What To Learn
Most businesses — especially small companies and startups — can’t afford to hire a dedicated UX designer, but that shouldn’t stop them from adopting some UX techniques. Trust me, it’s much easier than you think. I like to divide the techniques into two main categories: learning about the website or application, users needs, business goals, the industry and the competition, and generating ideas, solutions and communication artifacts that will help to align the team and shape the product.
What To Generate
Everyone wants to see the results immediately. Taking urgency into account, how do you decide which technique to use? There’s no definitive answer, but in my experience, usability testing, interviews, journey mapping and microcopy tables are all very effective for quick and dirty experience improvements. I’ve chosen these particular four because they don’t require you to create polished artifacts. Use them to improve the user experience, not to create unrealistically perfect candy for your portfolio.
Start With Empathy
The most important skill one needs to develop as a user experience designer is empathy. Empathy, however, cannot be practiced behind closed doors. To truly understand users, their challenges, their pain points as well as their dreams and desires, you need to go out and learn about them. Observe them while they live their lives, discover their habits and watch them use your design.
With redesigns, knowing what’s wrong with the old design is helpful. Secondly — and people rarely do this — test the competition. Create an equivalent set of tasks for a competing website or application and test it. Running a usability test on the competition’s product will reveal a lot of opportunities to delight users and seize competitive advantages. Just by avoiding the errors discovered there, you will automatically provide a much better UX.
Transitional tests are usually done with prototypes. Have a fresh pair of eyes look at your concept and make sure you haven’t overlooked something. Expect this to be not the final confirmation, but rather a prevention of the kind of forehead-slappers that usually slip by if only insiders with domain-specific knowledge are involved. If you have the time and budget, conduct these at each major turn. These are the most important and the least used tests.
The most commonly requested yet least effective are preflight usability checks. A pre-flight evaluation is effective if the main concept is already tested and proven. Test the design before going live to reveal the last few bugs or typos that might have been overlooked. If this is the first test on the project, it will probably reveal deeper issues. Much deeper than an easy to fix button miss-alignment or a typo. We’ve conducted quite a few preflight usability studies and many times we discovered a core problem. On one occasion, the registration steps hadn’t been ordered in a sequence that had been logical to the user. On another, the touch-screen equivalent to drag ‘n’ drop with a mouse was missing. Fixing a broken experience that’s discovered only a day or two before launch is usually postponed until the next release. Many more times still, there’s no clear roadmap after the project delivery, so the issue is never repaired. The solution? Test your designs early.