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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Ward Andrews

Ward Andrews is Founder at Drawbackwards, a UX Design Firm. He's worked for clients like Sony, Intel, IBM, Sophos, Insominac Games, and the NBA Phoenix Suns. Projects have appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Wall Street Journal, and other publications and broadcasts. He's a part of the Honors Faculty at Arizona State University teaching Design Entrepreneurship.

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