User experience design, commonly referred to as UX, focuses on the behaviour of the user and creating an experience that allows them to accomplish their goal. UX design is important because it aims to fulfil the user’s needs. By providing a positive experience, that user stays loyal to the company or brand. Additionally, a meaningful user experience allows you to define customer journeys that are most conducive to business success. This is why putting together the right UX team is absolutely essential.
The user, primarily, focuses on value. Let’s break it down: we all buy electricity. This isn’t because of the great technological miracle of electricity (well, it’s pretty good, but not a novelty these days). Nor is it a matter of personal vanity; having electricity in your house isn’t a sign of wealth or status, in the Global North at least. What gives electricity value is its practicality: it allows us to see in our homes at night, stop our food from spoiling, and so on and so forth.
Every company needs to focus on the real value they provide to the user. What is the problem or pain that they’re solving? If the UX designer presents this in a pleasing, delightful way, fast, then the user will have a satisfying experience. They’ll remember the company and the service, and even promote it. These word-of-mouth recommendations are basically free advertising for the company – which is nice, considering it’s some of the most powerful and persuasive.
UX is fundamental to success in the current commercial environment. Yet, many organisations are still struggling to deliver. Why? There are key cultural and technological limitations standing in their way. However, with the right UX team, these obstacles are surmountable. Here, we discuss what’s standing between you and UX success, and why people – that is, the UX team – are the solution to a technological problem.
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More than metrics
Here’s the essence of good UX: the customer is left happy, fulfilled, and this sensation is achieved via a seamless solution to their problem. The customer journey will be so smooth that the environment created to realise it will be almost imperceptible. Then, as a result of this experience, they recommend the brand to friends and family.
This result of this scenario is the same as having a high Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is a favourite tool of corporate leadership to quickly and easily understand if their UX efforts are performing as intended or not. However, give the corporate productivity machine a metric and it tends to fixate on it, occasionally at the expense of what’s actually behind that metric. Every market is demanding, so you can hardly blame them; but in UX development, it’s critical to keep it user- (not metric) centric.
This is one of the first major blockers to outstanding UX: hard KPIs. This might seem like a controversial statement in our data-driven moment, but hear us out. Business administration practice is rooted in accounting. Often, investors are there with capital, not industry knowledge. Particularly for publicly traded companies with stocks and shareholders, there is a real need for fixed numbers.
The main question is how can you quantify a good product? How can you put a number to what it means to help thousands of users to easily manage their banking or healthcare needs, and save each customer even five minutes a day? How can you put a number on the stress reduction associated with this service?
There are companies that are doing this and we can see the effects, but we can’t necessarily put a number to it. Remember when Apple launched their first smartphone? Even though smartphones had existed years before that, the iPhone totally disrupted the market. This is because they radically improved UX. In short, the iPhone made life easier by:
- Removing friction from key areas where it mattered to users, like making it easy to send an email, make a call.
- Adding ‘delighters’ which come from technology, like games and social media apps.
- Making a beautiful product with a nice design and nice proportions.
At the end of the day, you can’t put a number to the pleasure derived from holding an iPhone in your hand. Nonetheless, Apple is a $2.1 trillion company. For scale, that’s more than any oil or energy company on the planet. Apple recently reported revenue of $74.6 billion and a staggering $18 billion in profits for a single quarter, which is the largest quarterly earnings of any company ever.
Sure these numbers are impressive and numbers are important, but they’re not everything. What built the Apple empire wasn’t being a slave to metrics, it was close attention to the finer things in life. That is, their UX team solved customers’ problems cleanly, easily and stylishly.
The problem with Waterfall
Certainly, there are plenty of corporations that realise this and are adopting UX as their base practice. They focus on solving problems rather than creating technology and hoping there’s a market for it. However, many still can’t truly implement UX or user-centric design at the core of their operation because of legacy issues. These barriers often stem from the Waterfall environment within which the original product/UX experience was created.
Sure, there are pros to a Waterfall model. The outcome is crystal clear. It’s easy to get everyone up to speed. You stick to the budget and what you plan is what you get. Sounds good, but at the root, it’s very inflexible. This creates a technical debt at the core of the main product; it’s very, very difficult to change later down the line. Often, no one in their right mind would do it.
We’ll use another example. Imagine an international SaaS provider, let’s say in accounting or healthcare. They created their original software as fringe science in the late 80s or early 90s, when it was super high tech. Since it’s been integrated into governments and large corporations. Everything was working just fine and the product was meeting customer expectations throughout the 90s. The business was ticking along nicely.
