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GeeknRolla – You Can’t NOT Afford Good User Experience

I was fortunate to be invited to speak at the recent GeeknRolla conference in London and took the opportunity to share some tips for making your business more user focused with the largely tech start up crowd. I do lots of work with start ups these days so I understand that there are all kinds of ‘resource’ challenges in the early days. That said, there really is no excuse for not making an effort to engage your potential end users in your design and product development effort.

This presentation covers what I consider to be the four main areas of user experience, being:

  1. Choosing an audience. Startups (and small businesses in general) are notorious for wanting to avoid this step, claiming that their product/service is targeted at ‘everyone’ and that they don’t want to ‘restrict themselves’ by choosing a specific primary target market. Big mistake – design for everyone and you design for no one. Design well for the audience you’re most interested in and the rest will follow.Another common problem for starts ups is that they are actually designing for themselves (they are their own target audience) but lose focus by trying to design for ‘users’ without defining who those users are. If you are your own target audience, that’s fine. Admit it and go with it. Don’t lose focus.But probably the most common problem I come across is that while the start up makes efforts to be ‘user focussed’ it fails to admit that it’s *real* target audience, for the moment at least, is the investors who may give them more money if excited enough. What investors want to see and what early users of your service want are two very different things. If you are designing for investors, that is fine – admit it and go with it. You can re-focus on the real users of your service later.
  2. Understanding your audience: there are *lots* of ways to get to know your audience but obversational research (sitting down and watching and asking questions) is far and away the most effective in my experience. Yes, get your metrics in place, do your alpha release, watch your twitter stream, but DO find and observe potential users of your service, and do it regularly. Despite the rumours, it doesn’t have to be an expensive and time consuming exercise – in fact, you can do it yourself and you’ll probably learn more than you’ll know what to do with. There’s no excuse for not knowing exactly how users interact with your product, what works and doesn’t work and – most importantly – why.
  3. Applying your research in design: once you’ve done all the research, how do you make use of it in your design? One simple way is to make some ‘personas’ – basically some pretend users who are based on your research and who can sit around the table with your team and be ‘involved’ in the decision making. This is a MUCH better way of getting good user focussed decisions made than asking ‘what users like/do’ which is a totally nonsense question with no answer. Rather, you can ask ‘would Keith (our persona) like it if we added that service?’, ‘would Lillian (our persona) understand that sentence on the homepage?’, ‘what would Frances (our persona) most like us to do in this next development cycle?’. It might sound a little nuts but it really does work.

    The other thing I really recommend is that you hire the best designer you can get your hands on as early as possible, but don’t ask them to ‘design your website’ or application or whatever. Rather ask them to design a visual styleguide that you can then give to a less ‘resource intensive’ team member to apply now and into the future. This is the best way to get great value from a good designer – you let them do the work they do best and you get a road map for the future that will protect the design integrity of your service. The styleguide will include a few key templates but also a bunch of information about the grids that should be use, how colour and typography should be applied and a whole host of other very useful information.

  4. Think big and small: Last but not least I encourage you to look at user experience from the micro and the macro level. Do wonder if that button is in the right place ask whether moving it might improve revenue, but don’t neglect to ask whether people understand the overall proposition of your service and if they’re even going to get to that button in the first place. User Experience is a layercake and it starts with your proposition – it is all too easy to get too close to your product and not realise how inpenetrable it is for newcomers. So, think big and small.

Where do I start?

Most of what us User Experience people do is not rocket science – it’s just education and a whole lot of experience and a passion for what we do, much of this you can do yourself and there is a lot of material in books and online that will get you off to a flying start. The two books I find myself recommending most often to my start up clients are Don’t Make Me Think and The Paradox of Choice (the first one is more hands on than the second, but the second explains a lot of why the first one works).

Another thing I find myself doing more and more often is teaching my clients to fish – that is, doing quick training sessions that give them the essential skill set they need to successfully do the four things I set out above, all by themselves.

If you’re interested in learning these skills (or having someone in your company know them!) and bringing User Experience into the centre of your company then perhaps you might be interested in a one day Hands On User Experience training course that I’ve designed. I’d be more than delighted to show you how I do what I do, and I guarantee you’ll see the benefits in many more places than just the usability of your website/application!

  1. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. I am learning a lot from you and other UX people.

    Sam

    P.S. Have you tried http://hunch.com ? It has potential of being the most important persona research tool.

  2. I got your website from Ev Williams’ blog list…I am not a web developer (am considering doing a blog). I enjoy immensely your down to earth approach to making sure whatever is done actually works! I appreciate your rigorous devotion to how a website looks, feels, tastes, through the outside user’s eyes/mind. You make a marvelous contribution to sanity, clarity and wit — all in one breath! Thanks, Al

  3. Hi Leisa

    Great post and I completely agree, companies can’t compete on price or products as thee used to be able to.
    know it’s down to which company gives the best user experiance, funnily enough they will probably find themselves with the highest customer loyalty.

    Again great post

    Ben

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