As human beings we want life to be easier, therefore we want experiences and products that are useful, easy and help us solve our problems.
I am sure that, more than once, you've opened an application and didn't understand how to use it. This is because there was no positive connection between you, as a user, and the digital product. Therefore, the product failed to deliver a good experience and most likely caused you to not want to use it anymore.
This is a simple, yet challenging problem. How can we approach the creation of digital experiences to avoid user frustration at all costs? Frustration can be fatal to our digital products and its absence changes these experiences into those that delight users, and creates products that are tailored to their needs.
For a user to have a good experience when interacting with a product and for it to be successful it must be usable, equitable, enjoyable and useful. At its core it is about improving usability or making something easier to use, this means that the design, structure and purpose of the product responds to the needs of the users without friction, in a way that is inclusive and clear to all. If a product is difficult to use, the user will have a lot of friction and will feel stress and frustration, thus stopping using our product.
So, what is it to make a product more usable?
According to the ISO definition, usability is the extent to which a product or service can be used by users to achieve objectives with efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction.
Efficiency: is doing things with the minimum effort and in a simple way, for example; deciding to order food in an application before others, because it takes me much less time to order.
Effectiveness: is when the user manages to complete the tasks or flows, i.e., manages to convert or reach its goal; for example, buying a ticket on the website of a movie theater.
Satisfaction: is when the product makes users feel good, happy and pleased with its use; for example, when you move up a level in the duolingo application.
In addition, for our product experience to be exemplary and attractive, we must be concerned about satisfying the exact needs of our users. And that's easy to say but the road is long, for this designers when proposing any idea, we must investigate, collect feedback, get emotions and behaviors of users. We strive to think about them and like them. After all, we have all been users at some point.
Why is user-centered design important for business?
In 2018 MCKinsey & Company did a study analyzing 300 publicly traded companies over a five-year period across multiple countries and industries. They interviewed and surveyed executives and design leaders. Data was collected and advanced regression analysis identified 12 stocks with the best financial performance.
From this study, we highlight that:
Results were consistent across all industries analyzed: medical technology, consumer goods and retail banking. This indicates that good user-centered design is important as they performed much better than their competitors.
The potential for growth is partly due to the momentum of good design in both product and service sectors.
There are more opportunities to apply user-centered design informed by analytics.
Customers can provide feedback to companies (and share it with each other) in real time, making it possible to measure design success by consumers themselves.
Big user data and the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) have given rise to powerful new sources of insights, and opened the door to new techniques.
Prototyping and iterative learning have proven to yield better user-centered decisions.
With the aforementioned study, we can see the importance of focusing on the user as it requires a broad vision, where the design can make a huge difference in the users. When people like a product and also its service, they are going to start using it a lot, then they are going to recommend it to their close ones and even promote it in their social networks. This means that more people will have visibility of the product and will want to use it, thus giving better business to the company. It is a mutual benefit between the people and the company.
Surprise Ingredients - The “Wow” Factor?
Now, the experience that a user lives when using a digital product is also when we join usability with aesthetic and emotional aspects (look and feel), this is the well-known aesthetic-usability effect. A good user experience cannot be simply a functional interface, it must also have the attractive factor, it must be functional and reach the heart of our users.
To ensure good usability it is important to invest in aesthetically attractive interfaces, and for this we must take care of every detail of the interface, although it is not everything, it is an important part to achieve a pleasant and smooth experience, and the user can feel comfortable with our digital product.
Some factors to consider in order to obtain an aesthetically attractive product are:
Visual balance; symmetry, proximity and similarity.
Clear storytelling, a story that connects, maintaining the common thread of what we want to tell.
Good use and complement of iconography.
Correct use of typographies; titles, headings and paragraphs consistent in their visual weight, size and shape.
Use of accessible colors that match the use of the brand.
Scalable, accessible and consistent components. Such as buttons, input text, microinteractions and not least the content.
