Tom Jepson Creative

Don’t Fall Through The UX Cracks


‘Outstanding UX’ is no longer a USP for digital products. Putting user experience first is paramount in delivering value for your customers and for your business. Knowing the right problem to solve before you begin can unlock opportunities in your product that could save you time and money later.

The Value of User Experience

We are at the beginning of a new decade of technology, design, and user-centric services. With user experience expectations being higher than ever with the likes of AirBnb, Apple, and GOV.UK paving the way and redefining great UX, the opportunity for collective success is high. However, there are always chances to trip ourselves up and ‘fall through the cracks’.

As the description of the interactions someone has with your product - an app on their phone, your business’ website, or an in-person service - user experience design has value in any arena. It acknowledges that people are going to be requiring something from ‘the thing you provide’ and expect said thing to meet those requirements in a particular way. It is the definition of creating value, especially when driven by a clear vision and focussed strategy.

I’d like to think that saying ‘designing for users first is important’ is a done thing; it is no longer a revelation which should surprise us. Anyone working in the digital space will know that user-centric design and representing the needs and requirements of our users is paramount to a product’s success.

Where does My business sit?

Many businesses will fall into one of a small number of boxes when it comes to product or service design. There aren’t so many stages in a design process that we can’t align ourselves with one of these categories.

“You’re starting with business needs and a desire to create a new product or service.”

You are starting out and have a great idea which, on the surface, has value; you might be a new startup, an entrepreneur, or a division of a larger company making a new offering under the brand. There is a niche in the market and you’re confident that you can bridge a gap with your new product. You might not have researched very deeply into their target audience outside of identifying them along with the market niche.

Gut feel can get you so far down the road. You want to hit the ground running and ‘ship something’ as quickly as you can, learning as you go.

A business taking this approach might find challenges once they start developing and marketing their product, not basing the solution in real-world user insight; the design has been made on spec. There is almost certainly going to be a cost-to-change once you start to gather feedback, although that cost might not have been accounted for in the original plans.

“You’re starting with an idea and shaping it into something saleable based on user insight.”

From the starting blocks you’re considering your users; you’re starting out but want to bring your potential audience with you on the journey. You’ve consulted them and are listening, fervently, to what they have to tell you.

Understanding that your audience needs might shape your product, businesses in this position might not be so wedded to an original idea that it can’t be flexed or pivoted based on some feedback and research; solving the right problem is better than solving a problem full stop.

For a business approaching their product in this way, translating what the audience is telling you into something actionable can be hard. You’ll likely be getting a lot of feedback, most of which probably isn’t very helpful. User’s mental models preclude them from thinking entirely about your idea; they project things that they already know. I’m sure you will have heard ‘It’s like that feature on…’ more than once.

“You're reshaping something existing, acknowledging that it wasn’t quite on the money from the beginning.”

This is more common than you might think. Sometimes, we just have to move on a product to avoid missing the boat; there’ll be errors and compromises which might feel a little embarrassing. Not to worry, though. Your users have started to voice their concerns and frustrations giving you information to work with; you can take it and start to affect changes to make your product a best-in-class solution. You can start to bring in some of those features you skipped in your first release. You’ve bought yourself a little time, budget and runway to get it less wrong* than you did the first time wrong.

*Less wrong because there is no concrete right in product design.

“You really want to address some of the UX challenges you’ve got but haven’t the time or money”

Anyone working in a production environment at a fast-moving company will know that the real-world considerations for bringing UX into the process from the beginning can be lacklustre especially if you’re on a budget, out of time, or don’t have the resource in-house already.

The needs of the business and budget can often outweigh the ‘right’ of the process and force decisions down a less-than-ideal path. The fear of teams sitting idle - a costly consideration - can be a contributor to this, too.

Each of these scenarios has commonalities: needing to move quickly, the desire to make things, to hang on to ‘the idea’. Time, budget, and skill resources have a huge impact. In any doomsday product scenario, we’d be looking at a sea of terribly designed, business-first products that served no purpose and made no money!

