3 Ways UX Research Can Save Your Site and Your Budget

 

What is the one thing you could do now—before you launch—to save your company time and money in the future? Invest in user experience (UX).

User experience can make or break a brand.

Four years from now, customer experience is predicted to be the one key brand differentiator—overtaking both price and product.* This means UX research has never been a more vital component of your process since its entire objective is to craft an experience that feels uniquely tailored to meet your customers’ needs, while eliminating any bugs or pitfalls and proving or disproving any gut assumptions.

Beyond eliminating issues, UX research can also identify your target audience, then track their journey through your digital environment—analyzing everything from behavior flows and completion rates to social, bounce rates and session timing. Essentially, UX is the one upfront investment you can make now that’s guaranteed to have a healthy return.

Unsure how UX plays into your process? Let’s explore 3 of the many tactics available.

 

ux interviewsIdea #1: Interviews

What’s the best way to understand your audience and their behaviors, values or goals? Ask them! By obtaining early user feedback or answers from real people and analyzing that data to create insights, you can uncover key information to grow any aspect of your business or create meaningful experiences for your customers. This helps you avoid any superfluous decisions, while being guided by the very user base you are trying to connect with. Now, you can’t just take what they say verbatim, (in the words of Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”), but it’s a good start to understanding a variety of things with real people.

One way to better define users and their needs is through the creation of personas. Personas are archetypes built specifically for your product to identify real users’ profiles, needs, wants and expectations in order to design best possible experiences for them. Without identifying the various characteristics of the user groups visiting your site, you cannot hope to design an experience that includes the key elements that each type of user needs. Instead, you will end up creating a website that doesn’t perform well for anyone. One easy step to understanding key characteristics is to ask users questions via a survey. It’s simple, cheap and an effective research method.

But, you never use one method of research in isolation…

 

ux testing imageIdea #2: Testing

Companies who test their sites early on can help uncover experience and functionality problems. This eliminates any interaction assumptions and helps dive deeper into satisfaction ratings and positive net promoter scores. For you, this means getting one step further toward a smooth, bug-free user experience that both the web (as a whole) and your customer base love. It also helps expose real-time user problems, while ensuring your current navigation is getting the job done right.

For example, we were in the development stages of redesigning a healthcare website with over 2,000 pages of content and multiple user personas to design an experience around. Multiple rounds of user testing was built into the design process to ensure what we were creating was useful, meaningful and aligned to user needs before the site was even launched. If you think user testing is expensive, it’s not. What’s expensive is designing a site that no one uses.

 

ux contextual studiesIdea #3: Contextual Studies

Contextual studies conducted in natural environments make it easy to observe and track natural user behaviors and patterns as opposed to conducting studies in labs, isolated from when, where and how the user interacts with your site. One study method we use effectively is the “diary study,” which provides detailed insight into the expectations, mindsets, moods and environments of your users, written by your users.

Picture this: a company that provides products for new mothers is looking to understand how their website could better help mothers in need to care for their baby or themselves. By performing a diary study where mothers would track when they needed help, how they sought help and what types of devices they used during that time in need, the company learned mobile was huge and mothers usually only have one arm to use their device because the other arm was holding their baby. Understanding the context behind their experience, UX was able to create a unique mobile experience that allowed mothers to seamlessly navigate a website and find the information they were seeking with just one hand. Performing this study in a lab would never yield the same results from the diary study. So if you know who your users are, you can pick the right research method to gain the correct data, which will help you better align your site, experience or service with user expectations, and avoid costly navigation or experience issues in the future.

 

The one goal of UX design and research is to better captivate, engage and emotionally connect with users when they are trying to achieve a goal—no matter the time, place or circumstances. By uncovering these otherwise invisible or unproven theories you are able to improve the performance of your site and the satisfaction of your customer base. And when your customer base feels supported and heard, and avoids any negative encounters (think: website crashes, loading issues, payment problems), they not only help you avoid any future costly repairs or tweaks, they become loyal fans and consumers.

Have questions as you help your brand navigate the UX waters? Call Michael Baer at 844.LC.IDEAS.

