5 major strategic errors in user experience design

Among many others… But these occur quite often.


I n terms of digital user experience strategy, many obstacles and temptations stand in the way of making the right decision. The 5 following examples illustrate the most recurring and most stubborn of them all, those which hopelessly lead us away from user centered design.

Translated from french :
5 grandes erreurs stratégiques de design d’expérience utilisateur
Based on a presentation by
Eric Reiss


EGO

“ We need visuals of ponies. I like ponies.”

This is perhaps the most persistent poison that currently prevents digital from growing and being structured properly. Many decision-makers think the way they always have, namely, that they are the ones who make all the decisions, that they have the last word, and impose their vision, ignoring any user opinions. As they are not typically users themselves (or are minimal users), they don’t understand the real issues of digital and make decisions following their instincts. Unfortunately, the role of instinct in digital today is pretty minimal, and designing a site or an application requires especially advanced knowledge of consumer’s needs and behaviors, leading to a lasting and effective digital strategy.

“ As many decision-makers are not users themselves […],
they don’t understand the real issues of digital. ”

As these decision-makers are also mostly convinced that their authority is based on having the last word, negotiation is often very difficult : operational teams are forced to execute an idea which they do not believe in. As a result :
- Projects are mostly release with pain
- Teams and project buyers are disappointed
- As well as end users

That’s a lot of disappointment for a lot of used energy, and in the end, a lot of money spent.

You should know that on average, when a digital project is being developed, “40% of development time is devoted to implementing and correcting non-essential features.” That’s a staggering figure, but it’s hardly surprising when you look at the low interest levels of many websites we visit every day.

In the English government’s recent digital design charter, the very last point, item 18, it expressly asked that end-to-end service set up by the current minister be tested. It’s a way to involve him as a user so that he is accountable for the quality of service provided to citizens.

COPYCAT

For goodness sake, of course ! We have to do things like they do.

Another phenomenon is the Copycat : often powerless facing to making decisions on digital, some companies prefer to copy what has already been done on the web, unfortunately without considering the context, whether it is brand or users.
For instance, many UX designers encountered near the end of the 2000's is what I call the Netvibes syndrome. Launched in 2005, this dashboard allowed for all the information flows collected on the web to be aggregated in one page, so that an online magazine could be created. The promise of ultimate customization took form with a more playful interface, where the user could move blocks to reorganize his dashboard of information however he wanted it. (I know this makes younger people laugh, but at the time it was quite revolutionary ☺).

“ Some companies prefer to copy what has already been done […], unfortunately without considering the context, whether it is brand or users.”

Such an appreciated gimmick which was systematically requested in digital briefs: “We would like a home page like the Netvibes page,” (a little like our boss who loves ponies up above). It’s a completely functional choice disconnected from any analysis of the user’s needs. So we could see the emergence of e-commerce sites with a home page having a modular interface. Therefore the brand was convinced that consumers would spend time customising their experience on the site. Look for the error with that.

BUZZWORD

We need an application. And Google glasses. And a 3D Printer.

Digital has its “trends”: internet-connected glasses, Big Data, Retargeting, etc. Although some of these trends are justified and respond to real development in the digital experience (such as, for example, responsive design), others are badly exploited and most often used as an element of communication, more than as an element to improve the digital presence.

Characteristically, the QR code was one of those Buzzwords : stammering in its beginnings, it was quickly used excessively on all paper / packaging / posters. A kind of reflex that was more a virtue of communication ( “ We know how to do digital ” ) than a virtue of experience ( “ You can get additional information through this QR code ” ). Moreover, in the majority of cases, either the associated link redirected users to an unrelated or only slightly related page (for example, the home page vs. a specific page that is linked to QR code’s context), or to a page not optimized for mobile phones, which is pretty inconvenient for readability.

“ Digital trends are most often used as an element of communication, more than as an element to improve the digital presence. ”

So, yes to going with the innovations of the time, but always with a vision focused on the user: if it turns out that this innovation does meet a user’s need in any circumstance, maybe it’s better to never even put it in place (even if it is in style ☺).

TECH FIRST

It works ! But how do i use it ?

Oriented design technology imagines that the digital world is based on an industrial revolution, and it’s hard to disagree with that. If technology is not mastered in all ways, the whole experience will fall apart. On the other hand, straying from technical limitations to create a digital experience is likely to lead to an overly rational interface with a rather complex use. This is the kind of interface that tells you that you are at fault.

For a long time, this design vision has governed the creation of software that comes with a thick user manual, to allow users to understand all the software’s tips and tricks. However, everyone knows that people love manuals. Or not. So, yes, of course, technology is the base of any digital presence, but it shouldn’t be the starting point for a strategic reflection of experience.

FORM FIRST

This feature doesn’t mesh with our graphic charter

The debate between “style and substance” is often still all the rage at digital interface design workshops. On one hand, the artistic director, the custodian of the brand and its codes, and on the other hand, the designer, the guardian with respect to the quality of interaction with the brand.
The expression of beauty has evolved considerably since the advent of digital : Facebook, Linkedin, Craigslist, Le Bon Coin (fr), are all interfaces with questionable aesthetics but used by millions of people, although this doesn’t seem to bother them. When we go on the web, we are actively interacting ; we’re here to seek information, whether it be a price, news, a Twitter post, etc… Beauty is often expressed by how easy it is to find and read this information, and not by the fact that the website is aesthetically pleasing. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ugly, quite the contrary: an interface that is nice to look at will unconsciously direct the user, which will grant a bonus of interface usability even before it has been manipulated.

“ Beauty is often expressed by how easy it is to find and read this information, and not by the fact that the website is aesthetically pleasing. ”

To share a short story, I had the opportunity to work on the redesign of an insurance website a few years ago. We prototyped the interface, placed items in the header and the body of the page, etc… But before being created, the branding agency vetoed it, stipulating that the logo should be a minimum size of x pixels by y pixels. Even after long negotiation, it was necessary to deconstruct the header to squeeze this nice logo into a tight space. * sigh *

USER CENTERED DESIGN

User Centered Design

In terms of digital user experience strategy, many obstacles and temptations stand in the way of making the right decision. The 5 examples above are not bad in themselves, but should not be exclusive in the decision-making process. A good digital experience must meet technical and brand constraints, it can draw on, without necessarily copying, features already present on the web, it can ride on current innovations, and of course, it can benefit from the instincts of an informed decision maker.

But more than anything, it is really the user’s analysis that will guide the reflection, to develop an eco-system and interface that is useful, simple, and effective, and responds a real need, while respecting the brand’s goals. And finally, we must iterate, week after week, to make this experience evolve step by step, always in the direction of both the user and the brand.

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