Why user-centred design is the most effective tool for satisfied customers and failsafe product development

A poor user experience can damage even the strongest of brands. Shane Mercer tells how effective UX design and prototyping can delight users and fight disruption.

Shane Mercers, DBS Solutions Directorm, Certus 3 - MRToday’s digitally savvy consumers have become a lot more demanding of the services and experiences provided by the organisations they engage with; and in today’s disruptive economy, smaller and more agile competitors have intensified the competition in most industries. So while the battle rages on to deliver the best user experience possible, the ability to develop and launch new digital services quickly has equally become critical to the success of all enterprises.

However, in the race to win this battle and survive against disruptive forces, some enterprises have rushed-out applications and services that are below par and deliver a poor user experience. Not only does this leave users disillusioned with the service being offered, when apps are provided that cause frustration and inconvenience it actually damages an organisation’s brand.

For a quality user experience, an app must be designed so that users can easily understand, operate and evaluate it and it takes a lot to recover from a catastrophic failure, which inevitably impacts revenue in both the short and longer term.

The tortoise and the hare

What most enterprises still fail to realise is the negative impact that a ‘one size fits all’ IT approach has on a business’ ability to compete.

It is widely acknowledged that new services need to be brought to market at lightning speed; adopting a multi-speed IT delivery model will enable an effective mixture of stable, well-managed core systems and applications that change infrequently, while simultaneously unleashing agility and innovation along the edge of the organisation via rapidly developed digital solutions (that can leverage the latest platforms, technologies and processes). This is the solution to many organisations’ challenge of managing and updating a portfolio of legacy applications whilst getting their next-gen apps out there, before the competition beats them to it.

Development and operations teams can no longer work in departmental silos; instead they need to change their approach to work collaboratively towards common goals if they are to serve the needs of the organisation effectively. Software engineering should not even be started until the user’s goals, challenges and usual steps are well understood. Switching to this User Centred Design (UCD) model is not like flicking on a light switch; it takes time and careful strategic planning and quite a significant cultural shift in some of the more traditional enterprises.

 

Users remember a poor experience

A positive user experience is usually one that allows the user to do what they need to really quickly and easily without really thinking about it. You usually notice a poor user experience much more than a good one, because it can be really frustrating and stop you getting on with the task at hand, or it leaves you feeling like you’re wasting time re-entering information over and over again. You feel good about what you have achieved when you have had a good user experience.

Enterprise applications must be designed to ensure the user experience is positive! My advice is quite simple here; you must not start software coding until you have a really clear understanding of the user’s goals, how they ordinarily work to achieve those goals, and what sorts of challenges they have in doing that work.

 

The user-centred design process

Once the design and business teams understand how users go about getting their digital work done, they can visualise the problem the user is tackling. To craft a quality user experience, various design thinking techniques are used to create prototypes that users can easily understand, operate and evaluate.

Once this user experience is proven to work for users, you are ready to start software development.

Using design thinking, a key stage is the discovery phase in which users are observed in actually completing the day-to- day tasks that an application is meant to support. Users are encouraged to talk out loud as they work, explaining what they are doing and why, and are especially encouraged to mention what is frustrating or difficult to do in their current ways of working.

As each key element of the prototype is developed, you conduct user testing to validate that the functionality is working the way the user needs it to work.

Fully functioning prototypes avoid common mistakes

CIOs need to ensure a good return on investment, right? Using this user-centred design approach quickly builds a high fidelity, fully functioning prototype, leaving nothing to chance.

When it comes to building sophisticated business applications, traditional wireframes, mock-ups, or simple prototypes, due to their lack of data interactivity, tend to give you a false sense of security, meaning expensive rework is often required. This user-centred approach actually reduces the risk involved in software development and it avoids a lot of common mistakes made by CIOs.

Fully functioning prototypes are the cornerstone of good application design and validating that the right thing will be built. First, the problem and solution goals need to be well defined.

From there you work out how users operate and what they need. Then you move to the iterative phase, where a fully functioning prototype is used to keep everyone on the same page as it evolves and it is also continuously validated and tested. When you follow this approach, the software engineering phase will run more smoothly, resulting in higher quality and easier to maintain code.

Ideally you should also be including ‘minimal viable product’ techniques to build and deliver applications in smaller chunks.

Winning the disruption battle

The common operational pitfall that CIOs fall into is having software cycles that are too long; sometimes because the process of going from prototype to production involves too much friction, and sometimes because the mindset or the ‘way things work’ get in the way.

What they should look to achieve is smaller cycles that really deliver valuable digital services for customers.

Incorporating prototyping and using a DevOps approach to remove friction, organisations can now adopt techniques to rapidly produce minimal viable products that will delight end-users and ensure high uptake.

 

 

Shane Mercer is DBS solutions director at Certus

 

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