Flash forward to the second decade of the 21st century, and technology has evolved and is evolving exponentially. The core product has never changed – and that’s because decommissioning it for a complete engine rebuild would be impractical. For many large organisations, such as a government department, shutting down an entire department for several weeks is untenable.
Instead, they focus on peripheral improvements like marketing gimmicks or make other excuses, like legal constraints. An illustration would be how hard it is to close a contract for outsourced human resources management software, versus how much it actually costs.
Overcoming the human factor
Other than the headaches associated with technical debt – complications, bugs that were solved with workarounds, bad functionality decisions etc. – there is the human factor to contend with. Employees that managed to dominate the Waterfall environment were not used to collaboration, learning from mistakes, or growing as a team. Instead, they tended to focus on pleasing the higher echelons of the hierarchy.
This desire to please made them good at diplomacy and political decisions. They’ll keep the peace; everything is clearly communicated and structured, and the outcome is rigidly defined. Everyone knows what they’re shooting for. However, like their product, it makes them inflexible. Often, they’re not willing to take risks or experiment. They’ll probably be more inclined to slavishly follow the hard KPIs mentioned earlier, which as discussed, can detract from the core concern of good UX: the customer.
As technology began to advance more rapidly than ever, it became abundantly clear that these inflexible technologies and cultures weren’t going to cut it. This is why ten years ago, Agile really took off. It focused on producing minimum viable products (MVPs), learning from mistakes, tweaking the solution, and taking a more systematic approach. This enables the UX team to move with the times, as nothing has to be totally deconstructed. Instead, it’s incrementally adjusted and optimised.
This environment encourages a more dynamic, collaborative environment. Clear guidelines are still essential, but UX team members are given the autonomy to try out new ideas. They’re not penalised for experimenting – quite the opposite. If it doesn’t work out, you learned something. You experienced the bump in the road instead of the end-user, which is essential to seamless UX.
The power of a mixed UX team
A UX team needs to be dynamic and flexible – and a key route to realising this ambition is diversity. Great UX design is built by mixed teams, where people come with excellent user behaviour knowledge, technological expertise, market understanding and problem-solving abilities. Other niche profiles might include experts in the tone of voice, B2B relationship management and regulatory environment operations. Think of it this way: there’s no way Elon Musk could have drilled a tunnel under Los Angeles with just a team of engineers. He needed an experienced and influential regulatory advisor.
A mixed UX team is rarely brought together by pure serendipity. In the most successful cases, they were created. Management was allowed to bring in the best people, who slowly get to know each other, work together and form a dynamic team. There will be some fine-tuning – and some original team members will fall by the wayside – but the result will be extremely high functioning.
So how can this be done? In short, management should adopt five simple principles:
- Allowing solutions and inputs to flow also from bottom to the top, not only top to bottom.
- Allow team members to be independent, take ownership of their part of the puzzle and solve it.
- Make the team interested and passionate about the product
- Limit frustration as much as possible, either by streamlining processes (usually this will be related to bureaucracy) or effectively managing conflict within the team.
- Allow the business model to be somewhat flexible by lowering the high risk management threshold. This will enable the team to adapt, keeping in mind the feedback from the product teams and users.
Here’s an example of why point five is particularly important; amazingly, Slack started as a gaming company. After failing to successfully penetrate the market with over 50 games, they decided to sell their internal proprietary messaging system that was used by the developers to create said games. The rest, as they say, is history. It’s a big leap from a small-time gaming company to a workflow management giant, but their flexibility allowed them to meet real customer pain. The societal impact was far greater than marketing a few games.
Source the UX dream team
So how does leadership bring together these best-in-class players? Once, sourcing top talent required an exhaustive recruitment process. Once again, we find ourselves at a limitation and another reason why creating the best possible UX team is challenging. However, times are changing – thanks to identifying a problem that needed solving.
Outvise was created to connect businesses large and small with the most outstanding talent in digital and TMT. With profiles including UX designers, UX consultants, data analysts, regulatory experts, and Agile coaches, Outvise provides the resources companies need to put together a UX development dream team.
The process of sourcing this outstanding talent has been substantially streamlined thanks to Outvise’s team of headhunters and advanced project matching algorithms. Clients input their needs and the algorithm scours our catalogue of tens of thousands of international freelancers. Within 48 hours, your project is matched with a bespoke list of fully certified experts.
Outvise is a UX-driven solution for a UX-driven business environment. Explore the curated portfolio of professionals here.