Building a Skyscraper Requires and Architect
The architecture and planning of your site, product, service, app or interactive system needs to be carefully constructed and tailored to provide a seamless, intuitive consumer experience that best achieves your business goals. A well-designed, optimized user experience (“UX”) can be the most critical ingredient in a successful product, and a poor user experience can certainly contribute to product failure.
We use physical building analogies to describe our value. If you’re building a skyscraper, an architect creates the “master plan” and schematics for the broad construct of the building and how people will flow through it, as well as its key features. The architect doesn’t build or design the building. An interior designer will decide wall colors, furniture and furnishings; the engineer will decide which kind of cement or grade of steel. The same is true for the digital world. The UX lead creates and maps in a spatial format or visual blueprint the “master plan” and works with designers, developers and others on the implementation. Unlike in a large building, in the digital space, this process can be approached iteratively in small chunks.
UX Leads create schematic layouts or wireframes, flowcharts, interaction diagrams, sitemaps, content hierarchies, personas (defining who will use the product), and other documents in service of this goal. This “functional design” roadmap is conceptualized from the perspective of the user. The target user’s needs, tasks and behaviors are researched, identified and tested or validated, and then the product is architected through visual diagrams and maps to ensure those needs are met in the best possible way. These should then be tested with target end-users at multiple phases- at the business concept phase, the UX design phase, and post-development.
Our approach to UX is holistic and puts UX at the focal point of product development. It is the bridge between many different components because its core function is to generate the tangible and feasible applied vision for the product. It is an essential component of efficient product development. It is not about visual design- it’s holistic system design.
The Business Value of UX
Good user experience perspective and planning help make technology products far more successful in terms of both consumer engagement and satisfaction. Good UX also streamlines development operations and significantly reduces the design, development and QA lifecycle in terms of both time and costs. When applied to internal processes or applications, UX leads can significantly reduce operating costs, time and labor.
An optimized digital product and presence can deliver such quantifiable economic results as:
— Attracting New Customers
– Increasing Customer Loyalty and Satisfaction
– Spurring Customer Interactions, Activity and Engagement
– Increasing sales, conversions and size of sale
– Initiating sharing and viral promotion
– Reducing Operating Costs by Increasing ROI and Efficiency
– Providing Superior Customer Service and Communications, and
– Promoting Your Brand and Enhancing Your Image.
Good UX also helps to:
– Translate vague business goals or concepts into a concrete product vision;
— Define and envision the product based on features, functionality, navigation, structure, and user engagement or interaction;
— Enabe internal teams to gain consensus, agreement and buy-in on the product features and direction early on, before costly design and development takes place;
— Isolate the functional and business decisions from design and development, which helps provide a litmus test to ensure that the right product is being built to solve the right problem;
— Ensure that industry best practices are being applied, to better ensure product success and consumer adoption; and
— Get important feedback early on through early customer feedback, development, research and user testing, to ensure the product will be successful.
Content Websites: Using a well-understood example from the web, in the age of almost every web visit starting with a Google search, any page on any website could now become the entry point into that site. Users enter and exit sites based on which sites ranked highest in a specific Google search — and those pages that they enter your site from may not be where you wanted or planned for them to enter. The result is that SEO and also a site’s usability and navigation have become paramount for each and every page on a site, and basic universal navigation components have become more, not less critical. Every dead-end page on your site increases abandonment and is a wasted opportunity for directing users down usage paths that best achieve your business goals. Good UX design will pinpoint and solve for this through research and analysis and then design schematics for simple, optimized, cohesive navigation and thoughtful recirculation elements.
Mobile Apps: Say you’re building a mobile app whose success depends on users doing one thing, like posting photos. The entire experience needs to be optimized around that goal: get users to understand the app intuitively, like using the service and really like posting lots of photos on it. You need to architect a service so the value to them of performing your desired action is clear and rewards them for doing so. A UX lead will determine what that product looks like, what features will have the greatest impact, and how it will function at a high level. The UX lead may also determine that a different feature- say, videos- could be more important, and can help the product pivot towards that new goal.
IoT Products: If you have a complex ecosystem of products and services that work together, someone’s got to figure out how that works. Say you have a mobile app coupled with a hardware product for controlling heat in a room. What controls are on the mobile app, vs. the physical product? What type of displays? What data is collected, and how is it displayed? Is there also a master reporting or monitoring website? The UX architect will help prototype and design the system at a holistic and individual component level.
