The importance of user needs in creating a better User experience.

Being a good host is about serving the guests well. Taking in to considerations their needs, sometimes special needs, their likes and dislikes. Many times we end up doing something or cooking food that we like best, but it may not always be something that our guests may like. In fact it could be something that they just don’t like, and end up consuming it out of sheer formality.

When it comes to User experience it is no different. Keeping the user needs in the mind and taking into consideration the context in which the service would be experienced is a very important factor.

I recall an instance where we were creating an interface for accountants. They were using a software which was meant for expert users. Which means that the initial learning curve was steep. But they could do some very complex operations once they got there.

We began with some fancy ideas and pitched bringing in touch based apps as a replacement for this software. The UI was uncluttered and minimal, and the app was able to perform most of the operations that the other more complicated software could do. May be just the right way to go from a designers perspective. We thought we had cracked it.

But within a few days of the apps launch, we started getting lot of complaints from these users. They were slowed down by this new tool and were uncomfortable trying to use it.

We thought it is just the initial resistance to change that they are experiencing and they would eventually get used to the new interface and would start liking it better. That never happened. We received more and more negative feedback every day.

So we decided to do a visit and see firsthand how they are using this app and what is really breaking their experience. Amazingly enough we realised that these users were so used to typing and using the keyboard and performing all the actions with keyboard shortcuts that by taking the basic cushion out of the experience we had done a mistake.

When we further observed and interviewed them, they never had anything against the busy interface of the old software. They were used to seeing some information in certain place of the UI and moving it around, some even being removed was not welcomed very well.

We did more interviews and figured that enhancing the user experience was not really about changing the UI and the visual design of the product.

There were certain pain points we identified when users were using there old product:

There were many tasks which involved the users to wait, which was one of the pain points. The underlying software had some inefficient algorithms and heavy database operations.
These users were so efficient in using the cluttered UI because of the years of repeatedly using it, they believed that they were faster than it, they wanted the ability to do parallel processing. Ability to do multiple things in one shot. And the system was able to only process one request at a time which was a blocker.
Although the users couldn't articulate it very clearly, but as designers we observed that the product didn’t have a good feedback mechanism. System states were not clearly worded. And things like processing time were not clear, so the users really didn't know how long they would need to wait for something to finish.

Considering all these we went back to the old UI that users were used to, and addressed these concerns. It was a great learning experience. And even though we personally didn’t like the clutter in this UI, but we saw that with the pain points addressed we had a happy bunch of users. They were more productive, and they were able to also take more coffee breaks because they knew when to take them.

Identifying user needs is fundamental specially when we are redesigning an existing system or enhancing it.

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