It doesn’t have to be like this; it isn’t all doom and gloom.

How do I Avoid Falling Down The UX Cracks?

Let’s look at a few ways you can set yourself up for success, potentially saving a lot of heartache, time, and money along the way.

“Do you really know what problems you’re solving?”

This is one of the most valuable questions you should be asking yourself at any point in a project. Knowing the real problem you need to be solving holds the key to understanding the people you’re designing for (both business and customer), sets the direction for your thinking, and holds a direct relevance to the amount of value - both in the marketplace and financially - that your resulting product or service will have.

If you’re worried about teams sitting idle, involve them during the design process or, better, in some of the strategic conversations. Solutions-thinkers (such as developers) can be really valuable when you’re starting to shape a problem to be solved.

There are simple, effective ways - such as a Lightning Decision Jam or a Strategy Sprint - to help identify your problem space and frame the challenge in a way that is going to deliver value.

“Are you really going to have time to fix the mistakes you’re making now? How are you going to support this after-the-fact work?”

Another important question to ask. Time is something we never have enough of, especially in larger businesses with slower paces of change; money and budgetary constraints need to be met with qualified reasoning and tangible ROIs if cash has to be spent on fixing things; skilled resources when you need to get someone at short notice are expensive to both time budgets and your bottom line.

Are you able to justify putting off making a little more investment upfront knowing that it could be costly to iterate later?

“Are the features you’re adding really adding value to the business and helping the user achieve their goals?"

Further to identifying the right problem space, have you considered if the solutions you’re putting in place add true value? We can get swept up in trends when we’re looking to create something we believe to be competitive in the marketplace. Just because so-and-so has such-and-such a feature or design treatment does not mean it’s going to work for you.

Think about the solution you’re proposing in terms of its value to your user or customer in achieving their goals, and how that value translates to your business, the retention of customers, and eventually your bottom line.

Is it easy to use? Are errors handled well? Is information ordered in a way that makes sense?

This is the meat on the bones of any product and where practical UX design spends a lot of its time. Usage difficulties are something that can kill a product from the get-go. People have particular mental models of how things should work so if it is ‘too hard to use’ or doesn’t make sense to a user, it is not going to be used and will quickly fall by the wayside.

How your content is structured is crucial; if the most important thing you want someone to do is hidden behind a landing page or drop-down menu, you’re compromising hard on whether or not someone will take that all-important action.

If you’ve launched a product or have specific areas that are not performing well, a UX audit could be considered; it’ll highlight the keys areas where change is required and propose priorities for fixing the things which will bring the most value to your and your customers.

If you’re starting out and designing a new product or service, don’t just copy something you’ve seen. Think about structure and flow; think about the labelling of buttons and actions. Make it easy to use, tolerant of mistakes (because people will use the thing in ways you didn’t expect!), and desirable to return to.

"What opportunities are you missing by not considering the experience of the people using your product?”

Thinking back to business value and your market place, what might you miss if you send something sub-standard into the wild? Imagine sending an unarmed battalion onto the battlefield; a swift end is almost assured.

Your users are real people, behind the email addresses and credit cards stored on your system. By considering them as you look to solve a problem, create solutions, and send your product work into the world you’re telling a story. You’re saying that you care about your product enough to take a little time over it; that you want people to have an optimal experience with you and your brand.

Conversion and retention can only come when a customer is satisfied with what they’re getting. That satisfaction isn’t transactional; you’re making sure the customer gets what they need from the very beginning.

Great UX is no longer a USP; people just expect products to work. Considered user experiences are a way to set yourself up to satisfy your customers, keep them coming back, and deliver real value to them and your business.

If you’d like to identify potential opportunities in your business or product, or would like to run an introductory problem-framing session, let’s talk. Making good on your UX promises doesn’t need to cost the earth or take all the time in the world. Let’s start today!