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*Walker: “Customers 2020: The Future of B-To-B Customer Experience” (2013 Report)

Find Your Purpose.

We were not designed to live a life of monotony. We have always been told that we should spend each day on earth to the fullest, but with the way most of our days seem to blend together with the same chores, meetings, errands, and responsibilities, this concept may seem easier said than done.

The best thing about our industry, workplace, and culture is that every day, we are encouraged to recreate ourselves, share our ideas, showcase our work, and be inventive. We all hold different roles within the agency — planners, strategists, creatives, writers, accountants, analysts, developers, administrators, managers, leaders (The list goes on…) — and have the notion that we’re all here for the same purpose: Work hard, make money, build our reputation, and please our customers. However, I think this might not be entirely true. We all have our own talents, skills, dreams, hopes, aspirations, and individual traits that allow us to stand apart from our colleagues. Each of us has a solitary value that contributes to one common goal as a business.

Now, you may be scratching your head and asking yourself, “What is my purpose?”

Well, here is the simple formula:

What you love to do + What the world needs = Your mission
What the world needs + What you are paid for = Your vocation
What you are paid for + What you are good at = Your profession
What you are good at + What you love to do = Your passion
Your mission + Your vocation + Your profession + Your passion = Your purpose

Your purpose should not be defined by the title on your business card. Your purpose is to foster positive change, no matter the part you play within the agency. If you have an idea, write it down, email it to your manager, collaborate with coworkers. An idea is just an idea until it becomes an action with results. There is an Irish proverb by which I try my best to abide each day: You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind. Seek inspiration from everything and everyone around you, but most importantly, learn to spark your own fire.

Do the math.

Creativity: Unplugged

Once upon a time, human beings existed without spending an average of 8-10 hours a day staring at screens. Behaviorists are learning that clutter is the enemy of cleverness. Sometimes our brains just need a bit of quiet time to sort things out. That’s why our “Aha!” moments usually occur when we’re not in front of a glowing rectangle. That very well might explain the cliché that it’s between rinsing and repeating when the big idea hits. So, I’m thinking, why not take a brief “tech timeout” and explore more opportunities to stay creative sans pixels?

Here’s my baker’s dozen to get started, but feel free to make your own:

  1. Write. With pen and paper. Buy the most durable notebook and longest lasting pen you can find. Bring them with you wherever you go. Jot down ideas, dreams, stories, or things you need to remember.
  2. Get up. Take a small walk around the office every hour or so. Better yet, venture outside. The fresh air and natural surroundings will reenergize your mind and body.
  3. Attend concerts. Fewer things are more invigorating than seeing a live show.
  4. Exercise. No excuses. Just do it.
  5. Drink. Lots. Of. H2O. Coffee is a miraculous pick-me-up, but water is the best thing you can feed your body.
  6. Take a 15-minute power nap to boost your memory, cognitive skills, and energy level.
  7. Strike up a conversation with a stranger: your cab driver, a tenant in the elevator, the person walking next to you on the sidewalk. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn.
  8. Travel. Expanding our knowledge of foreign places and cultures is one of the best ways to gain respect for the world in which we live.
  9. Wake up and smell the roses, literally. Our sense of smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence our mood, and even affect our work performance.
  10. Read a book. A wise man once said, “Reading is good. Can we start the story now?”
  11. Meditate. We all can feel overwhelmed by the stressors life throws our way every single day. Allow yourself to regain a sense of tranquility no matter what is happening around you.
  12. Dig through old artwork, projects, and photographs. Taking a walk down Memory Lane lets you to realize how far you’ve come over the years.
  13. Surround yourself with creative people. Hint: Look around.

When your brain switches gears, even just for a few minutes, it will feel refreshed as you return to the task at hand, and you will feel more productive, more inspired, and, yes, more creative. In the end, it seems the best app for that is no app at all.

