What are the two most neglected elements of UX design?

28 Oct 2019

Image: © RolandoMayo/Stock.adobe.com

Building a website or app? Gareth Dunlop writes about the key areas you need to consider, rather than just focusing on fonts and images.

Imagine you have $100 to spend on your website and you want to spend it as wisely as possible. So you get yourself a hundred $1 bills and some pots. You label these pots research, CMS, hosting, navigation, task analysis, creative design, content, usability testing etc.

How much do you put in each pot?

My experience from a quarter of a century of involvement in web projects is that many project teams extensively overinvest in pots that users don’t care about (and have negligible impact on product success) and significantly underinvest in pots that are central to user satisfaction (and thus represent the beating heart of product success).

While I appreciate that there is overlap between pots, too many project teams manage their $100 as follows:

  • Significant overinvestment in creative design
  • Underinvestment in research, usability testing, direct user feedback, prototyping, content
  • Chronic underinvestment in navigation and flow

Ask the simple questions

It seems incredulous to consider that too few organisations ask the simple questions that almost exclusively determine how they will treat their customer through digital channels.

  • Who comes to our site/app/digital product?
  • What tasks do the majority of those users wish to complete?
  • How can we help them find the starting point for those tasks as effortlessly as possible?
  • How can we help them complete those tasks as effortlessly as possible?

What are the typical issues?

When I deliver training, I always ask delegates if they have had an online experience recently that caused them to feel angry. The question acts as a great opening icebreaker but it also seeks to scratch the surface of how users feel treated by the online products they use.

Usually, 100pc of hands go up. And if the question is asked on a Monday morning, you can almost guarantee 100pc.

So, I ask people what they were trying to do and what made them feel anger.  Typical answers are the following:

  • Trying to buy a product on an e-commerce website
  • Trying to find the time that a bus or train leaves the station
  • Trying to find and buy a ticket
  • Trying to renew a service such as insurance
  • Using their company’s intranet

No one has ever said:

  • The lazy designers got the RGB references in the colour scheme wrong
  • They used Helvetica when I prefer Arial
  • Their image strategy conflicts with my tastes

Two things strike me about the answers. The first is that nobody is trying to unlock nuclear codes – they are just trying to do regular stuff.

The second is that the task that has caused them to feel angry is one that both they and the company they are transacting with want to complete, so if the company made it easier then everyone would win

So, what should you focus on?

Tracking this back to product success, it is unforgivable to be in a situation where the customer wants to buy and the company wants to sell, and the vehicle built to do this has been so poorly designed that it makes that harder not easier.

Project teams need to work harder to spend their $100 wisely, and part of that is resisting the inevitable internal pressures to comply with business priorities at the cost of user needs. Your primary responsibility is to achieve business goals by helping your customers do what they wanted to do all along.

Invest much more in navigation (helping users get where they want to get first time) and flow (helping users move from the start of their task to the end).

The torturous and interminable discussions around layout, typography styling and hero images should be the first victims of the revolution.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps ambitious organisations get the most from their digital products by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include UX strategy, usability testing, customer journey planning and accessibility. Clients include BBC, Bord Bia, Firmus Energy, Kingspan, AIB and Tesco Mobile. 

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.