeholders and trying to be the hero that solves the user experience problem.

 

Instead of immediately writing a prescription, we recommend being a good design doctor who takes a different approach: Get to the heart of the problem before developing a cure. Here’s how…

 

Look for the Signs

Symptoms often disguise themselves as root causes, so keep an eye out for these signs that a request might not be “the real problem.”

No one mentions the user.

Many executives and business leaders — no matter how savvy they are — practice self-design, where they make design decisions purely based on their own wants and needs. This approach may work well if they’re the primary users, but forgetting to consider real users often results in short-sighted decisions and failure.

 

If your client or colleague’s request is filled with more “I” statements than user research, it’s time to take a step back and begin asking more questions — especially to users of the product you are designing.

 

There isn’t a good reason.

“Because I said so” may work as a parental response to children, but it shouldn’t work for UI/UX designers and their stakeholders. Unless the person has a good reason that is directly aligned with user needs, business goals and overall strategy, their request may end up being a distraction, not a smart design decision.

They’re chasing shiny objects.

Speaking of distractions, many businesses fall into a vicious cycle of chasing the latest trends instead of sticking to a thoughtful plan. If the request is filled with the hottest buzzwords or comparisons to what so-and-so is doing at their company, the idea may actually do more harm than good.

Get to the Heart of the Problem

Once you notice the signs, it’s time to get out your stethoscope and diagnose what’s truly causing their symptoms. As a product owner or UX design professional, your design philosophy is your stethoscope.

Here are some simple questions to ask to begin developing your design philosophy and reveal the information you need to make even smarter decisions.

1. “Why?” (also known as “The Five Whys”)

This technique was originally used in the manufacturing world to explore the real causes of an underlying problem. It has the same benefits in UI/UX design.

When someone comes to you with a new feature request or design idea, ask “Why?” five times to get to the root of the issue. For example:

“We need to redesign this one page.”

Why? (#1) – “It’s not producing the results we want.”

Why? (#2) – “We aren’t getting enough traffic to the page.”

Why? (#3) – “Well, it’s kind of tough to find.”

Why? (#4) – “It isn’t in the navigation.”

Why? (#5) – “Because there are too many other pages and not enough room to fit this one in the nav.”

By digging deeper and deeper in this scenario, you discovered that the page design may not need to be changed at all. The real UX issue is the navigation and site organization.

2. What’s the one most important thing your users need to know about you? What’s your “big idea”?

This “big idea” summarizes the place you want to own in your users’ minds. It’s even more powerful when that one thing differentiates your business from your competitors. If the latest request aligns with and reinforces that one thing, great! If it doesn’t, you may be headed down the wrong path.

For example, Disney’s “big idea” is creating magical experiences, and they bake that idea into every design decision. So when they came up with a new idea for the MagicBand, they used “magical experiences” as a compass to determine whether they were headed in the right direction.

As a smart wristband that can be used for everything from unlocking the door to your Disney hotel room, to entering the theme park, to making purchases and more, the MagicBand adds magic at every turn and ties directly back to their “one thing.”

On the other hand, some brands that used to dominate now seem to have lost sight of their big idea. Apple used to have a small product line completely focused on thinking differently and creating beautiful, seamless experiences. Now, they’re becoming just like all the rest. They have tons of different products for tons of different market segments, without much that ties them together or makes people pick them instead of their competition.

 

Whatever your “big idea” is, incorporate it into your design philosophy and use it as your North Star for all decisions — from your high-level product strategy to the tiniest bit of microcopy.

 

3. When your company is honored for a prestigious award 30 years from now, what will you be recognized for?

It’s easy to get caught up in the details and debate over short-term decisions. But what’s the long-term goal? What’s the legacy you want to leave? What would people say about you in 30 years? This exercise helps you create the future by clarifying the vision that drives your design philosophy and product design.

4. If your company were a person, what would your voice and personality be like?

Voice and tone is an often-overlooked, but critical piece of a design philosophy. Once you know your big idea or main features and benefits, how are you going to communicate them? What kind of tone do you want to convey, and how do you want users to feel after interacting with your product?

It may seem like a small detail, but it makes a big difference in keeping your product focused and differentiating your brand from the sea of competition.

