If you’re like most entrepreneurs, CEOs and hiring managers whom are in the midst of building (or thinking about building) a digital product, the topic of “UX” has undoubtedly come up as being something (or someone?) to consider within the scope of the project.
At that point, everyone feels warm and fuzzy by adding a bullet to the requirements spec like “Effective UX design”. Well now what the hell does that mean?
User Experience research and design is a discipline that’s been around for years, but only recently been coined ‘UX’ and become a de facto of every product spec and job req. What you need to know as the product stakeholder is that UX, or human-centered design, will give you a much better chance at building what your customers are asking for, using language they get. The net net, UX costs but when implemented properly will wind up saving you buckets of dollars throughout the engagement.
But don’t just take our word for it. We interviewed Chris Pallé, the Executive Director of UX of within our partner agency, Wisdom & Craft, to get answers to all of our UX questions.
[New Haircut] Can you define User Experience aka “UX” for us lay-folk?
[Wisdom & Craft] Everyone is on a spectrum of awareness and skill. If you do not build anything and are not a designer then it is very simple: We make user-friendly products and services.
Speaking more to folks in our industry, when we talk about the practice – UX is really an amalgamation of disciplines. To us, it is the epitome of multi-disciplinary. This is partly why I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “User Experience Designer” or “UX Designer.” There isn’t one single person responsible for the entire user experience. Everyone in the organization is responsible for that holistic experience (even the one experiencing it).
When people describe their “experiences,” there are many factors about which they’re actually describing: visual aesthetics, intuitiveness, usefulness and meeting needs, etc. As UX professionals, it’s often our job to tease out and translate what they’re saying into real problems and recommend solutions, but more often, we’re just trying to get “technology” out of the way so people unaware that that it’s even there.
[New Haircut] Is UX only for huge agencies and global brands or can the little guys & gals get involved?
[Wisdom & Craft] Absolutely not. We all get involved in delivering a user experience. Whether we manage users or procure products, we all have to be concerned with what the user experiences on the other side.
We just need ask: what is appropriate for the project? If you have a large budget then you have a lot more moving parts that need to be considered. For all projects, it is about process and frameworks, and there are a lot more tools on the market today that help aid the UX process regardless of budget. For example prototyping by InVision or Keynotopia is good for high-fidelity (i.e. for static visuals), low-cost prototypes; YouEye has some great remote usability tools with unique qualitative analysis on big data sets; Optimizely and Monetate are great for split-testing.
At Wisdom & Craft, Inc. we developed what we call the Design-Research Framework. This framework helps us determine the right tool for the budget, protect the wiley creative process from the sterilization of business, and demonstrate ROI. In the end, there needs to be a balance and our framework helps business owners, technologists, and designers find that common ground.
[New Haircut] Why should business owners and/or marketing people care about UX?
[Wisdom & Craft] It’s easier to answer this one with an example. Let’s say that I have a product I want to sell. Maybe someone has already purchased one before, maybe they haven’t, but I want to really take my product sales to the next level. Naturally, I employ marketing tactics in order to raise awareness, educate the consumer, and entice them to take advantage of what I offer.
[New Haircut] Now let’s say that after 6 months, there is no jump in sales. What is at fault? Normally, sales and/or marketing gets blamed for having the wrong message, appealing to the wrong audience, not enough of this, too much of that. What if the reason for flat-lined sales had to do with user experience?
[Wisdom & Craft] Customer discovery and validation is a critical part of the launch of any line of business. In Lean methodology, for example, in customer development we speak with and engage users during the entire process of the launch and delivery, not just after it. As design leaders, we need to bake in the learning process into the launch so that our client can pivot to respond to new findings and adjust to meet the true customer needs.
[New Haircut] What’s the best way for UX and Marketing teams to work together?
[Wisdom & Craft] A lot of the research that comes out of UX could and should be shared with the marketing department as early as possible so that the messaging is as much in alignment with the research data as possible.
Solving marketing problems is very different from product design, but the principle remains the same: users are not very good at telling you what you should give them (again, it’s our job to tease out what they really mean). Marketing is great a gathering up the broad statistics, demo and psychographics and making broader communications and UXers are great at getting to the individual, but as businesses and industries evolve and personalization becomes more important as a differentiator, UX and Marketing need to work together to identify how to meet narrower needs of the customer. Ultimately, I think Marketing will become a vertical under the UX umbrella.
I kinda like the way a colleague, Joshua Porter (@bokardo), UX Lead at Hubspot put it at 52 Weeks of UX.
[New Haircut] What’s the downside to omitting UX from the discussion?
[Wisdom & Craft] Without proper UX, we risk the loss of engagement if a product or service design is solely based on history and educated guessing. While something may work particularly well in a given industry or in a similar type of technology, for example a mobile app, that doesn’t mean it will translate to a good user experience for your particular personae in another field or contexts of use – desktop UX has a different set of implications for users compared to mobile. Things that your user/customer base does not relate to will not get used to their full potential or at all. Millions upon millions of dollars per year are wasted on products that failed and features that users couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt to.
[New Haircut] What are the deliverables you produce at the end of your UX work?
[Wisdom & Craft] There are a variety of activities that we go through in our UX process. The deliverables range from having a report or a design artifact such as a persona, prototype, or wireframe. Sometimes it’s direction in the design process, a ideation work-session, or a findings presentation to the project stakeholders. It really depends on the problem at hand and what issue we are trying to solve.
