Three User Experience Goals for 2014


written by Justin Davis on January 6, 2014

Ah, 2014! A fresh start, new perspectives, and renewed energy to make things better – including the user experience of your products! In that spirit, let’s look at three user experience goals you can strive for in 2014. All three of these are guaranteed to make the experience on your site or app better, and are easy goals to achieve within a year.

Conduct at least one usability study on your site or app

There’s nothing more eye opening than sitting with a user of your product and watching them use it. Every time we do these type of studies, whether for our clients, or our own work, we’re amazed at the wealth of things we find that need to be fixed. The lesson? Even though you think you’ve designed things well, you’re most likely wrong – watch someone use it, and you’ll have a full plate of things to fix within hours.

A lot of people don’t do usability testing, because it seems like a difficult process. They envision double-sided mirrors, cameras, EKGs and all kinds of strange monitoring equipment in a sterile lab. Sure, you can test that way, but none of that is required. Instead, you can conduct a usability test today, within the next hour. Here’s how:

Go locate a user of your product. They might be in your office, or out on the street, or at Starbucks. If you have existing users right now, call one up and ask to go to lunch. Once you’ve located a user (or a handful, preferably), make a list of the things you want to test. If you have a big app, test it in chunks. For instance, if your company does payroll software, spend this week testing the process of creating paychecks for employees. Write down what you’ll ask users to do, and get to testing. For the actual test, it’s this easy: sit with the user, and ask them to complete the task you want them to, while you watch. Ask them to think out loud about what they’re doing, and most importantly, shut up.

When you do these tests, remember, you’re not here to correct their mistakes or tell them how to do it. You want them to fail, so you’ll find all the areas where things need to be improved. Sit with them while they use it, and listen to their feedback. Don’t be defensive, and ask as many questions as you can. After about an hour of this, you’re going to be blown away by the things you learn. It’s that easy.

Sketch 5 designs for a single feature or screen before anything else

When we build tech products, we have a tendency to jump straight into the code or into Photoshop and start designing. This year, for the next feature/product/screen you want to create – stop before doing any of that and pull out the paper.

Sketching helps you think better, and uncovers important issues before you’ve begun committing formalize work to the process. Because sketches are disposable, solving the problem on paper allows you to feel good about taking risks and scraping ideas quickly. Both of these thing – taking risks and throwing away ideas – are the crux of getting to good design.

Finally, don’t just sketch one solution. Challenge yourself or your team to sketch 5 solutions to a single problem first. Don’t worry – this is going to feel uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing. However, once you start to get in the habit of solving design problems in multiple ways each time, you’ll become less emotionally attached to each solution, and you’ll start to find the really great ideas, instead of the initial half-ass ideas that we’re likely to come up with at first.

Do this on paper, with pencil, and leave the computer away from you while you do it. An hour of sketching will save you countless hours of development – make a point of making sketching a permanent part of your process this year!

Bring a designer to a business or strategy meeting

This goal is about changing the landscape of your business, and introducing new perspective in the product development process. Usually, the early product meetings that talk about large goals, financial models, scope and other big items are reserved for managers and strategists, leaving the designers and developers out of the loop until the big decisions are made.

This year, try bringing a designer to one of the first meetings. One of those meetings where you’re talking about what the product should be, who it should target, and how it might make money. Because user experience designers are an empathic, human-centered bunch, you’ll be amazed at the early perspective you get. Questions like “Talk me through how a user might use this, from their eyes” and “Have we sat down with a number of customers to listen to their ideas about what they want?” are questions that aren’t always asked by management, but should be asked by great designers.

By bringing a designer to these early meetings, you’ll see a more human-centered product take shape from day one, and you’ll see much greater organizational buy-in to the concept. Not to mention, you’ll have a far greater chance of building something that people actually want.

This year, make user experience design a priority for your projects. Even if you don’t have a full time UX designer on staff, just working on these three goals will help you see major changes in the quality of your products.

I’d love to hear about your progress, and know what other goals you have for the year. Leave them in the comments!


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