The User Experience Cycle

A number of factors are taken into account at the early stages of a project such as; goals, time scale, budget and aligning the user’s goals with the client’s business requirements and finding a solution to incorporate both of these needs. As with all products, consumers talk with their wallets, software and the internet is no different. The nature of the internet affords users low switching costs which allow users to quickly bypass your digital product if the experience is not a pleasurable one. This could mean losing out to a competitor that has a well-designed and visually appealing product. Word of mouth is an important marketing tool and cyber word of mouth on social networks is no different. When an experience is pleasurable, people take to social media to share their experiences with their friends and family. On the flip side, if the experience is poor a user will take to social media to encourage others not use your product or service. On this evidence, there is no room for badly designed software, as irreversible damage may be been caused to a business brand as a consequence.

As a UX designer my role is shaping the user experience of a software product. This involves gathering the business requirements from the client’s representative and defining the information architecture and interaction design. This is achieved through documenting and setting out where page elements/information should be located and what functionality these page elements should possess. There are several ways of documenting the user experience and the client ultimately determines the form of documentation. This process is done through wireframing or prototyping, which can range from fully functioning and interactive prototypes using conditional behaviour, in programs such as Axure or Omnigraffle. The other end of the scale contains no interactivity and shows each web page as a static scenario, with notes specifying what each page element does on the page and how the elements interact, determining the user experience. This process is known as “Lean UX” and the documentation outputted are low fidelity wireframes or mock-ups. I have found the names for each method differ slightly from company to company, but the objective of documenting the project requirements are the same. It should be noted that the level of detail that is produced is not compromised, with both methods equally capable of producing the detailed blue print for the development team and other project stakeholders to review.

As previously outlined, budget and time constraints are always key factors in the delivery of a project and this is where deciding the prototyping method used becomes crucial. Interactive wireframes benefit project stakeholders by bringing them on an interactive walk through of the journey as envisaged by the UX designer. However, difficulties arise when changes are required as the changes can impact several pages across the prototype. These difficulties can be overcome; however, it can take a lot of time to make minor tweaks. It is also possible to miss functionality if a page element goes unclicked. In addition, problems arise when a new team member joins the UX team and needs several hours or days to get to grips with the interactive prototype’s “dynamic panels”.  This can have a knock on effect on delivery of the project or where deadlines are looming; the cramming of late changes into the wireframe take significantly longer than they ought to be. This method leaves little time for other considerations in the UX design process. This is where the Lean UX approach comes to the fore. As less time is spent tweaking the wireframes, more time can be spent considering the overall UX design and more time discussing the design with the relevant stakeholders. Also, coding on the project can begin at an earlier stage as prototypes are produced faster allowing for quicker signoff on designs. Crucially, user testing can commence quicker and the feedback received can be implemented into the design of the project.

The benefits of user testing have been well documented in the industry with some UX commentators even questioned if UX is actually UX without the testing of users and consequent changes to the design before a software product is launched. In situations where redesigns By measuring the analytics before and after a project launch it is easy to see if a project is successful or not. It has been my experience to date that user testing is not always a priority in some projects. UX designers can design interfaces’ using their knowledge, skill and experience to make a journey as pleasurable as possible, which does bring improved results, however, this alone is not sufficient in determining an optimum in interface design. Taking these factors into account, the importance of factoring in user testing at the scoping stage of the project becomes critical to the success of project.

UI Centric buys into to the importance of user testing passionately and has recently developed an in-house user testing lab facility at their offices in London. User testing is achieved by tracking the eye movements of test users where they are given real world scenarios to achieve predetermined goals, known as test parameters. This gives the designer insight in to the user’s behaviour and experiences of the product by gauging the test users responses to the scenarios presented. As a consequence, where certain parts of the design have performed poorly, amendments can be made before a product goes to market to make it better. This scientific approach allows evaluation of the user experience and ensures the project design is on course to achieving the desired results. When the product is launched, the success of the project will be determined by the number of sales or downloads the product has achieved; only if users decide to open their wallets.

About the author

Fergus O'Callaghan

Fergus O'Callaghan

Information architect and user experience designer

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