Take Southwest Airlines. They have developed a unique voice and consistently apply it at every touchpoint, from billboards to bags of peanuts. Southwest’s personality is fun and friendly, so whenever there is a new design request, they compare that idea to their overall voice and style to quickly determine if it’s a good fit or not.

Be the Design Doctor

Although these questions seem simple, you’ll quickly realize that — like a doctor asking a patient to describe what’s wrong — the answers are often more complex and revealing than they seem. It may take some tough conversations to develop your design philosophy, but once it’s in place, you’ll discover that it’s easier than ever to get to the heart of the real UX problem and find the right cure.

Using Design Thinking To Distinguish Smart UX Design Decisions From Shiny Objects

Design Decisions & Shiny Objects

During the 1900s, a few of the most visionary businessmen in history used design thinking to grow a new drink into one of the biggest brands in history — and then almost lost everything.

Coca-Cola started as an accidental invention that exploded during the Prohibition Era as an alternative to alcohol. With the invention of TV and radio, Coke rode the advertising wave and became a mainstream staple of American life. By the 1980s, the company was netting over $600 million each year in profits, had billions of fans around the world and could do no wrong…until they did.

Coke created and dominated the soft drink industry for decades, but with increasing competition from companies like Pepsi, its market share was shrinking. They still had an edge due to their “classic” persona and strategy of purchasing pouring rights in many restaurants, concessions and sports venues. But when Coke noticed that many of its competitors were winning in taste tests because of sweetness, executives couldn’t resist the temptation to jump on the bandwagon.

In April 1985, Coca-Cola launched a sweeter “New Coke,” marking the first formula change in almost 100 years. Sales initially increased due to buzz and curiosity over the product, but the excitement quickly faded. Within months, the company was receiving over 1,500 calls every day from people complaining about New Coke. Employees were receiving scathing letters, fans were protesting and groups were even writing songs honoring the old Coke. It was becoming painfully obvious that Coke’s shiny new idea was crashing and burning.

By July, the executives had received the message loud and clear. They removed New Coke from shelves and returned to the original formula. By getting back to basics and staying laser-focused on their strategy, Coke pulled their company back from the edge of disaster and continued growing it into the $30 billion+ giant it is today.

Suffering From Shiny Object Syndrome

Coke’s story proves that even the best brands get distracted by “shiny objects” (a.k.a hot trends or a big new idea) and fear of missing out. In the soft drink industry, they saw consumers gravitating toward sweeter drinks. In UX design, we see businesses gravitating toward the latest buzzwords, styles and animation trickery.

“I was just on Company X’s website, and I noticed it has a really cool type of scrolling. I think it’s called ‘parallax.’ Can we do that?”

“I like how Company Y is designing their graphics. Can our next one look just like that?”

It’s smart to study what’s new in the industry and keep a close eye on what your competitors are doing. Some trends may even fit in with your overall design and marketing strategy and be worth exploring. But others are like shiny objects in the rearview mirror, derailing your journey and distracting your attention from the destination ahead.

 

Even though it’s tempting to jump on board with the latest craze, long-lasting success stems from strategy and discipline.

 

Consider health and fitness. You can try the latest diet craze and lose a couple pounds quickly, but most likely, you’ll gain all the weight back and more. Or you could stick to a meal and exercise plan that works well for your body, lose the weight over time and improve your health over the long term.

There’s power in consistency — a power we find ourselves reminding our partners about all the time.

Starting with Strategy and Design Principles

Sometimes, it’s tough to know whether an idea is just a trend or a good addition to your UX design toolbox. There’s a key difference between the two:

 

Is the trend driving the action, or is the action driving the trend?

 

Think about the popular app feature of pulling down a screen to refresh it. Designers and developers used the design thinking process to empathize with user needs, define the problem, brainstorm potential solutions, prototype a few options and test them to identify the best option. Through this process, they probably noticed that users often pull the screen down to see the most recent activity at the top. They didn’t create the pull-down-to-refresh functionality because someone wanted to add a cool animation. User behavior drove innovation.

When it comes to product design, staying focused on the underlying strategy and design principles becomes even more important. It’s common for teams to begin thinking of new features or tactics during development, but adding them to the scope often dilutes a perfectly good solution and impedes progress. We’ve had so many companies come to us with a list of features they want to add to their app, and it’s our job to help them focus on the user and the biggest pain point they can solve in a unique or innovative way. Then, we work with them to create an MVP (minimum viable product), get traction and let users guide future development.

