The Real Value of User-Centric Design

While the awareness of user experience has increased dramatically in recent years, there are still some misconceptions regarding the value and how to best integrate the insights of this discipline into your product development efforts. Some organizations are even hesitant to implement a robust user experience program due to a misunderstanding or lack of experience with a user experience design process (1). But companies can no longer afford to ignore the impact that this discipline has had across industries.

In this article we’ll focus on how to understand the true benefit of user experience (UX) and user-centric design, as well as how to extract the best value from UX techniques at various stages in your product life cycle.

by The TandemSeven Experts

Creating Better Products & Services

First let’s define what we mean by “user experience” in an applied context. Above all, an effective UX program is about integrating insights and feedback into the creation of a product or service from people that will actually (or hopefully) use it. At TandemSeven, we focus primarily in the digital space, but this approach applies to physical and blended spaces as well. So we start with the principle that involving users in your process ultimately produces a better product by understanding their needs and helping them achieve their goals. Then, we include a set of tools and techniques that are more than just design skills. They are a broad range of interview and research methods, collaborative workshop and ideation exercises (e.g., design thinking), design process, usability testing, and many other activities that can effectively utilize user input at the right time in your process to have a significant impact.

Experience Design is Inseparable from Product Design

Some still see UX as something you can tack on by asking users what they “like” or getting (and usually ignoring) feedback extremely late in product development. In truth, it can be integrated in a variety of ways to every step in the product lifecycle, providing significant value for the overall customer experience (2). It can be a source of new insights for breakthrough innovation, a process for validating key decisions along the way, as well as a means of monitoring success in the field to enable continuous improvement. How you draw value from this approach will depend on how well you align these efforts with your specific goals and culture.

Supporting Business Goals and Defining Success

General estimates on the ROI of user experience are everywhere. While these numbers can be very attractive, they vary wildly and don’t provide an accurate understanding of value. UX contribution can’t be calculated in a vacuum. User insights must be prioritized according to business goals and strategy and aligned with current roadmap. Real value is only gained when you are able to balance corporate goals with user needs in an effort to optimize each.

You want online sales to improve? Make sure customers can find the items they want to purchase and understand your check out process. You want to save money on your call centers? Optimize the task flow for your call center associates, saving them clicks and precious seconds per call that add up to millions of dollars in savings. You want to maintain the best and brightest staff? Understand their day to day work challenges and build them systems that solve problems they didn’t even know they had.

Identifying Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Once you understand which user needs must be supported to meet your business goals, there are a variety of ways to measure the impact on your product development.  Many different metrics can serve as key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success:

  • Productivity
  • Customer acquisition
  • Decreased training costs
  • Decreased support costs
  • Less engineering rework
  • Customer/employee satisfaction
  • Higher retention rates
  • Better employee performance
  • Increased sales
  • Customer loyalty

User experience provides a framework for understanding the needs of your end users and how to solve their problems.  In turn, defining user-centric KPIs will connect product success to actual value for your customers.

Changed Business Climate

In many industries, the shift to a more user-centric design culture and process has already taken place. Increasingly, companies are building design capacity by creating internal teams from the ground up or acquiring established firms. Since 2004, 71 design firms were acquired with over 50% of those acquisitions happening since 2015 [3]. This change isn’t limited to companies. All top 10 business schools have design clubs led by students [4]. Building flexible, creative problem solving skills and the ability to empathize with the challenges of your customer base has been recognized as a spark for true innovation.

And don’t think that this is limited to high tech, cutting edge industries. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Innovation has been using UX artifacts like personas and customer journey maps. Visualizing the emotional highs and lows of veterans’ experience with the VA allowed them to better communicate these experiences throughout the organization and drive strategic decision making [5]. Gaining a deep understanding of the experiences of actual veterans engaged with VA services provided the perspective they needed to think about effective solutions.

For companies that have made this change, the benefits are clear. In a 2015 study conducted by the Design Management Institute, a Boston-based non profit, a portfolio based on 16 publicly traded companies that were determined to be “design-centric” showed a 211% return over the S&P 500, marking the 3rd consecutive year showing returns over 200% [6]. At the end of the day, all key challenges faced by any product or service converge on the experience of the user. Understanding that experience creates opportunities for more effective problem solving, reducing risk and increasing the probability of success.

When, How, and Why?

There are more variations on product development lifecycles and design process than I can count. But essentially, they all follow three basic phases:

Research and Ideation

Early concept work when product teams are trying to figure out what needs to be created or refined

Implementation

Design and development of the actual product or platform (using whatever process you like)

Release

Gathering insight for continuous improvement once a product has been released

Using this framework, follow up posts will focus on how to get the most out of UX techniques and process for each key stage.

References

  1. Prentice, Valdes, & Revang. (2016). Cognitive Biases That Keep UX Design Out of the Enterprise (G00293315). Stamford, CT: Gartner Inc.
  2. Phifer & Valdes. (2016). How User Experience Can Make or Break Your Customer Experience (G00272664). Stamford, CT: Gartner, Inc.
  3. Maeda, J. (2017). Design in Tech Report 2017.   Retrieved from: https://designintechreport.wordpress.com/
  4. Maeda, J. (Design Partner) (2016, June 21). Is Business School the New Design School? [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from: http://www.kpcb.com/blog/is-business-school-the-new-design-school
  5. Toward a Veteran-Centered VA: Piloting Tools of Human-Centered Design for America’s Vets. (2014, July).

