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Why deep awareness is vital to UX success

A famous quote by designer Robert Fabricant is precisely where we need to begin: ‘Behaviour is the medium of design.’ Design can only be effective if we listen to what our users are trying to achieve. Creating a deep awareness and understanding of customers and users requires marrying qualitative research with quantitative data.

The data provides the ‘what’ and the human research provides the ‘why’. Balancing and understanding these things helps to distill the correct discoveries from our research. Without this important step it’s all too easy to draw the wrong conclusions.

In one example, an e-commerce store found that, according to their quant data, many people were dropping out before making a purchase. The company inferred that this must be due to a perceived issue with security and the entering of credit card details. Subsequently, they spent a fortune on upgrading their security, but sales did not improve.

Eventually they got a UX professional in to actually observe real humans using their website. From this they discovered that the lack of information about delivery costs before checkout was stopping the purchase because people didn’t know what the total costs would be.

The company made a quick and cheap decision to inform customers about delivery costs earlier – which were free anyway – and, low and behold, sales increased exponentially.

The business could have saved a lot of money if they had simply interviewed users as soon as they detected an issue. They had the data but made the wrong inference.

The moral of the story is not a complex one. The key to UX design research is to get that deep awareness and context, so we understand real behaviour. Bringing the qual and the quant together enables that awareness.

Challenges in UX design research

1. Getting regular access to your users

One of the key challenges in obtaining data is simply getting access in the first place. Some companies still don’t like listening to their users. They claim they’re ‘customer centric’ but they clearly aren’t. When asked, ‘When was the last time you spoke to your users?’ they may respond ‘six months ago.’ I advocate regular contact – at least every two weeks we should test something; whether it is a concept, wireframe, or an early prototype, through to existing products and services. We should constantly validate what we’re delivering so we know our inferences are accurate.

2. Understanding if a metric is actually “bad”

Applying the correct analytics is super important. You can get analytics out of the box’ such as a bounce page number, or time-on-page data. These metrics sound sexy and informative, but without deep awareness we don’t know what they mean or even if they represent a problem. A high bounce rate might be a good thing if it means people are finding what they need quickly – this is a win. But in a presentation, it looks negative: ‘our time on page is low.’ That’s why we need the deep awareness of what the user is trying to achieve.

3. Lack of understanding of UX

UX has exploded over the past 20 years. Previously it was just called ‘web design’, ‘information architecture’ or ‘content strategy’. It’s only in the last few years that it’s all been put under the umbrella of UX, which is both good and bad. Some companies still don’t understand it. They think it’s ‘you make our buttons looks pretty’. My response is ‘why a button?’

We are starting to see more companies put design at the core of their brand. This means they weave design principles into everything they do — from research and strategy to creating content. It is evident that the leadership and management at these companies think beyond transactions and focus on creating experiences that build lasting and meaningful relationships with customers.

Design-led companies such as Apple and Netflix are driving change and putting design front and centre. Airbnb was founded by two designers and the result is a service that completely understands their users.

Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services said: ‘There’s no longer any real distinction between business strategy and the design of the user experience.’

So, get out of the building; talk to people, make discoveries, connect with your users, and harness these discoveries to find sense in the data. Feeding this information back into the product cycle is critical if you want to be an organisation that gets results.

Author: Mat Rutherford, UX Lead, Pureprofile

This article also appears in the February – April 2020 edition of AMSRS publication, Research News – CX, UX & Research Design. Check out the rest of the articles in this edition.

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