 

Sometimes, it’s not an all-or-nothing decision; it’s about figuring out how the trend or new idea could fit in with the overall strategy.

 

In fact, we’re always looking for ways to improve, as long as those improvements help make progress toward the goals of the user and the business. For example, at Drawbackwards, we’ve been working with GoDaddy to create GoDaddy Garage, an online community that helps small business owners and web pros find answers to questions about websites, domains, hosting, online marketing and WordPress. Throughout the process, there have been lots of requests to expand the features and content on GoDaddy Garage, like adding advertising to the site. Ads will help meet business objectives, but in order for them to meet the user’s objectives, we couldn’t just serve any ads — they had to be relevant ads. With this strategy in mind, our team designed and developed an ad management system to serve ads that are relevant to the user’s needs (finding information about websites, domains, hosting, online marketing and WordPress) and their context (which page they’re on or which content they’re reading).

Telling the Difference Between Shiny Objects and Smart Design Decisions

On the Signal vs. Noise blog, David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails and a partner at 37signals (the company that created Basecamp) wrote:

“It’s so easy to say yes. Yes to yet another feature, yes to an overly optimistic deadline, yes a mediocre design, yes, yes, yes. We all want to be loved.

But the love won’t keep you warm for long when you’ve taken on yet another obligation that you don’t whole-heartedly believe in. You very quickly become trapped in a pit of guilt when the stack of things you’ve said yes to loom so high that you can’t even see the things you really should be doing…

…Use the power of no to get your priorities straight. Take the brief discomfort of confrontation up front and avoid the long regret down the line.”

How can you tell whether an idea is a smart decision that will move you closer to your goal, or a shiny object that will distract you from your real priorities? Challenge yourself and your team to stop and discuss a few key questions:

  1. Why do we want to implement this new idea?
  2. Does this new idea align with our design principles and current strategy for meeting our business goals and user needs?
  3. Would this idea differentiate us from our competitors?
  4. Would it move us closer to reaching our goal?
  5. Is the effort worth the impact?

If you can confidently answer “yes” to all of these questions and establish a good reason why you’re interested in the idea, it may be worth exploring. If not, it’s time to use “the power of no” and reprioritize.

Elegance and Results > Tricks and Gimmicks

In today’s fast-changing environment, there’s constant pressure to keep up with the latest industry changes and stay competitive. Even brands like Coke, who learned their lesson with the New Coke disaster, still get distracted and develop trendy products like C2 and Coca-Cola life. With shiny objects waiting around every corner to sidetrack you, it’s more important than ever to stay focused and disciplined. It may not be as fun or exciting, but elegance and results trump tricks and gimmicks any day.

Collaborative Design for Enterprise Teams

Collaborative UX Design for Enterprise

In the 1950s, two boys were growing up in Northern California unaware that their collaborative designs would change the world. One was fascinated with electronics from an early age and built his first computer in the 1970s with a high school classmate, who introduced him to another guy who loved computers, too. They became fast friends and went on to work together at Hewlett-Packard and Atari. The two made a great team because, on top of having similar skill sets and passions for computers, one was more interested in technical problem solving, while the other was more of a visionary.

A few years later, they decided to put their partnership to the test and start a new company. Together, they created groundbreaking technology, completely changed the game and became infamous names known around the world: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

Saying that Apple founders Jobs and Wozniak were smart guys is an understatement. Aside from having some of the sharpest technical and user-centric design skills around, their minds worked differently. They were able to see problems and develop solutions unlike anyone else. Could they each have been successful on their own? Sure. But as a team, they were even greater.

At Drawbackwards, we see the same story play out when enterprise companies call on outside experts for UX help. Many of them are already doing amazing work with their internal teams; they just need a bit of external validation to vet it or a few extra resources to complete projects on time and reach their goals.

 

No matter which situation you relate to more, we can all agree that the business landscape has changed, so the way we work needs to change, too.

