Companies that saw huge commercial success in the last ten years – be those startups that became giants, or traditional companies that changed gears and adapted to customers’ increasing demands – all had one thing in common:
A great customer experience.
Successful digital companies show respect for users’ desire to complete a task as fast as possible. They help users find the things they are looking for. They help people transact or interact with confidence with an online or mobile platform. And at the core of any great company is an exceptional user experience.
To understand the world of UX we asked 17 experts from companies all over the US to help us understand and see the world through their eyes.
This group of experts on user experience architecture (UXA) and design gave us their real, actionable strategies and examples that will help you achieve your design goals.
As you read through these excellent points of view ask yourself: is your company doing everything possible to allow user experience architects to succeed at their job?
If not, you should; your financial success depends on it!
Let's start, shall we?
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UX designers need to possess vision, empathy, and adaptability more than anything as specific as experience in graphic design or knowledge of computer programming principles. With that being said, you need to be well-balanced if you are to join the elite user experience design group. When you take a look at the different disciplines that fall under the UX umbrella, you’ll find many fields of study working in conjunction: usability, content strategy, user research, interaction design, information architecture, and visual design, to name a few.
For those just starting out, some hard skills you’d want to have a background in, or at least be familiar with, include front-end nomenclature, information architecture, project management methodologies, and visual design. Don’t expect to conquer all of these branches of knowledge all at once; it takes time to understand the gist of each subject.
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The hardest part to me about UX that often goes unnoticed by consumers is always going to be time and effort. Those two things are difficult to quantify as they are pretty intangible. Also, many people do not fully understand the whole iterative process. It takes 10, 50, 100, 1000 tries to get something right.
Secondly, there is a great deal of work that goes into keeping updates regular and worthwhile. Mobile products have a tendency to fade in novelty faster than websites so keeping those updates regular and worthwhile will keep a great user base.
Believing that shipping “something” is better than shipping nothing is a flaw. You have one shot at wow-ing your user, and if you give them some half-baked (we’ll get to those bugs in 2.0) experience that breaks the pattern of achieving their goals they’ll laugh at you and find someone else to love; probably your competition.
The MVP mentality is also something that really irks me as a designer. Please don’t ask me what’s “viable”; ask me to create the Minimum “Badass” Product. Focus on user empathy at #1, and how our process fits into that at #2. That doesn’t mean it has to take 3 years to create. But it is how the user is going to look at your product. We can’t expect the user to care about our process, or what saves us money. They only know what’s put in front of them and whether or not they enjoy it.
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I believe the biggest challenge with releasing a mobile app (or a mobile version of the product) is to get noticed by the target audience. Since the mobile market is overwhelmed with tons of mobile apps, having a mobile product which helps solve frequent problems will enusre better results.
I also think that startup companies take too much time to release the first version of their mobile product and spend most of their funding on making it perfect. Once they get to the second version of the product, they simply run out of money.
I so often see mobile products get pushed out into the marketplace with such terrible UX design work that it’s clear the team and/or company did not consider it to be a big enough value to invest in.
Too often UX design is seen as an afterthought or something pushed onto a development team that, despite their best intentions, has not been trained for UX design. This is at the corporate level as well where often development staff outnumber design staff 100 to 1, creating an environment where designers have to face an uphill battle of budgets, time constraints, and even condescension to get their work into the end product.
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There is certainly a core set of skills a UX Designer should have from User Research to Visual Design. But, there are some important skills that seem to be left out of many job descriptions that should reflect what’s in a UX Designer’s bag of tricks. Sure, having technical skills like front-end development and understanding engineering limitations is a big seller but I find business skills are becoming much more essential in this emerging market.
Business skills such as project management, writing and communication skills compliment any UX Designer and can develop that logical, data driven UXer into a confident leader and entrepreneur.
Being familiar with project management is a great way to understand budgets and timelines while keeping the team aligned and on point.
Writing & communication gives you a skill set that not a lot of designers may particularly think about. Understanding how to write PRDs (Product Requirement Document), getting involved in SEO, and marketing initiatives are very powerful especially within the walls of a growing startup.
A user experience architect is similar to a waiter.
If the job is done right, you hardly notice the person behind the service at all and [most] all of your needs have been met. If there's one part of UX that does often go unnoticed it's the amount of ongoing research that goes into our decisions, particularly within the scope of defining the interactions. There are conventions but there's always the conversation of when and/or how to tweak/push those conventions to achieve the desired effect or experience. It can be as delicate as comedic timing, and just as important to pulling it off well.
I think there's a lot of focus on MVPs these days. People often take that to mean ship something quickly and hope it sticks with enough people to gain traction. That speed, however, may come at the expense of a minimum viable experience. That's backwards.
Start with the right questions and validate both your problem and your solution. If you know your problem, and your users, that's a great start.
Because so many poor decisions are made when it comes to defining a proper MVP, a UX resource should really understand how business works. After all, the design and UX decisions they make can really impact the future of the business. Design is no longer a layer of gloss at the end, it's the core differentiator. With great power, comes great responsibility. Designers are not allowed to take a pass on their business acumen anymore.
The concept of UX is the most difficult to explain to a consumer, although, if you did the job correctly, you've achieved your goal, right?
UX professionals have the difficult task of understanding what the user needs. It's difficult to ask what customers want because more often than not most users are not in tune with the actual product shortfalls and communicate conflicting request regarding what is best suited for them.
Defining the problem on a larger level, dissecting it, and making subtle but crucial changes can make all the difference in the world. For example, customers are abandoning carts, but why? Maybe they are distracted, confused, the checkout process isn’t clear, or the checkout or process order button just isn’t in the spot they expected it to be.
