Designing For The User: Part 1 - Debunking The Myths

UX Design | 18th July 2017

I’ve often found myself having to convince clients or colleagues about the importance of designing for the end user. It can be frustrating.

There might be various excuses presented as to why we should move ahead without considering the user. The budget is tight, there isn’t enough time or the the one I love the most, “we already know who are users are and what they want”. I’ve even had Steve Job’s quote thrown at me about how “…people don’t know what they want…”. 

The list goes on and I’m sure I haven’t heard all the possible excuses yet.

Finding the right argument or data to back the idea of user research or usability testing can be daunting. So let’s try and give you more power for the next discussion you have to face.

This is the first part of a series of articles aimed at Designing for the User. In this first part we will be debunking some of the favourite myths that prevent most companies or designers from considering the user as part of their process.

 

MYTH 1: If you’re an expert you don’t need to test your design.


If you’re an expert you don’t need to test your design.

Even if you are an experienced designer, it’s impossible for you to know everything about your user and their needs. In fact, chances are, if you’re using this argument yourself, you’re designing for yourself and not your user.

There are 4 factors we have to keep in mind when this thought creeps into our mind:

1. People are not rational. They will have thoughts and ideas that are completely outside of what you could ever perceive or comprehend. We would need to be mind readers to be that good. I don’t know of any design courses that offer a free mind reading hat…

2. Many designers believe that if they practice and develop their empathy, that they can easily represent their user. The truth is that we still have our own experiences and knowledge influencing our ideas, which is why it’s so important to understand the user and find out where they see things differently from us.

3. People will not use your product the way you expect. This is a statement worth learning early. People have a tendency to surprise us at every turn. Use unexpected process or options to achieve a goal that you hadn’t foreseen. They’ll find shortcuts or tricks you didn’t even know your solution had. The surprises are never ending.

4.People can’t tell us what they want. The Steve Jobs quote is correct, if you ask a user what they want or need directly, they will not give you helpful answers. They will only give you the answers within the constraints of their knowledge or experience. That’s why we need to ask them more open questions and read between the lines. Trying to understand the problems and needs that are underlying what they believe are their needs. This is not a simple task, but when done well, it means we meet the user’s needs head on. People are not like you.


Looking back at the 4 factors above, how could we possibly believe that we know without a doubt what the user needs because we’re “experts”?

 

MYTH 2: UX is a step in the project.


UX is a step in the project

Any team that has UX as a step in the process isn’t taking into consideration the full width of the User’s Experience. UX is a series of principles applied to your process in order to understand your users and their needs and thus create a complete experience.

“User experience design isn’t just a check box, you don’t do it and then move on. It needs to be integrated into everything you do.”

Liz Danzig

Exactly as suggested by Liz, the whole team has to have the UX mindset. Everyone from the Project Managers to the designers and developers need to keep in mind the experience they are creating for the user. Be sure that they’re doing the best they can do in their area to meet those needs.

“I’ve had clients tell me not to worry about what their strategy is, because why would a designer care about that? UX is more than just skin deep.”

Dan Saffer

The other aspect is assuming that the only people that need to think about the business strategy and goals are the accounts and project managers, but in truth, how can we create the right solution without considering the business aspects? You’re creating something that makes sense for the business and in order to achieve that, you need to know the business.

 

MYTH 3: Product design is a one time effort.


Product design is a one time effort.

Clients ask us to create a solution or product, we build it, hand it over and wipe our hands. You might identify with this scenario, but I’m going to tell you you’re wrong to do it this way.

In a study run by Jacob Nielsen, projects that used an iterative process showed a 165% improvement over those that didn’t.

In the digital age we live in today, the users are constantly evolving and so are the solutions they invest in. How often have we heard the story of incredible products that 6 months later are suddenly bankrupt. Products need to constantly evolve and respond to feedback and interaction with users.

Does this mean that your part in the project never ends? Not at all, as long as you implement a team and system to receive the feedback and keep evolving the product. Your client will thank you, because you give them independence and growth. On the other hand you can feel more secure about the product you leave behind.

 

MYTH 4: Thinking about your user will slow the development of your product.


Thinking about your user will slow the development of your product

According to an article written on the IEEE Spectrum blog by Robert N. Charette, development projects that included UX showed a 33–50% decrease in wasted time.

It was found that developers could focus more on what they were building and spent less time on correcting or redoing their work, by including the UX process.

Although it might seem harder to implement UX processes initially, it’s worth the effort and your development colleagues will thank you in the long run. Especially when they realise that they can reduce their wasted time.

 

MYTH 5: You are your user.


You are your user

Looking at the myths we’ve discussed up to this point, I have to ask, how well do you really know your user? It might seem like an easy question to answer, but the truth is much more complex, as mega tech giant Google found out the hard way.

One of Google’s now extinct products Google Buzz was tested with 20,000 users before being launched and yet when it reached the mass market, user feedback was so negative about one of the features that Google was forced to remove it despite having been very successful with test subjects.

How could that happen with feedback from such a large group of users before the launch? Because the users on which the feature was tested were internal developers working on the products and not from users outside of the company.

Much like Google’s story, many clients often believe they already know who their users are. With a little bit of research most of the clients are surprised when they discover that their users are actually different from what they expected.

After the initial shock, clients are often pleased to be able to focus their efforts in communicating with the right audience. Other than the obvious benefits of the project to be developed, this information can help both the company and marketing department with their strategy.

 

MYTH 6: Usability testing is expensive.


Usability testing is expensive.

Jacob Nielsen advises us that testing with as little as 5 users is enough, as long as you test often. Steve Krug claims even as little as 3-4 users is sufficient to find the biggest usability issues.

Seeing users interact with the solution, observing their body language and listening to their feedback is invaluable to the development of any solution. Quantitative data, although useful doesn’t tell us everything and often measures what is available and more importantly, why someone does something. With usability tests we can understand what is lacking and what the user feels is missing.

Users are easier to recruit than we’ve been led to believe. Sometimes a simple coffee or a gift voucher is more than enough to recruit users. If we look at the suggested amount of test subject, you could setup a testing session for as little as 250$. And with the software options that exist today such as Morae, Lookback or User Testing, the user doesn't even need to be physically in your offices. They can remain in their own context and might even give you a better idea of how they interact with solutions.

However you decide to perform Usability Tests, be sure to implement them. The insights obtained during these tests are endless.

 

Conclusion:


At the end of the day, the cost of not designing for the user far outweighs the cost of conducting usability tests or applying UX principles and processes.

A recent study conducted by Forrester and Invisionapp concluded that every $1 dollar invested in user experience yields a return of $100. If we look at that figure alone, the possibilities are incredible.

In part 2 of the series I will look at how to start designing for the user and making them an integral part of your process.
 

Thanks to Elizabeth Chesters for helping me organize my ideas on this article.
 

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