So Many Names for Related UX Services
User experience is a relatively new discipline and still goes by a lot of different names. Sometimes UX is called “customer experience”, “experience design”, ”interaction design” or “ID”, ”usability”, ”Information architecture”, “service design”, ”computer-human interaction” or CHI, “UX Design”, “user interface design”,or just “UI design”. Additionally, Sometimes UX overlaps or is combined with the role of the “content architect”, “applications/ software architect”, the QA tester, the Creative Director, or the graphic designer. For some, UX means UX design specifically, while for others UX is a holistic phrase representing the totality of customer interactions with the products, sites, brand, content, services, etc. across multiple channels. ”Customer experience” or “service design” are sometimes used to describe the total UX of the brand, especially if a brand’s products or services merge both physical and digital offerings.
Here’s a brief UX lexicon and menu of UX services:
User Experience Planning and Interaction Design (ID) are the first and most strategic steps. Product conceptualization, planning, and high-level definition ensures the site will fulfill your business goals by defining the users and their needs and creating personas, usage scenarios and interaction models, diagrams or storyboards. For multi-device or multi-site systems, ID will help map the relationships and components that are shared and the user pathways and interactions amongst them. Some components:
– Competitive Research: Existing market comparables are researched, reviewed and considered to ensure that key features are included and to help define the value proposition of your site over the competition. The goal is to ensure that your site’s differentiating features will be clearly highlighted in the site’s design and that your consumer experience will be the best in the online marketplace.
– User Research & Personas: The optimal user interface aligns the experience with users’ needs. A great user experience will deliver on a business’s revenue goals and its marketing and demographics strategy through clearly defined metrics. Therefore, user experience design begins by defining the target markets and users, and creating ‘personas’ for those users.
– User Interaction Planning & Design: Target interaction scenarios illustrate the proposed user engagement flows with the product for the target personas. This interaction is mapped out step-by-step, from awareness and referral; to use and initial engagement; to actions and fulfillment; to visitor re-engagement and retention; to evangelism.
Information Architecture: the nuts and bolts of the view-level experience. Clickable prototypes or wireframes are the most tangible deliverables. For data and content-rich services, this may also frequently include the careful planning and definition of navigation, naming conventions and content organization that is sometimes called Content Architecture or Content Strategy.
-- Schematics, Prototypes and Wireframes provide the nuts-and-bolts of a product, service or system at the individual view or component level to illustrate functionality from a functional, abstract perspective. The wireframes define navigation, each template, content hierarchies, and illustrate all unusual interactions and requirements. Good wires or schematics, along with some specifications, provide sufficient documentation to give designers and developers what they need.
– Navigation, Taxonomy and Sitemaps: The backbone of a usable content or data-based website is its hierarchy and content organization. For deep content sites, the site structure must be carefully considered and tested against users assumptions. · The naming of each grouping or entity is also very important. User testing of proposed naming and site organization is undertaken to ensure that users will be able find what they need. The goal is to have a site that is neither too “broad” (too many top-level options) nor too “deep” (too many drill-down clicks into a specific section), with everything easily cross-referenced and available through search. A sitemap is one sample web deliverable that shows the entire website’s content architecture in an overview, much like a visual Table of Contents. All this can fall under the umbrella of content strategy or content architecture.
Usability Testing and User Testing validate the concept or product, or a specific feature or approach, with “real users” to see how they react and if they perform as desired or expected.
– UX Testing Techniques: There are many different forms of testing that UX pros use, including card sorts, user interviews, ethnographic and field research (observing users as they interact with a product or service in the context of where and how they use it), click-path and metrics analysis, multivariate or A/B testing (putting up a number of different versions of the same thing and analyzing the results), informal testing using paper or digital prototypes, formal research with video observation, eye-tracking and heat-map testing, user surveys (in person and online), customer feedback forms and other techniques.
– QA and User Acceptance Testing, by contrast, tests a product in development as part of the QA process to ensure it matches the original business and product goals and the wireframe mockups or designs.
Usability is a catch-all word that doesn’t reflect any specific action, expertise or outcome. Usability powers good product and service design by promoting a user-centered design approach that analyzes the entire experience from the user’s perspective. The goal of usability is to fulfill the user’s needs as effortlessly as possible, which benefits both the users and the company.
- Accessibility: Usability typically also incorporates accessibility, which refers to optimizing a product or service for use by persons with disabilities using modified means of interaction (font sizes, language, text-to-speech conversion and readers, changing inputs and controls from voice to text, etc).
- Usability assessments or audits attempt to evaluate existing sites and performance based on industry best practices, customer input and expert knowledge. Sometimes these are termed “heuristic evaluations“.
- Usability Engineering is something different. It’s about the development techniques used to promote accessibility, which include page load optimization and SEO and XML / HTML5 standards that separate content from display presentation code, amongst other things.
Confused yet? You don’t need to be. OTV advises clients on what they need and how to best achieve their goals in the simplest, most efficient and impactful way. We’ll help determine the best processes and approaches for you based on our expertise and 15 years experience in web, mobile, software, SAAS, ecommerce and IoT systems.