Fight or Fright: Public Speaking

As an advertising professional, I frequently present my work and ideas to groups of people, often a nerve-wracking task. Too often, I decided, so I started reading about what I could do. Below are some of my findings: 

 

I blame my pre-performance nerves on our hunter-gatherer ancestors. They needed their community to survive and generations of living with this truth embedded the understanding in all of our brains: Social death is actual death.  So we automatically react when we sense that our social reputation is in danger. Like when we get on stage for a performance and essentially create an opportunity for others to judge us. Our brains, no matter how forgiving the audience, still thinks it’s about to confront a potentially lethal situation.

It immediately reacts and forces our bodies into ‘fight or flight’ mode to create the energy it thinks its owner needs to survive. Unfortunately this includes sweaty hands, shaky knees and churning stomach. While much of the reaction is instinctual, we can develop better skills by focusing on three particular areas: perspective, practice, and breathing.

Perspective is recognizing that the fear is in your head. In the worst-case scenario, you mess up and someone laughs. Your friends and family are not going to abandon you and you will not be left to die. Keep that in mind as you approach the podium. You put yourself in a lot more danger when you get on an airplane.

Practice. The more times you do something, like feel pre-speech anxiety, the more you understand the experience and can cope. Find opportunities to practice. Toastmasters is great and is in nearly every city. I recently joined and already feel more comfortable under the spotlight.

Don’t forget to breathe. It’s proven to relax. Brazilian psychologists found that professional musicians who do deep-breathing exercises before a show feel less shaky and nervous.  The deep breathing movement sends signals through your body to relax, essentially waging war against your body’s fight-or-flight response. Do it enough times, and the breathing will triumph.

I’ve explained why we have stage fright, the mechanics behind it, and how we can fight it. Hopefully the knowledge will help each of us present with a lot more confidence. Yet, be easy on yourself. As I mentioned, some of the reactions are out of our control. The trick is to manage them the best we can until even the managing part becomes second nature.

 

Sources:

  1. http://blog.ted.com/2013/10/16/required-watching-for-any-ted-speaker-the-science-of-stage-fright/
  2. http://lifehacker.com/what-happens-to-your-brain-when-you-have-stage-fright-493170800
  3. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0046597

Fast, Cheap and Good

The old axiom used to be “fast, cheap or good – pick two.” But expectations change. And in this age of rapid prototyping, agile start-ups and minimal viable products, the “or” has turned – more and more – to an “and.”

Fast and cheap on their own are often – at best – a race to the middle. But fast AND a commitment to continuous improvement? That’s how new opportunities are discovered. Being cheap AND then seeing if further investment is warranted? That’s an investment in innovation.

The AND is incremental, iterative… and often overlooked. And the AND is what the Good is dependent on.

On not settling. On committing to better. On understanding that the definition of good today is not the same as good tomorrow. And so the deliverable is either good enough for now – and only now. Or good enough to continue to invest time and / or money in.

Bursts of fast and bursts of cheap can even lead past good, to great. As long as everyone is clear that “Fast, Cheap and Good” is not the destination, it’s the journey. And the most important word is AND.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

Where To Start With What To Say

Our available attention is being stretched. And yet we all seem to have more to say. As a result, lines can be crossed. Meanings can be missed. And it’s not likely to get better any time soon.

Tom Peters has an important rule for communications at a time when success can seem harder than ever: If there is a miscommunication, it’s your fault.

Think about that for a moment. Please, because I don’t want any potential misunderstanding of it to be my fault.

How would this change what you say? How would it change how you say it? As a person? As a professional? As a brand?

One simple change that most communicators could stand to make immediately is where they start.

My favorite definition of communication is: It isn’t what you say. It’s what your audience hears. The illustration below isn’t complicated. But it is often forgotten. And it is a big cause of many miscommunications.

Where to start with what to say? Not with what should be said. But with what should be heard.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

Where to Start Communicating

What To Learn From: Pixar

Pixar is a creative powerhouse. Its fourteen feature films have earned 27 Academy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, and 11 Grammy Awards.

But for all of its innovation – and its related refusal to accept the status quo – Pixar has an important relationship with reality. Its approach depends on its ability to create a world that is recognizable, but different. Expectedly unexpected.