 

Silos used to be just fine, allowing one person to do a piece of work and pass it along to the next person. But user experience design — especially at the enterprise level — is complex, iterative and requires a wide range of skill sets and perspectives. Because of that, teams need to learn when it makes sense to partner with outside experts and how to collaborate effectively to create something even better together.

3 Ways to Know It’s Time to Bring in a UX Partner…

As a leader at an enterprise company (or any company, really) it can be tough to know if or how to reach out to an external partner. Here are three signals that it may be time to team up.

#1: You’re surrounded by “yes people.”

Many in-house employees feel uncomfortable saying no. Whether it’s a small decision about how a page should be designed or a big decision like pivoting an entire product line, they often lack the authority or confidence to say what they really think, especially when the person on the other end of that message is a superior.

UX partners are in a better position to say no because that’s why they were hired in the first place. If they think something could be done differently or better, they’re going to say so. If they see that too many features are being crammed into a product or release, it’s their job to speak up and save the team from making critical mistakes.

#2: Your team has deep expertise, but not broad exposure.

As an in-house employee, your main responsibility is to know your product and industry through and through. However, internal designers spend so much time focusing on one area that they often aren’t exposed to what’s happening outside of their bubble.

Most UX design firms work with companies in multiple industries and gain insights they can apply to other projects. For example, at Drawbackwards we have designed a number of iOS and Android apps for businesses in diverse industries. We’ve learned design patterns that make the onboarding experience easier on the user. In some cases we are able share what we’ve learned at a high-level with other clients to make their app’s onboarding better, too.

 

More ideas leads to better results.

 

#3: You don’t just need more UX thinking; you need better UX thinking.

Many teams have strong technical capabilities but struggle with strategic thinking, a user-centric research process and design leadership skills. These employees may have bandwidth to do more work, but you’re not just looking for greater output. You’re looking for a better process and more sophisticated thinking.

External UX partners haven’t been immersed in your product, so they offer a fresh pair of eyes to see some of the things your team may be missing. Their strategic mindset and comfort with pushing back (when appropriate) also helps cut through the clutter and guide you to a smart solution.

Plus, many UX firms have in-house experts who can help with front-end development, content strategy, copywriting and other disciplines that directly affect the success of a project. Consulting with them helps cover all the bases and create the best possible product, without having to hire additional employees or separate vendors.

…And 3 Benefits of Collaborative Design

Collaboration can be scary for everyone because it’s a change from the way things have always been done. Enterprise teams may wonder, “Will these designers be competing with us? Are they going to take our work? Will they make us look bad?” These are completely normal concerns. However, the pros of collaboration usually far outweigh the cons. Plus, a design team that’s experienced in working with other design teams is going to have the leadership, exercises, processes and tools that will make collaboration feel non-threatening and help both teams experience the benefits.

#1: Deliver better results

Doing things the same way they’ve been done will only lead to the same results. Trying something new may be a little risky, but the upside is huge, particularly at the enterprise level. In a big company, one small UX change can solve a multi-million dollar problem.

Let’s say a customer service team uses help desk software that is tough to navigate and requires toggling between 3-5 different systems during every customer conversation. All this confusion and switching leads to longer calls and higher costs. You could assign your internal UX team to this challenge, but because they’re really familiar with the software and “how it’s always been done,” it may be difficult for them to look at it as a new user. Having a collaborative design process with a UX partner would provide the opportunity to blend the internal team’s deep product and audience knowledge with the external team’s fresh perspectives and ideas. Together, they could consolidate and customize the tool to save a little time on every customer support call, which adds up to millions in savings.

#2: Learn from each other

The best UX collaborations benefit both teams. By working side by side, they soak up each other’s knowledge and skills, allowing both sides to grow and apply their collective knowledge to the next project.

For example, we worked with a healthcare technology company to design their app, customer portal, website, marketing collateral and more. They had a talented team of designers and developers, and we collaborated with them to lend our UX expertise. It was a great partnership because we learned so much about the healthcare industry and had the chance to try new things with them. Likewise, they learned a lot from us about UX best practices around creative thinking exercises, strong documentation, usability test design and execution, research approaches and what data to focus on, better design tools, effective UI design patterns and more, in addition to gaining a design thinking mindset that will come in handy in the future.

