User Experience: 9 things you need to know before you can call it UX

Do you know why social giants like Facebook and Twitter resisted monetizing their sites for the first few years?

Because their sites wouldn’t have been cool if they did. Nor would they have gained the trust of millions of users.

By deveiStock_000020818259_ExtraSmallloping sites that focused exclusively on UX, both Facebook and Twitter built legions of followers who became so entrenched in the experience they couldn’t live without it. Then they launched user-targeted advertising and started raking in the billions. (Anecdotally, Facebook makes $3 million a day from their mobile ads alone).

What does this have to do with ICT projects? Pretty much everything. When it comes to deploying Office 365 or SharePoint solutions, if your audience doesn’t get on-board and use it, it will fail. So, how do you stop your investment from winding up in the big graveyard-for-unadopted-IT-projects in the sky?

You guessed it – by creating a rich UX. And, while UX conversations are not new, they are more relevant than ever with the range of optimisation features available out-of-the-box. E.g. SharePoint 2013’s mobile development platform, catering for the demand for superior UX across multiple device channels.

There is a depth and breadth of information about UX out there, so we thought it might be useful to give UX a shakedown, and highlight what we believe are the most important lessons.

1. What it is

Type ‘What is UX’ into a search engine and you will turn up dozens of results. However, in the context we are discussing, UX is the quality of human interaction a person has with a site or system. It involves creating a consistent, meaningful experience that drives engagement. UX frames the user as the hero in the story – not a bit player. And, as indicated above, UX can make or break an ICT project.

2. Why it’s top of the pops

The digital revolution has permanently shifted the balance of power. Forget what you think you know about how information should be packaged and presented to an audience – be they employee, customer or other – it no longer matters. Mobility, tablets, BYOD, cloud computing – have all put the user in the driver’s seat when it comes to access to and consumption of information. Your solution needs to be as agile as they are. End of story.

3. The UX attributes you need to nail

Good UX should make a user’s interaction with your site or system easy, dynamic and reliable and includes things like intuitive information architecture and content. Great UX will also be meaningful, reduce pain points and help the user be productive on any device. (Deliver a great UX and you’ll get adoption levels to where you will derive the required ROI). Going one step further, exceptional UX delivers what is referred to as an immersive digital experience, meaning one which deeply involves the senses. Just like the social giants, deliver an immersive experience and you will have loyal users for life.

4. Accept that great functionality comes second

Firstly, we should point out that it’s perfectly OK to come second. To all the developers and technicians out there, your work is equally as important as UX, maybe even more so because you turn a vision into reality. But UX planning should be first. In our experience, if people see something they like, they will use it. Which is why we evolved our approach beyond the traditional SharePoint project model several years ago – because we saw how dazzling clients with technical expertise and high-level solution ideas straight off the bat was limiting our ability to deliver standout UX. Why? Because we had gone too far down the technical path, so by the time UX became part of the conversation, our clients already had expectations in mind about how the system would function.

5. Do the leg work

Requirements gathering is the strategic process of learning about an audience – who they are, what they like, how they access and use information, and so on. It’s vital to invest time in this early on, as the outputs from this research will help you to make informed choices when it comes to UX design. Also, poor UX is expensive to remedy once a solution has been deployed.

To gather requirements, we utilise several best practice UX methodologies including:

  • User Stories – helps us to understand how different people will interact with a site by ‘storytelling’ and evaluating real situations.
  • Persona Profiling – the process of identifying several core types of users within your organisation, how they work, what is important to them etc.
  • Low fidelity wireframes – lo-fi wireframing is the process of quickly mapping out a basic interface to use as a starting point for discussion.
  • Rapid prototyping – the extension of lo-fi wireframing, this involves building a ‘proof of concept’

Talking to your actual audience is also crucial. It’s natural for project steering committees to put their ‘user hats’ on and draw on their own needs/desires, but these are unlikely to reflect those of the broader user group.

6. UX is more than just good design

There are a number of players required to create a rich, meaningful UX. Jobs in the ‘usability’ space have increased significantly in the last few years, and we ourselves now benefit from the value these experts bring to projects. However our graphic designers (and your content authors) also play a key role in translating a strategic UX vision into a complimentary, exciting visual design.

7. It’s not something users’ needs to think about

Good UX should almost fly under the radar, in the sense that if it works, it just works. The user is not likely to finish engaging with your site and want to contact you to say how memorable it was. Particularly in a professional environment. (Rest assured you will soon know about it if you deploy a site with poor UX). For this reason it’s a good idea to set up the correct success metrics e.g. user adoption levels, regularity and duration of use etc. As your users are unlikely to tell you how good it is unless you ask.

8. The tools are out there, so innovate

SharePoint 2013 comes with number of new additions to the feature set, including custom mobile development and social collaboration functionality. This all works in your favour as it helps users to be productive anywhere, on any device, and collaborate in ways that are familiar to them. As well as taking advantage of these tools, consider what custom features or apps would benefit your users and engage the services of an experienced provider to build them. (We have a number of great tools we use, partner with and recommend to clients because they drive UX effectively – ask us).

9. It’s not a silver bullet

Just a final point to reiterate that UX forms part of a well-planned, skilfully built and deployed platform. A successful project is very much the sum of all its parts, so while UX should come first and be a priority, it must be underpinned by sound development, testing and change management practices.

As an exercise, jump onto your company intranet or website and try to imagine you are a first time user. How would you rate UX, on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high)? If you’re anywhere under the 7 mark, get in touch, we can help.

2 thoughts on “User Experience: 9 things you need to know before you can call it UX

  1. Pingback: Pole-vaulting roadblocks to change « The nSynergy blog

  2. Pingback: Why a SharePoint project is like building a house (or should be) – Part 1 « The nSynergy blog

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