Sometimes we implement technologies in order to get the results we need, such as A/B Testing software. That can be part of the deliverable as well. We can deliver design documentation, wireframes, content audits and persona research studies. What is the objective? Are we trying to do customer discovery or build customer empathy? These are the things we think through before we decide what we will be delivering to the client.
[New Haircut] Does your UX end once the website or app launch?
[Wisdom & Craft] As designer leaders, we need to think about the sustainability of our work. This includes creating processes, workflows, etc. to execute after launch so as we continue to learn, pivot, and grow post-launch we can optimize the users’ experiences. Again, this responsibility is for everyone in an organization. There is always something to learn about a new app or website. Follow up with the organization is always planned in the beginning to sure that the business goals are on target to be met.
[New Haircut] What are some ways you can measure and report on the success of your work?
[Wisdom & Craft] This really depends on what the key performance indicators (KPIs) are for the org. Are they trying to get more followers on Twitter, get more newsletter subs, sell more widgets?
The ability to demonstrate any meaningful change assumes that we took a baseline reading (for existing products and services). For new offerings, our plans are still designed to show growth against KPIs, but also identifying what’s bringing users back, making them talk about it with friends or colleagues, and ultimately bringing them along for the ride.
Customer feedback with a positive change in sentiment, lowering bounce rates, ecommerce conversion data, and Website analytics are just a few ways to produce measurable results. What we want to steer away from are unique visits, pages views, etc., as these tend to be “vanity metrics” as some folks will call them. They’re important, but at the end of the day, we need to see conversions against our clients’ KPIs.
[New Haircut] Is UX work expensive?
[Wisdom & Craft] Undoubtedly, the term “expensive” is a relative one. Our job is to maximize value and minimize waste. For UXers, that could in be terms of identifying where there is waste in systems through usability studies, improving the flow of a purchasing process, or making a moment a just a bit more delightful and memorable. Ultimately, as with most sophisticated design services, the expense of UX work has numerous factors.
Said another way, we should ask, what are the potential “sunk costs” of not performing analysis with a user-centered perspective. Often times, business or product owners will either take shortcuts to design, skimping on the research or they take too long to get feedback and build a product for which their is no scalable market – both of which are wasteful. So, the bigger question is: How much are we risking if we don’t “do UX”?
[New Haircut] Does it make sense when people say something like “Looking for a UI/UX designer”?
[Wisdom & Craft] It does, but we usually need to clarify what they’re really after. “User Interface” and “User Experience” are not the same thing. A user interface is only one touchpoint of the overall user experience; that is, it’s a physical thing with which people interact, but the experience is more personal. Simply: the interface is the “thing” and “experience” is how they think and feel about the “thing.”
[New Haircut] What are the things your clients need to have ready when engaging Wisdom & Craft’s UX services?
[Wisdom & Craft] Clients come to us with a range of starting points and that’s okay. It’s great to have their “Wish List” articulated in writing and their challenges written out so we have something to work through, but there are times when it is more of a “what if” scenario and we jam together on the back of a napkin and that’s fun too. Really, every situation is different, though. Our first steps are usually to uncover just what those initial discovery assets will be.
[New Haircut] What are the obstacles you tend to face along the way when working with clients?
[Wisdom & Craft] One of the most common is not having all of the stakeholders represented early on in the process. When this happens, things get left out, misrepresented and miscommunicated. Often it makes it harder to gain department participation in the project if they feel as though their inclusion in the plans is not necessary. Good communication from all parties, as much as possible, will achieve the best outcome.
Secondly, oftentimes, these kinds of projects are rejected because stakeholders are under-educated as to what UX is and why it is valuable. To help overcome any of these obstacles, we strive to schedule a presentation before meeting to gather requirements and allow them to ask questions and air objections.
[New Haircut] What’s your biggest pet peeve when engaging on a UX project?
[Wisdom & Craft] Our biggest pet peeve is engaging in a UX project where there are a number of stakeholders and project leaders that slow us down. It creates issues. It becomes difficult when egos flare up and there is a misappropriation of time and resources because everyone has to weigh in – there are so many decision makers, no one can make a decision.
Occasionally, people get upset with the ideation and exploration process on UX research and so they miss out on discovering the real problems and therefore the real solutions. Chomping at the bit to get to a deliverable will cause the team to overlook where great innovation can really happen.
It’s important to us to ensure that the person who is in charge of a project understands the process and what is required to get the work done. A client that has its creative process infiltrated by business processes is setting up a project to fail.
[New Haircut] Say a client already has a design & development agency like New Haircut. How would things work?
[Wisdom & Craft] In short, we’d look for ways to develop the relationship and form partnerships with each group, playing to their strengths.
If the client already has an agency that is working on a project, then we need to identify if we can really add anything here. If the agency is unclear how to do proper UX research, then we would focus on that type of work. If they do not have good technical communicators, then we focus on producing the technical documents; that is, wireframes, prototypes, sitemaps, content plans, etc.
New Haircut has set the standard of how we best work with a creative and digital agency — fluid project management, being adept at knowing when the time is right to engage Wisdom and Craft, fruitful collaboration during UX research and then flawlessly executing our UX/design inputs is a relationship style we strive to replicate with every other agency we work with.
So there you have it. You’re now armed with an intro to the benefits of UX, understanding the process, preparing for the engagement, budgeting for the work and measuring success.
Still have questions about UX as it relates to your business? Ask away in the comments or set up a time to talk with us (firstname.lastname@example.org).