UX professionals spend a lot of time trying to understand the most basic issues users are having and how to make products more intuitive. There is a lot of hard work, interviews, trials, and errors that go into making websites and applications easy for people to use.
What goes unnoticed is the dedication and effort that user experience architects must put into building a mobile product.
When we use products, we use them without thinking; they're just a part of our everyday lives. We tap or click on a couple of screens, get the information we need, and move on with our daily lives. If you actually stopped and looked into how these products are built you would be shocked at how much research, time, and effort goes into making them.
Take Spotify’s App for example. It’s a great app to use. We use it to listen to music but if you think about what went into building it, the way it operates and flows, it’s a lot more complex than people think. The UX Designers had to think of many different scenarios to make the app work. For example, how many album covers will we see before they go off screen? What is the size of those album covers? How would this differ in iPhone 6 vs 6S or Samsung Galaxy S6/7? When filtering search results how many suggestions should come up before the list goes behind the automated keyboard that pops up? How many character will be the max before we need to eclipses them?
There are many details a UX Designer has to figure out to make sure everything works. So the next time you open Spotify on your phone or any app look at it from a UX Design standpoint. Look at every screen and think about the thought process of how it was built.
A lot of product companies are just blindfolded replicating their web features on mobile and that's totally wrong. I would say your product strategy should be very different from the web as the behavior of your users for the same product is very different on a mobile platform.
Understand user needs and give a tailored plus personal experience. Mobile app products should be intelligent enough to understand user needs and show them the right features at the right time.
It needs to do so through simplified experiences and interactions, allowing users to complete a task in the least amount of time and steps possible; it has to provide the user with a clean and intuitive design.
I believe the hardest part of UX, often going unnoticed, is the deep understanding of processes or experiences and their translation into a living, breathing digital product. Typically, these processes or experiences are outlined during research phases and can be derived from a variety of artifacts such as user flows, journey maps, or service blueprints.
These artifacts allow us to articulate when and where specific information should be available to the user in order to allow them to accomplish the task at hand, as well as identify areas of an experience where a user might actually step away from the digital product.
After all, UX is more than just the interaction with a digital product; it is the combination of analog and digital experiences working together which creates the full customer experience.
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A UX designer should be a great communicator at all levels; not just when selling a design concept but also with all people in general, including developers, product managers, and consumers.
Furthermore, a UX designer has to be a good listener and facilitator. He or she has to be able to facilitate constructive discussions because design is ALL about empathy and feedback.
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User Experience professionals who are really good at their job usually succeed at making their design invisible. If you do your job absolutely correctly, no one should care. Chances are, if something is noticeable or flashy, you're actually getting in your users way.
User experience architects also need to narrow down on the actual feature they are building. A well-built, focused feature is worth far more than a lot of substandard features. When building each feature, the UXA needs to have empathy for the user. Without that, the most beautiful design is absolutely useless.
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A significant amount of my time is spent explaining what UX is and convincing people that their company, project, or group can benefit from a UX practice. UX designers are constantly collaborating with people who don’t agree with them, who don’t understand what a UX discipline is, and who don’t understand why you’re on the team.
And many people assume that hiring one or two UX design “experts” means they won’t need to “waste” additional time on additional research, analytics, design, or testing.
Almost every decision a UX designer makes results in a design, development, cost, or scope compromise. Often, UX designers are seen as people who can only give ambiguous answers to questions and keep reminding everyone that there’s always room for improvement. A UX designer needs a strong backbone and a thick skin.
Brian J. Crowley
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Good UX means that we spend as much time as possible talking with our users, learning from them, getting our prototypes in front of them, and trying to fail as fast and often as possible for us to learn.
You have to use the data to make the experience better for the users because you've talked to them and you need to know what a pain the process was or what a delight you can create for them.
Too many companies are chasing trends without testing their hypotheses first. Too many startups are thinking, hey, it’s just "Twitter for Dogs!", and don't properly vet their ideas with any users or figure out who the product is for. I worked at a startup many years ago as Graphic Designer and they would put things out before really thinking about who the audience was or using the available data... they would instead just chase what was hot at the moment. By the time we would go to production the shine had already worn off.
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We all know that Enterprise App projects are governed by a number of factors. Companies look first at their budget and timelines for a project. Then they establish their hard rollout plan and date for a production release. Finally, they look at the available resources that can implement the project.
UX testing usually gets a lower priority in the development consideration and if the enterprise has not embraced a UX first approach that results in a lower priority ranking. The lower the priority the higher chance testing will be reduced or cut. It would be an interesting exercise to see how many enterprises utilize testing in the UX design process and how many utilize persona building, card sorting, and journey mapping followed with wireframes and prototypes.
Over the last 20 years, a significant shift has been happening behind the scenes of American companies.
From the “webmaster” that took care of everything in the late 1990s to the various roles in online/mobile business units today we have come a long way from the mental model of one person wearing many hats.
With time, certain roles have become more cemented than others.
Take backend vs frontend developers for example:
Most companies define these roles clearly, and expectations of who does what are rarely up for debate.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have user experience architects.
As we learned from these 17 world class User Experience Architects, UXAs wrestle daily with internal stakeholders who don't understand the value of UX, or fight to ensure that users get the most seamless experience possible.
Others struggle with giving user testing, persona building, usability testing the attention, and prioritization the techniques required to make a remarkable product. And others need to fight to ensure that a Minimum Viable User Experience is built.
In this article, UX experts provided great insights into a wide variety of topics:
- The skills UXAs should have;
- How UXAs should go about building a user experience;
- How bad experiences reach the market despite best intentions;
- The challenges UXAs face to create the best experience;
- How to deal with difficult stakeholders.
What will your company do to ensure your User Experience Architects can provide the best user experience that will surprise and delight customers all over the world?