02 Nov User Experience Design – The User’s Perspective
“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks.
But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.” Steve Jobs
When I started practicing, UX designers frequently had to explain what it is they actually do. The common understanding was that engineers wrote the code, and then we, as designers, had to “prettify” their output and make it look presentable. Thankfully, this has changed as the industry matured, and today many startup companies recruit UX designers very early on.
What is User Experience Design?
In a nutshell, UXD is about making sure that people using a product or service (AKA “Users”) find it usable, useful, effective and pleasurable.
In recent years, UXD has become a core practice in software and tech companies of any size, as they came to realize that great products are not necessarily about “what we can deliver” but about “what will satisfy and delight our users”.
Big organizations have UXD teams that include:
- UXD researchers
- Usability experts
- Interaction designers
- Information architects
- Visual designers
- Front end engineers
In smaller companies, oftentimes a single person is responsible for all these areas of expertise, working hands-on and overseeing contractors.
User experience has to do with every aspect of user interaction with a system, service or product. Starting from big ticket items such as the flows in which users carry out tasks, the application navigation scheme, the information architecture (the disparate areas of the application and the relations between them), the categorization, hierarchy and grouping of elements, on to the user interface and down to the finer details such as the precise behavior of each interactive element, the wording of each label and title, the clarity of each error message. All these combined have a huge impact on how the product is perceived and how well it is used.
In the design process of Fortscale 2.7, we put a lot of thought and study into the way our users actually work, what they need to achieve in their daily tasks, what could help them and what should be deprioritized. We put a lot of effort into making our product aligned with analyst’s needs. We strive to make the experience of using the product smooth, intuitive, efficient, and fun. In a recent post, our CEO, Idan Tendler wrote about our system showing conclusions rather than alerts – which stems directly from the product team goals for this release. We wanted to better answer the analysts need for a clear, effective view of the organization insider threats. To have the right information when and where they need it, to provide supporting information in the right context, and let them take the right action quickly and efficiently.
There are important questions the product design team needs to answer before actually designing user flows, screens and widgets.
- What are the goals of our end-user, the analyst?
- What is she trying to achieve by using the product?
- How do these interplay with her other daily tasks?
With every new product release there are some inherent tensions, which the product team and the UX designer need to navigate. One is innovation vs. familiarity; think about iPhone 7 and the popular outrage about its “missing” headphone port. Things are not much different for software products – existing users are accustomed to certain ways the product behave, and may be annoyed when they find these have changed. However, there would be no progress if we all just stick with what we know.
To meet these requirements, we established the importance of the user as the central concern of the analyst. We introduced a user profile screen, along with a risk score – and integrated the alert investigation within the profile screen.
The new profile page lets the analyst get an instant snapshot of a particular user’s activities, and determine if this user presents a potential security risk.
“We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” (Talmud)
The first thing you learn as a UX practitioner, is that what seems obvious and natural to some may not be so to others.
Let’s look at this example:
In what order would you read these names?
Some people would read this list view top to bottom and then to the next column (Option A), others would read it left-to-right and then down a row (Option B).
My job is to find a solution that would satisfy most users, most of the time.
The second thing you learn is that you must be empathic to the users’ perception, and constantly tame the natural tendency towards what you think is right, and accept that it is not necessarily right for all. When people ask me what I do, I often say that my job is to be the ambassador of the end-user in the product development process. All of us tend judge things based on our own experience; but UX designers, much like researchers and scientists, have to minimize this tendency and instead put themselves in the users’ shoes. In order to find the best way in which to present a tabular component in the redesigned overview screen, we ran a quick user test that helped us determine how most people would read it. (the answer was Option A)
While design is considered a “soft” skill, there are hard evidence about its effect on people.
Research shows that design led companies outperform the market and their peers by 200%. This is not because people better like “pretty things”, but because the core culture of these companies is about satisfying the customer real needs. Amazon has “Customer experience obsession” set in stone in its core values, Airbnb was founded by designers and IBM went through a design revolution in 2012, recruited thousands of designers since, and had more than 100,000 engineers go through design workshops, all this to change the culture towards a “users first” approach.
Sometimes a seemingly small thing like a different terminology for the same function may greatly affect the use and usability of a feature. In a previous release we introduced a feedback feature that we thought would really help analysts to process alerts and maintain an efficient work flow.
After investigating an alert, the analyst had the option to close it, and “Accept” or “Reject” it. In the following months the product team have noticed that this feature had been underutilized. Upon further inquiries we discovered that the reason was that analysts did not fully understand what these actions actually meant, and thus refrained from using it. We went through a number of labeling iterations and eventually decided on the labels “Actual Risk” and “Not a Risk”, which tested as simple and accurate. Along with a clear call for action (“Mark this alert as”) and with a better, more familiar icon, this feature is now primed for a much wider use.
At its heart, design is about problem solving. These are just a few examples of the various types of problems that I enjoy tackling. In the next posts in this series I’ll write about other elements of user experience and how they apply to Fortscale – the use of feedback, metaphors, animations, and data visualization.