Avoiding Annoyance: Catching User Experience Problems Early

Difficulties that arise with the user experience (UX) of products frequently occur because developers fail to eliminate potential problems on the front end of the process. Instead of making a rushed attempt to correct a product failure after the fact—a practice that is costly in multiple ways—it makes much more sense to take pre-emptive steps before the product is launched.

It all begins with design

Testing for dependable UX usability begins with the design. If the product is new, code should be based on research that can yield critical insights into the real-world UX needs of the customer. If the product needs to be remade in some fashion, it’s imperative to evaluate the UX purpose and function so that you understand the goals of the redesign and what it’s intended to achieve.

The testing should begin in the rough design stages, in other words, early and often. Some designers wait until they have a high-fidelity design and then test it on a lot of people. But that wastes time and energy on unproven design ideas that might not be what the user needs.

But pre-release testing must include development as well as design, because that’s what ensures that the product can meet the customer’s needs.

Changing counterproductive mindsets

Unfortunately, there’s a flawed mindset that exists among some UX product makers that interferes with truly customer-centric design: they tend to blame the user for the flaws in the product or system. But that can be a copout that passes off design flaws as user errors.

It’s far better to design the product after taking into consideration factors such as the user’s work environment, tasks and behaviors, and the context in which the work occurs. Doing that requires the designer to talk with users and appreciate the user’s point of view. For starters, you can ask their tech support reps to tell you what their most pressing customer service issues are, because addressing user issues will likely take care of most design and functional flaws.

But don’t stop there: talk to a variety of different users with the customer, such as product managers and developers, so that you obtain as much input as possible. Then, look at how your users interact with your product when they first begin working with it.

Be sensitive to how, and if, they’re having trouble, or are upset, frustrated or confused by their experience. Read between the lines, too, so that you know what user is really saying about their experience.

There’s another mindset problem that UX pros must avoid, too, because it can lead to flawed testing results: designers, developers and UX researchers assume that people who will use their interfaces think and act like them and draw the same conclusions about those interfaces. That’s why it’s so important to test the interfaces with real users and not just colleagues, and test across a spectrum of users and experiential situations.

Understand that the most important thing about designing an interface that isn’t flawed from the start is making it user-friendly with a vengeance. The best user interfaces provide the user with simple, easy-to-understand tools and prioritize that kind of comfort over dazzling visual design that may be beautiful but isn’t comprehendible.

Ultimately, the testing that works best to uncover flaws in the making takes the fallible user out into the field, in their real-world scenarios instead of depending upon experts working in a controlled laboratory-like setting. Real users will be operating UX products on different devices, while they’re distracted, multi-tasking and on the go. So their interactions and challenges won’t be the same for the experts who test the products with their own team in their own building.

Making tests manageable in size and cost

It may seem like the testing process must be daunting in scope and expense. Actually, even simple, informal testing can yield major benefits over doing nothing at all, because if it exposes just one big product design flaw, it immediately recoups the ROI for testing.

Aside from that, there are inexpensive ways to do usability testing, particularly for UX teams operating on a digital basis. Some affordable programs allow testers to use surveys or questionnaires to capture opinions from current site visitors. For a manageable cost, Usability Hub lets you obtain quick first impressions and do preference and navigation tests.

Nor is it necessary to test scores of users to detect trouble spots. UX research and design consultant Nielsen Norman Group has determined that, in most cases, testing no more than five users is sufficient to identify user issues because, by then, the big design flaws start repeating themselves—and that they’ll promptly show up after testing just three users.

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