#3: Launch faster

Collaborative design helps teams finish projects faster and better than before. They’re more efficient because they have more minds and hands on deck to divide and conquer tasks. They’re more productive because there’s more communication and less rework. And they’re happier because the process is easier and more enjoyable.

 

It’s not just about launching products faster, though. It’s about launching better products. External teams can offer expertise and tools to create more successful products from scratch or make existing products more effective.

 

For instance, we often find that many enterprise teams don’t have the resources or expertise to do audience research or usability testing, even though those are crucial pieces that could make or break a product’s success. By bringing in an outside partner to work with the internal team on researching and testing, you can put ideas in front of real users sooner, see how they respond and launch a product that hits the mark the first time.

Kicking Off the Collaborative Design Process

If you’re feeling the pains of managing everything in house, or the benefits of collaborating sound intriguing, consider these two options for bringing in a UX partner:

  1. If you have multiple potential projects that you need help with, share one of them with the external team. This approach allows you to see how they work without a huge commitment.
  2. If you have one major project that needs attention, embed the internal and external teams from the get-go. Make sure the UX partner not only has the skill set to help, but also is a good fit with your company culture. As you begin working together, put guidelines and processes in place to ensure everyone stays aligned throughout the project.

Whether you decide to dip your toes into the collaboration pool or jump in with both feet, recognizing the signs that it may be needed and exploring the possibilities is the first step to building great design teams — and products — of the future. The collaborative design process may not always be easy, but as Jobs and Wozniak can attest, the results are worth it.

3 UX Predictions for 2016

3 UX Predictions for 2016

The beginning of the year marks the perfect time for all of us to reflect on where we’ve been, what we’re doing now and what lies ahead. As UX designers who are hungry to learn and grow, we’re constantly keeping a pulse on the design industry and looking for ways to help our clients and peers stay ahead of the game. Now that the New Year’s Eve countdown has ended and the Times Square ball has dropped, we’re looking into our own crystal ball and counting down the top three UX trends we predict you’ll see more of in 2016.

#3: Seamless experiences with custom content and native advertising

UX Predictions for 2016 - Native Advertising and Seamless Experiences
Unlike pop-up ads, banner ads and other types of digital marketing, native advertising offers helpful information in a format that mirrors the rest of a site or app instead of interrupting the user’s experience.

Imagine you’re sitting on the couch watching the Giants face off against the Patriots. During a commercial break, NBC plays a Gatorade ad featuring Eli Manning. This is traditional paid advertising that interferes with the experience of watching a game. As the game wraps up and the post-game press conference begins, Manning takes a seat at the table with a strategically positioned Gatorade bottle in front of him, logo pointing toward the cameras for everyone to see. This is native advertising. It’s baked into the natural setting and doesn’t interrupt with the viewer’s experience.

Big brands around the world are cashing in on native advertising, like this feature from National Geographic and the Canadian Tourism Commission. The two organizations partnered to create a digital magazine about “Canada’s 50 Places of a Lifetime.” This is an understated, clever form of native advertising. It also can appear as sponsored content, advertorials, branded content, product placement and more.

 

Regardless of the format, the goal of native advertising is always the same: Promote your product or service in a subtle way that drives awareness and brand recognition without interrupting the experience.

 

UX designers are taking this concept a step further and designing custom digital experiences that change based on the user’s needs. For example, Trunk Club, an online personal shopping service, has designed their sign-up process around an interactive questionnaire that changes the site’s content based on the user’s answers. As the shopper tells Trunk Club more and more about their preferences, the site not only creates a user account to get started, but also begins picking out clothes they think the user will like. This type of seamless, customized experience draws users in, makes them feel special and keeps them coming back for more.

#2: More mobile, more video

UX Predictions for 2016 - More Mobile, More Video
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly two thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and 65% of all smartphone owners use their phone to access the Internet. These numbers only increase when you factor in tablets and other mobile devices or when you focus on younger users. With trends like these, designing for mobile is now becoming a necessity, not an option.

UX Predictions for 2016 - Pew Research Data

A mobile device is always in your hands, pocket or purse. It’s constantly available and relevant to your current experience, helping you do what you want, when you want, how you want. While the common perception is that mobile users are looking up small bits of information (like a restaurant’s location or hours) while they’re on the go, the Pew data shows large percentages of people use their mobile devices for in-depth, important tasks, like looking up information on a health condition, managing their banking, job hunting and researching government services.