And two quotes from Pixar directors – taken together – paint a smart, productive approach that any company could learn from:

“I believe in research. You can’t do enough research, believability comes out of what’s real.”
– John Lasseter (Cars)

“We don’t want to reproduce reality; we want to make the unbelievable believable.”
– Brad Bird (Incredibles)

Most companies do research in order to understand. And that’s a good thing. Understanding allows marketers to make things relevant. But relevance has a dark side. Make something too relevant and it becomes expected. Or worse, invisible.

Pixar’s approach is successful, in part, because it doesn’t settle on reality. Understanding the world is a first step to diverging from it.

You have to know the rules in order to break them.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

Q and A

A recent tweet from @COVRTER – “Having good answers is much easier than having good questions” – got me thinking.

We’re surrounded by data. Connected to an endless stream of resources. And swimming in a sea of answers. What does this mean for the relationship between As and Qs? And what’s the true value of each?

The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.
Claude Levi-Strauss, the father of modern anthropology

My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.
Peter Drucker, business thinker, consultant and author

We suffer no shortage of quantity of answers. But the quality – at least the consistent quality – is in decline.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Better questions lead to better answers. As such, the importance of questions has never been greater.

So if the answer is eluding you, it may be worth stepping all the way back to the original question. Questions are not one-dimensional calls-for-response. Instead, they should both frame the situation and focus it appropriately.

Bottom line: If you happen to be in a situation where the answer isn’t apparent, maybe you just haven’t asked the right question yet.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

The Longer Distance Between Point A and Point B

The Busy Trap” – an oft-shared op-ed piece from the New York Times – was making its way around Facebook again the other day. It’s a topic du jour in these increasingly cluttered times. Even the venerable Economist is touting the benefits of getting away from the grind with its recent piece, “In Praise Of Laziness.”

But it really isn’t about being lazy. From Archimedes and Isaac Newton to Bill Gates and Jack Welch, important ideas are borne from actively playing, consciously resting and purposefully wandering.

Said another way, we can’t be busy being busy. We must be busy being better. And that can mean being efficiently inefficient – trying new ideas, processes and paths. A recent trip to a children’s museum (see pics above), for instance, reminded me that the occasional trip to places like a children’s museum are valuable to the creative process.

Now, the value of getting away is not new news. But when was the last time you ventured away from the shortest distance between points A and B? Will Rogers was right about limbs. They are where the fruit is.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

The Speed Of The Spread

An article in this week’s New Yorker titled Slow Ideas provides a fascinating look at how medical innovations spread – and don’t.

At the core of the article are the stories of two nineteenth century inventions – anesthesia and antiseptic. Just two months after its first public demonstration, anesthesia was being used around the world. Antiseptic, on the other hand – despite being the solution to the single biggest killer of surgical patients – took decades to gain traction. The author offers observes two key differences in the ideas that affected the speed of their adoption:

  1. “[Anesthesia] combatted a visible and immediate problem (pain); [antiseptics] combatted an invisible problem (germs) whose effects wouldn’t be manifest until well after the operation.”
  2. “Although both made life better for patients, only one made life better for doctors. Anesthesia changed surgery from a brutal, time-pressured assault on a shrieking patient to a quiet, considered procedure. [Antiseptic], by contrast, required the operator to work in a shower of carbolic acid. Even low dilutions burned the surgeons’ hands.”

The first difference speaks to immediacy. The second to ease. All you spreaders-of-ideas, take note. The equation isn’t complicated. But it’s often overlooked.

Take the Surface RT. Microsoft recently announced it was taking a $900 million write-down to reflect unsold inventory at a time when the iPad continues to break sales records. This despite the fact that the Surface RT has some features that are genuinely interesting and differentiating. Times blogger Nick Bilton writes its undoing came from the fact that it made people… think. And that can be a recipe for disaster.

Successful idea spreaders get this. Focus wins. Or, in the words of Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester, “Apple gets this, and limits options to connectivity, storage and black… or white.”

It’s immediate. It’s easy. Now start spreading.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.