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Why is it so hard to get user experience right?

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Kathy Gibson at Gartner Symposium, Cape Town – User experience is important if we want technology to become widely used — but it is hard to deliver.
Gartner analyst Magnus Revang points out that there are 27 credible definitions of user experience — possibly 28 by now.
“So how can user experience professionals — the people who have to deliver it — expect ordinary people to deliver a great user experience when the exerts can’t even agree on what it is they have to deliver?”
Among the definitions is one that calls for user experience to include all the users emotions, beliefs preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviours and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use.
A typical example of how response screens are designed is lengthy, cumbersome and hard for the user to complete. The design, in fact, is to populate the CRM system rather than attract people, Revang says.
“If the only goal we have is to attract people, it would be quick and easy to do.”
What has to happen up front is to decide what the desired outcome is, he adds. “Is it to populate the CRM system, or get people to sign up for something?”
A good user experience should not be the goal that designers set out to achieve, however. “It’s how you achieve the goal; it’s not the goal itself,” Revang explains. “It is a means to attain business value.”
The goals we have in IT today are increasing, he adds. “But you can’t measure user experience without knowing what it is you want to deliver.”
Gartner conducted research into the decline of routine tasks and jobs. This is being driven by automation, and is a success story for IT. “We are the cause of routine jobs going down,” Revang says.
This has been achieved through large, complex systems driven by a large amount of engineering.
“However, we are doing more work than ever today,” Revang points out. “This is non-routine work, though. And the goal of this is not automation: it is empowerment.”
IT knows how to do automation, and is not necessarily good at delivering solutions that empower people.
“Tht is why we get a seven-sept sales process that doesn’t align with how people work,” Revang says. “You are applying large, complex engineering solutions to systems that need to be human-centric, simple, relevant and non-leading.”
A big part of the problem, he adds, is that software us bought by managers wo don’t necessarily know how people work.
“The goal is that users need to be empowered, so managers have to listen to them and find out what they need.”
Teslar’s law of the conservation of complexity states that complexity in software used by millions of users, that could have been eliminated by the engineer, penalises the user to make the engineer’s job easier.
“We have the choice,” Revang says. “At the moment we incentivise developers to develop features and collect data — instead of incentivising them to develop software that’s easy to use.”
The consequence of adding features can be wide-reaching, he adds. “The cost of features is astronomical.”
For the user, each feature is one more thing to misunderstand, one more choice to make, one more thing to read, one more thing to wait for, and one more distraction.
For the system, each feature means one more thing to maintain, one more thing to test, one more thing to monitor, one more thing to consider and one more thing to build and deliver.
“Think about your most favourite app or device you use,” Revang says. “If it the most feature-rich? Or does it have the most relevant features?”
To solve the problem if bad user experience, Revang says the team is the starting place — and none of the teams he has seen have a single place or person responsible user experience.
Teams need to have six roles or domains in each team to achieve user experience.
Firs is the user researcher, who finds out what users actually want. The second is a content strategist who puts in place the strategies to make sure the required content is produced — this could be text, video or pictures.
Interaction design is important, and it’s not the same as visual design. A front-end developer will look after how the software looks and responds.
“The one thing most teams that deliver bad user experience is the experience lead,” Revang says. “This is a position that someone takes, who makes everyone pull in the right direction. On a movie set it would be the director.”
The design process is different to the development process, and it a lot broader in scope. It requires that teams follow the steps of discovery, synthesis, prototyping, construction and refinement.
The first step, discovery, is the most important. Instead of being able to figure out what the users want, IT is often told what solution they must build.
“IT is usually good at execution, but a lot of the time they are just going what they are told. IT should probably go in earlier, to advise on what the best way is to solve the problem.”
Data-driven design embraces strategy, tactics and culture. It involves continuous experimentation and implementation.
A management challenge is to ensure employees are accountable, but it has to be balanced with a certain amount of autonomy. The zone of high performance is where people are held accountable, but they still have freedom to work as they wish, to make mistakes and to fail fast.
Revang points out that there are few examples of good user experience. “You have to be a user to evaluate if something is good or bad,” he says.
One example that is undeniably good user experience is the UK government’s web site, www.gov.uk.
During the 2008 financial crisis, IT had to cut budget so developers were given more autonomy to create the site.
The result is an incredibly simple site that is easy and quick to use.
The team’s design principles are simple as well: start with needs; do less; design with data; do the hard work to make it simple; iterate — then iterate again; this is for everyone; understand context; build digital services not websites; be consistent rather than uniform; make things open because it makes things better.
“When I first saw these design principles, I almost cried,” Revang says.
Gartner’s recommendations for creating good user experience mirror these principles closely. They are:
* Define what good user experience is before you start.
* Do user research.
* Follow a design process.
* Focus on quality over quantity.
* Use data to inform design decisions.
* Make teams accountable, but also increase autonomy