The rise of mobile usage and hunger for content anytime, anywhere has fueled the need for mobile-friendly video. Netflix and YouTube gained popularity as TV and desktop services, but now people want to be able to watch TV on their tablet in bed, catch up on their favorite shows while staying in a hotel, share a video during a business meeting and more. Video content also attracts more engagement and drives better business results. In fact, Twitter recently reported videos get three times more retweets, and 90% of Twitter video content is viewed on mobile.

 

This growth in mobile usage and affinity for video presents an interesting challenge for businesses, UX designers and developers in 2016 and beyond: Make all content — not just some of it — easily accessible on mobile devices, and design interfaces that are optimized for the ways people hold and navigate those devices.

 

#1: Hold on, artificial intelligence. Hello, intelligent assistance.

UX Predictions for 2016 - Intelligent Assistance
Over the past 20 years, software companies have focused on the holy grail of artificial intelligence to make our lives easier. Now, AI is beginning to be eclipsed by a more practical, human technology: intelligent assistance. Rather than simply automating a task, intelligent assistance suggests to the user the best way to do a task, automates an example of it, then continues to elaborate and improve the quality and variety of assistance over time.

The Google Photos app is a trailblazer with intelligent assistance. When you upload pictures on your smartphone to the app, it automatically begins applying advanced recognition technology to the uploaded photos. Then, it goes back and applies the same recognition to historical photos, creating a complete library that’s easily searchable and interactive. When you search for words like “cake” or “party,” the app will analyze your photos and bring forward the ones that meet your criteria. It also offers fun features that create delight, like automatically building animated gifs and presenting old photos to help you relive the memories.

3 UX Predictions for 2016
We can use intelligent assistance to improve the experience without our users even knowing it. Google Maps recently introduced inverted colors to make it easier for nighttime drivers to see maps. It doesn’t ask the user which color settings they want; it automatically realizes it’s dark and activates night mode. Similarly, let’s say you’re standing in line at the grocery store and scroll past a video on your smartphone that looks interesting. You don’t want to play the video and use up data, but because you paused, a social app with intelligent assistance can tell that you may be interested in that content. Later on when you’re home and on wifi, those videos surface again for your consideration.

UX designers and businesses owners can leverage intelligent assistance to create a better user experience, but it will require changing the way we think about design.

 

Traditionally, the first question we ask ourselves is, “How do we communicate this message?” Now, it’s going to be, “How do we design a tool that will assist our users and suggest options that will help them make decisions?”

 

Creating the future in 2016

2015 was a big year for UX. Companies of all industries and sizes are realizing the power design can have in helping them achieve success, and we expect that trend will continue to grow in 2016. Those who push back on this evolution and cling to the past will fall by the wayside. Meanwhile, those who keep a close eye on where design is headed and embrace change will be the ones who create the future.

Putting The User Back Into User Experience

Putting the “User” Back in “User Experience”

“We’re struggling with UX.”

It’s a statement our team hears constantly from businesses of all sizes and industries. What they usually mean is something like:

  • “Our customers are having a hard time using our product.”
  • “It takes our employees too much time and too many steps to use our internal system.”
  • “We’ve added all these cool features, but the results aren’t what we thought they would be.”

These problems usually stem from a design process that’s engineering- or development-driven, instead of user-driven. Like a sports star that’s an individual winner but whose teammates feel left behind, products often have tons of features that functionally work, but their users still feel lost and aren’t able to accomplish their tasks.

When companies realize there’s an issue, the solution is often to add more features. Without a Product Owner who can prioritize them, all of the features end up being added, which leads to experience rot. Even with a Product Owner or executive decision maker driving the process, self-design and lack of internal alignment wreak havoc, with stakeholders designing the product the way they use it and departments butting heads over competing visions and priorities.

Regardless of why teams are struggling with UX, the impact on the business is often the same: More confusion. Higher abandonment rates. More calls to customer support. Lower satisfaction. Lost revenue. The list goes on.

So, what’s the solution to these UX struggles? It’s not more technology. It’s not a fancy new website. It’s not a slick app.

It’s putting users first.

