You’ve heard the buzzwords and know that your “user experience” online can make or break how you connect with your clients in a big way. People don’t just shuffle through a hardcopy of the yellow pages to find professional services like an accountant or a realtor anymore. These days, consumers do a lot more than look up Yelp listings online, too. Your digital presence (regardless of how big or small) communicates something definitive - for better OR for worse. Before you try the “throw-stuff at the wall to see what sticks” approach, UX design can help you understand what works.

What is UX?

To put it simply, UX applies to all human-to-computer interactions (like how a client navigates to find the contact info they need on your site), as much as it does to physical products (think phones with buttons in the perfectly wrong places, or a pantyhose brand that rips in the toe every time you put them on). Sometimes UX is confused with UI, or user interface design. Think of a house: UI would be the wall colour, or the type of carpeting, UX is about whether the doorknobs open properly or if there are any dead-end hallways. The point of UX design is to recognize pain points and the “eureka” moments, to create the best feelings, most efficient experiences, and to promote positive interactions for your clients. Ideally, UX is going to make things feel easier, and create clear paths for user success. Are you thinking, “That sounds simple enough…” ? It’s important to remember that what we THINK is best doesn’t always stand up to cold, hard data and experimentation. If you don’t have a UX expert in your back pocket, you might feel a little lost trying to make educated decisions.

The language of UX

Ever heard of the "5 Love Languages"? Well, there’s a language and specific vocabulary for user experience, too. Knowing these terms won’t make you an expert overnight, but when you expand your language you expand your understanding. Think of this as a jumping off point for you to explore these tried and tested approaches to developing a solid digital experience.

Design sprint

Even though Merriam Webster defines a sprint as “a race over a short distance at a very fast speed” a design sprint is not about racing through your UX design. This method was developed by GV and it splits a project into 5 chunks, or manageable goals.

  • Understand (in a group) what your marketing angle is by considering the audience, the competition, your value proposition, and define your KPI’s.
  • Diverge from the group to come up with creative ways of solving the problem or moving the project forward.
  • Converge with the group again, this time to choose the best ideas and explore them with wireframing or storyboarding.
  • Prototype the best ideas! This involves getting the design ready to a point that you can test it on other people outside the team.
  • Test, test, test! User testing is the last and crucial step. In this case, one-to-one testing is best, and you’ll want it to be with users from your main target audience.

Affinity diagram

An affinity diagram is a tool that helps you to organize thoughts and data, developed by Jiro Kawakita in the 1960’s. It’s a great tool for complex project management, and helps keep productive brainstorming between different arms of a project organized and on track. Affinity diagrams are most useful when you’re dealing with 15 or more pieces of information. For example, with an affinity diagram, many members of the team can effectively collaborate on everything from qualitative feedback (like ideas or opinions) at the same time as considering other factors (like data-driven statistics) that influence the project. The process works in the order of brainstorming, grouping ideas into similar categories, creating header cards, and then creating a finished diagram that serves as a conceptual map for your project and upcoming challenges and needs.

Lean UX

Think of Lean UX as design holding hands with business and development. It’s less preoccupied with deliverables, focusing instead on gaining feedback early on - and often - to make quick decisions. This isn’t the time to nitpick about every pixel, or start brainstorming new elements or features to add to the project. The principles of Lean UX involve collaborating to solve immediate problems and establishing simple metrics that will actually prove success or failure. This puts a lot of focus on actually solving user problems and helps to keep you from releasing a service, product, or experience without understanding if it has market value or any real need to exist. Some questions to focus on could be, Who are our users? Why are they using our product or service? What are the most important functions for our users? Where do they use our products or services?

Heuristic Review

Heuristic review comes into the picture when you’re much closer to the finish line. What you’ll do is evaluate your website, app, or online service with a fine-toothed comb and try to catch any problems with your user interface. At this stage, you’ll be documenting in very specific detail any and all usability flaws, glitches, or other areas that need improvement. It’s important to remember this practice does not narrow in on business metrics. You want to make sure the focus is strictly on the interface itself, smooth out any wrinkles in how it works (or doesn’t work) for your clients and customers.

Beta Testing

Beta testing is the second phase of software testing, where a sample of your intended audience tries the product out. Feedback gathered during a Beta test gives you invaluable insight into how your clients use your app, online service, or product.   This differs from the 5th step in a design sprint in that you will be looking to get feedback from a much wider range of users, the final product is much closer to completion, and the feedback is not sourced on a one-on-one basis. You can run either public or private Beta testing, depending on what kind of user data and feedback you need to finish. Public Beta testing can be a gamble, so don’t put your Beta test in jeopardy by jumping the gun and moving forward with Beta testing before your product or service is viable. Another big no-no is launching a Beta program or test when you don’t have enough people on your team to support the new service or product.

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