Recent demand for UX services at Fountain City™ have been on a steady upward ramp, leading us to expand our team and partnerships as we grow this segment of our business and adapt to doing more of what we love, and what our customers need.
So what is UX?
UX is a nerdy way of saying “User experience” but that still doesn’t say much.
When people talk about design, there are so many kinds of design! There’s software design, logo design, packaging design but also user interaction design, business design… design everything but also UX design.
There’s a challenge in the industry, or at least in my perception of the industry, which is that most people can’t really relate to the words “UX Design”, so what is it and how did we end up here when this blog article is about Design Strategy?
When we create a product or service, people use it. We are looking primarily for two main indicators from our audience: is the thing useful, does it provide me some kind of value? And does it make me excited enough that I would tell my friends and colleagues about it – is it viral? Meaning does it have a good growth metric.
In the end it doesn’t matter if your project is on time, under budget and does everything you want it to do if your customer/client/patient doesn’t find it actually provides them value. Your business will also have a much harder time growing [and getting investment] if all growth has to come through the inflow of customer acquisition from advertising and lacks inherent intrinsic growth value. The moment you stop the ads, your numbers of new users will drop again – this is growth “for the numbers”, and does not represent inherent customer interest.
What we want to achieve is rapid determination if the product or service you are creating has strong growth and value indicators. Ideally far before any code is written in order to ensure your model is working. Let’s drop hundreds of hours into software that we know solves real problems and generates real growth.
Research and understanding
To better understand what that is, we need to undergo a scientific process. Science applied to human interests, and in this case, the needs of your audience.
All ideas are based on theories, which are essentially assumptions. We assume people will love this new calendar booking feature because it will make their lives easier. We assume people want to get a call back rather than wait on hold for someone to answer a call. We assume people will still want to buy a car even if all the controls are moved to a touch screen to save costs.
What we want to do therefore as early as we can is to spell out all these assumptions as clearly as possible and to then validate or refute them. Do we need to build an entire car with no physical controls on it to know people will be okay with using a touchscreen or can we create a quick fake representation of the interior of a car, ask people to go inside of it and then see how they react?
The key is to get people to engage with something early. Yes we want to document what people say they want and need, but we also have to give them that thing and see their actual response. It is very hard for people to know how they will respond to something before they actually are experiencing that thing.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”
— Henry Ford
All of your customers can be viewed as one stakeholder but we of course always have other stakeholders in a project. There are business needs, drivers in terms of sales and marketing objectives and sometimes even more important stakeholders like financial officers, procurement departments and others. Each person, institution or department has their needs that need to be met, but those needs will also require refinement and definition in order to prioritize, define and understand. How do we go from a general idea into something specific? If we want to develop a new tool, how do we begin to translate that idea into a specific prototype we can actually bring to our customers to test?
Enter from here into the deeper processes of UX design. We begin with analysis, research and understanding to help balance everyone’s needs, your goals and better understand your customer. We collect as early as possible as much information as we can around the assumptions that we all have, that we will need to test and validate.
Research sometimes itself also involves assumption building, and the value in testing all of those assumptions will need to be weighed against the risks and benefits. You can’t always test all your assumptions of course, and usually you don’t have to. Iteration is your friend, we just need enough of a concept and enough initial test-validation in place that we can cut short iterative loops with your audience/test group in order to start developing and iterating on the fundamentals of your application.
Prototyping to design
Once a prototype has been developed and tested sufficiently, within the important constraints defined at the start of the project, we move into production.
Is this process worth it?
One common concern I hear from customers is the cost of this process. Is it worth spending 2 to 8 weeks doing all of this research, prototyping, testing, refinement and documentation before we start actually designing and coding? Doesn’t this just add a lot of costs?
The answer is wholeheartedly YES. In all the 23 years of time I’ve spent in IT, I’ve never seen a project where time was spent on UX design and documentation that didn’t end up saving money. I would rather see a client spend 100 hours determining the best feature set for their start up product than spend 900 hours only to realize half of what they built is not useful or confusing to their customers.
Skipping on documentation also results in a tremendous amount of hidden overhead costs. I want to see a single design or specification document that outlines how everything works and should be built rather than hours and hours of calls and meetings to try and communicate and answer questions about the same thing deep into the middle of development.
Is this process for me?
While it is true this process is mainly suited to software development. Either as part of a redesign or start up, the same processes are necessary to understanding an existing product and your clientele. Doing a UX audit of how your product or service is performing can be very enlightening and result in new opportunities to improve something that has been existing and static for some time. Improving the value and growth properties of your product/service can only help your business to grow, improve and adapt.
We are here for you
Because of the immense benefits provided, UX, UI and information architecture has always been a big passion of mine. It is right up there with AI, system design and permaculture (another design field). We’ve recently been growing our internal team and I am happy to say we now have 3 people in our organization who specialize in this field, plus 3 partner agencies who we manage and apply to various projects as needed.
If you would like to hear more, see examples or get a presentation deck walk through, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Wishing you all the best of health in this wild world we live in,