Start by collaborating with your team to answer some basic questions, empathize with your users, and define their needs. (Better yet, invite your users in to talk with them and observe them.)

  • Who are our users?
  • How many different types of users do we have?
  • What goals or tasks or workflows are they trying to complete?
  • Why do the tasks exist in the first place?
  • Are these the right tasks?

Then, work through the design thinking process one step at a time. Within the bounds of user goals, explore ways you could meet their needs, prototype a few of the options that seem the most promising and then test them with real users to see how they actually work.

Going through this process and fixing the problem may not be easy or cheap. But it’s worth it. Take professional athletes, for example. Michael Jordan is one of the best basketball players of all time, but he wasn’t that way on day one. It took years of understanding the intricacies of the sport (empathizing and defining), practicing different drills to improve his skills (ideating and prototyping) and trying moves during real games (testing). Only then could he make the right plays, the right way, at the right moments, and deliver a sports experience that made him a legend. The same goes for design.

If you want to be the Michael Jordan of your industry, stop following competitors or the latest shiny trends, and try following your users instead. You’ll be surprised how putting the “user” back into “user experience” turns struggles into successes.

How Being Dissatisfied Fuels New Ideas

Some of the world’s greatest achievements have come from dissatisfaction.

The desire to have things better than they are.

  • Where are you dissatisfied?
  • Why is it unsatisfactory?
  • How will you resolve it?

When the passion and drive is built up enough, things change.

Where is your dissatisfaction and inner drive to change things the strongest? Wherever that it is, that’s your new obsession, new passion, new company and new product.

At Drawbackwards, our product development process for Forward Framework and WordPress Starter Theme came out of this dissatisfaction. We were starting our WordPress sites from a less-than-optimal place every time. Being a team that loves the details, we carefully crafted a custom starting point on each project that lines up our code and workflow for success.

Now, with our framework and theme, we can start from a better place. You can too. And we can all be a little less dissatisfied.

Time and Space

Leveraging the Power of Time in UX Design

One of the best ways to improve and innovate a product or service experience is to observe time’s impact upon it. Crafting the presentation of time is one of the least discussed and most important UX design principles to leverage.

Create with Time in Mind

Designers and developers should craft products with reverence to the creative power of time. The best product designers understand how time affects the end experience. Use materials that weather time well. Architects use metal walls that rust over time to the desired color and texture. Packaging designers create boxes that allow for products to be slowly revealed and revered through the time it takes to open them (think Apple’s iPhone box).

In-N-Out

Consider how In-N-Out Burger extends employees out of the building and down a drive-thru line as the line gets long. This transforms the customer experience in key ways:

  1. A friendly In-N-Out employee greets a hungry customer sooner.
  2. There’s more time to help customers decide, thus speeding up the order process and ensuring they get what they really want.
  3. The more time there is between when customers order and when they arrive at the register, the more time the kitchen has to prepare their orders.

Bonus: If customers know In-N-Out’s secret menu items, they get access to a different experience with faster ordering and unique food options by saying a secret word or two.

Observe Time’s Power and Impact

In designing UX for apps and websites, think beyond the single interface screen and into the context of how a user arrived there and where the user wants to go. Think in terms of the user’s journey, timeline and overall story.

Start looking at everything in every day life and you’ll see time drives it. Human growth and development rides on time. Music rides on time. Movies ride on time. Games depend on time. Our lives don’t move forward or change without time. Our universe doesn’t grow, expand and create without time.

Without time, you wouldn’t have experience. We would all be stuck in static moments. These moments would be disconnected and not even have meaning.

As we start observing the element of time as a key aspect in user experience design we will be much more likely to achieve an improved experience by providing context, relevance and meaning to the product or service. By focusing on how time can be altered and leveraged in a product or service, we will become more innovative in delivering that end experience.

Something New To Share

Our previous iteration of Design.org was a collection of visual design execution from elsewhere, and often we focused on the surface and not the ideas and process and outcomes surrounding them.
As we’ve considered our purpose, values and mission at Drawbackwards, it’s become clear that a reboot of Design.org around sharing our ideas, tools, artwork, assets, code and process with you is in order.
We can’t wait to see what you create with us. Our first release under the new Design.org platform is our WordPress Starter Theme. Check it out and let us know what you think.