Now that we understand what are the ingredients that give a strong value to our products, we must not forget that the "wow" effect is not necessarily accompanied by extravagant animations, but it should not be boring either. We can have a clean, coherent, innovative and eye-catching design but always remembering that this must be a complement to usability.
When to apply key UX frameworks?
User-centered design is already a framework, where we put the user front and center, and there are 4 important steps to follow: understand, specify, design and evaluate. This will allow us to turn our ideas into a functional product.
Now, to apply the frameworks, we must think about the life cycle of a product. If we are starting out, where we are just discovering the product, we can do user research in the form of interviews, surveys, or any other technique that helps us to empathize and include the user's perspective in the definition of the problem. On the other hand, when we are starting to prototype a solution, the ideal would be to test that experience and refine it as soon as possible.
To get to know some frameworks used in user-centered design and in the life cycle of a product, we will take a look at some of them:
Five elements of UX design
This framework consists of 5 layers: strategy, scope, structure, skeleton and surface. Each one refers to a level of creation in the user experience, and each layer depends on the one below it.
The strategy is where we define the user's needs and business objectives, the next is the scope where we determine what we are going to build, functions and content, then comes the structure, where we discover how we will organize our design and how the user will interact with it, the fourth layer corresponds to the skeleton, here we start to detail how our design will work, and the last layer called surface which is the final appearance of our product.
Design thinking is a methodology for creating solutions that address a user problem. It has five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.
The first step is empathy: it consists of discovering what end users really need, learning to think and feel like them. You can conduct surveys, interviews or observation sessions to get a clear picture of who your end users are and the challenges they face.
The second step is definition: this allows us to get a description of the user need or the main problem that we will address in our designs, based on the findings we get from our research.
The third step is ideation: the team proceeds to brainstorm ideas and solutions to the problem we have defined.
Once we understand how to solve the problem, we enter the fourth step, the prototyping phase. It's an early model of a product that demonstrates its functionality, thus helping the team to have an idea of how the product will really look like, and how users will interact with it.As a last step, having our prototype in hand, we can test the usability of our design with real users. This is where we will receive comments and feedback that will allow us to correct and improve errors in time before going to production and launching the product to the public.
This process focuses on reducing time and obtaining an MVP (minimum viable product) as soon as possible. It is supported by two other pillars: design thinking philosophies that focus on solutions and iterate the product over and over again through collaborative work, and agile software development methodologies that focus the process on the value provided by the solutions created. Agile development imposes a great speed in the deliveries, but, in the life cycle of the products, the design remains.
Think, Make, Check
Think: You want to explore the problems users are experiencing and see how your design could solve them. This step is about gathering research, so you can form a clear idea of who the product is for and how it will help.
Make: This is designing the product by creating wireframes and prototypes. You will also create a minimum viable product, or MVP for short, which is a simple prototype of your designs that you can test with the target audience.
Check: Find out how users respond to your design and gather feedback from project stakeholders. Make any necessary adjustments to your designs and repeat the three steps again, if necessary.
The above steps should be repeated as many times as necessary, until we achieve the desired end product. The Lean UX process fosters productivity and collaboration.
User-centered design helps us to better understand the problems to be solved and consequently create better products and experiences.
What about the experience after we launch the product?
For a digital product to be successful and endure over time, it is not enough just when it comes out, continuous evolution is important. Moreover, design flourishes best in environments that encourage learning, testing and iteration with users, which increases the chances of creating innovative products and services while reducing the risk of large and costly mistakes.
New users can always provide us with another opportunity to improve functionality, product features, etc., since they are the audience that will use our product and the feedback they provide through comments, surveys or interviews, are what help us determine opportunities for improvement.
Then, after the product launch, teams will often go back to the beginning of the design stages and frameworks to start working on the next version of a digital product.
In conclusion, from our experience as designers of the Modyo lab, we believe that to create products we should not only consider the business look within 4 walls, rather we must understand that to make products that our users love and that also last over time, requires research, iteration, processes, empathy, and that the value is to always listen to what users say but even more to observe what they do. Thus uniting business, technology, market and users.
Cover photo by Subhajit Jana on Unsplash