While the awareness of user experience has increased dramatically in recent years, there are still some misconceptions regarding the value and how to best integrate the insights of this discipline into your product development efforts. Some organizations are even hesitant to implement a robust user experience program due to a misunderstanding or lack of experience with a user experience design process (1). But companies can no longer afford to ignore the impact that this discipline has had across industries.

In this article we’ll focus on how to understand the true benefit of user experience (UX) and user-centric design, as well as how to extract the best value from UX techniques at various stages in your product lifecycle.

by The TandemSeven Experts

Creating Better Products & Services

First let’s define what we mean by “user experience” in an applied context. Above all, an effective UX program is about integrating insights and feedback into the creation of a product or service from people that will actually (or hopefully) use it. At TandemSeven, we focus primarily in the digital space, but this approach applies to physical and blended spaces as well. So we start with the principle that involving users in your process ultimately produces a better product by understanding their needs and helping them achieve their goals. Then, we include a set of tools and techniques that are more than just design skills. They are a broad range of interview and research methods, collaborative workshop and ideation exercises (e.g., design thinking), design process, usability testing, and many other activities that can effectively utilize user input at the right time in your process to have a significant impact.

Experience Design is Inseparable from Product Design

Some still see UX as something you can tack on by asking users what they “like” or getting (and usually ignoring) feedback extremely late in product development. In truth, it can be integrated in a variety of ways to every step in the product lifecycle, providing significant value for the overall customer experience (2). It can be a source of new insights for breakthrough innovation, a process for validating key decisions along the way, as well as a means of monitoring success in the field to enable continuous improvement. How you draw value from this approach will depend on how well you align these efforts with your specific goals and culture.

Supporting Business Goals and Defining Success

General estimates on the ROI of user experience are everywhere. While these numbers can be very attractive, they vary wildly and don’t provide an accurate understanding of value. UX contribution can’t be calculated in a vacuum. User insights must be prioritized according to business goals and strategy and aligned with current roadmap. Real value is only gained when you are able to balance corporate goals with user needs in an effort to optimize each.

You want online sales to improve? Make sure customers can find the items they want to purchase and understand your check out process. You want to save money on your call centers? Optimize the task flow for your call center associates, saving them clicks and precious seconds per call that add up to millions of dollars in savings. You want to maintain the best and brightest staff? Understand their day to day work challenges and build them systems that solve problems they didn’t even know they had.

Identifying Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Once you understand which user needs must be supported to meet your business goals, there are a variety of ways to measure the impact on your product development.  Many different metrics can serve as key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success:

  • Productivity
  • Customer acquisition
  • Decreased training costs
  • Decreased support costs
  • Less engineering rework
  • Customer/employee satisfaction
  • Higher retention rates
  • Better employee performance
  • Increased sales
  • Customer loyalty

User experience provides a framework for understanding the needs of your end users and how to solve their problems.  In turn, defining user-centric KPIs will connect product success to actual value for your customers.

Changed Business Climate

In many industries, the shift to a more user-centric design culture and process has already taken place. Increasingly, companies are building design capacity by creating internal teams from the ground up or acquiring established firms. Since 2004, 71 design firms were acquired with over 50% of those acquisitions happening since 2015 [3]. This change isn’t limited to companies. All top 10 business schools have design clubs led by students [4]. Building flexible, creative problem solving skills and the ability to empathize with the challenges of your customer base has been recognized as a spark for true innovation.

And don’t think that this is limited to high tech, cutting edge industries. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Innovation has been using UX artifacts like personas and customer journey maps. Visualizing the emotional highs and lows of veterans’ experience with the VA allowed them to better communicate these experiences throughout the organization and drive strategic decision making [5]. Gaining a deep understanding of the experiences of actual veterans engaged with VA services provided the perspective they needed to think about effective solutions.

For companies that have made this change, the benefits are clear. In a 2015 study conducted by the Design Management Institute, a Boston-based non profit, a portfolio based on 16 publicly traded companies that were determined to be “design-centric” showed a 211% return over the S&P 500, marking the 3rd consecutive year showing returns over 200% [6]. At the end of the day, all key challenges faced by any product or service converge on the experience of the user. Understanding that experience creates opportunities for more effective problem solving, reducing risk and increasing the probability of success.

When, How, and Why?

There are more variations on product development lifecycles and design process than I can count. But essentially, they all follow three basic phases:

Research and Ideation

Early concept work when product teams are trying to figure out what needs to be created or refined

Implementation

Design and development of the actual product or platform (using whatever process you like)

Release

Gathering insight for continuous improvement once a product has been released

Using this framework, follow up posts will focus on how to get the most out of UX techniques and process for each key stage.

References

  1. Prentice, Valdes, & Revang. (2016). Cognitive Biases That Keep UX Design Out of the Enterprise (G00293315). Stamford, CT: Gartner Inc.
  2. Phifer & Valdes. (2016). How User Experience Can Make or Break Your Customer Experience (G00272664). Stamford, CT: Gartner, Inc.
  3. Maeda, J. (2017). Design in Tech Report 2017.   Retrieved from: https://designintechreport.wordpress.com/
  4. Maeda, J. (Design Partner) (2016, June 21). Is Business School the New Design School? [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from: http://www.kpcb.com/blog/is-business-school-the-new-design-school
  5. Toward a Veteran-Centered VA: Piloting Tools of Human-Centered Design for America’s Vets. (2014, July).
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2017-10-19T16:47:49+00:00