April 17, 2023
0 min
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Andy Ingham
Director (Experience Design)

Staying on track: Designing user-centric experiences

Andy Ingham
Director (Experience Design)
Drive successful outcomes based on a deep understanding of customer needs and working team alignment from the outset.
Introduction

As designers navigate a world of opinions, research and data to make more valuable products and services, sometimes staying focussed on who they’re making them for becomes a blur. On top of that, they must contend with numerous senior stakeholders, each carrying their own ideas, expectations and priorities. 

In this shifting landscape, aesthetics, usability, features and functional choices must satisfy multiple parties while achieving primary objectives and key results for the product or service they’re working on. But how often are users front and centre of these discussions? ‘Cool’ features can often trump user needs and it’s they who then suffer the most from underwhelming and overly complex digital experiences.

This balancing act can be difficult. At Parallax, we’ve successfully built and launched products and services that seamlessly mix business objectives with user needs to find that sweet spot. The shared space that makes businesses more valuable and solves genuine user needs. This article shines a spotlight on the  key steps to deliver a usable and intuitive experience that benefits both parties.

4 key steps for success

Don’t skip user research

Before diving into design or taking assumptions at face value, take the time to understand your users' motivations, habits, needs and build empathy with them. It has never been easier to speak to your target audience, a plethora of platforms exist now and small incentives can gain valuable insights. You could even tap into new AI tooling to build a knowledge base to start from, these tools require quality prompts to get the most out of them, so be sure to ask thoughtful and meaningful questions (I’ve added some tips below). The aim should be for UX artifacts to be meaningful and generate great UX outcomes, not just a box ticking exercise in a linear process. User research never stops, you only continue to learn more.

Here are some tips on how to use ChatGPT effectively in UX…

Inception: Create user flows

Give an overview of what your product or service is looking to do, then ask it to create a user flow. The context is really important here so be as detailed as possible. It’ll give you a thorough step-by-step process which you can use as a starting point.

Planning: Generate user stories

Firstly, ask for a feature set for what you’re working on, this will give you a list of features based on what it deems are the user’s problems. Edit this list until you’re happy, then you can take advantage of a really nice feature - ask ChatGPT to turn them into user stories specifically for a Jira backlog. 

Analysis: Compile a list of competitors 

Again, start off with some context so ChatGPT can understand what you’re working on and what it can/will do. Then ask for a list of competitors and perform a competitive analysis that can be presented. This will keep it at a headline level and remove unnecessary detail. Another neat trick here is asking for the results in a table format. I'd suggest refining the results first before doing this final step. 

Ideation: Ask for new angles and approaches 

Another powerful feature of ChatGPT is allowing it the freedom to come up with varied results that aren’t that commonly known. By giving it a new angle or approach prompt, you may get a really nice idea which then in turn could spark another idea. Use it to your advantage, not to complete your day job.

Whilst the above brings about many efficiencies, it is imperative you conduct UX research with real users, in order to add to your learnings as well as understanding priorities and worries from their point of view. This will help the  team to make informed decisions moving forward.

Stay true to the brand

Consider your market positioning and USPs that may affect the final creative aesthetic right at the start of the project or programme of work. Your brand goes further than simply how the company or product looks, how you sound is equally important for a consistent user experience, especially when working in service design. One of our internal XD (Experience Design) principles is to ‘Deliver the Difference’; this is all geared around understanding the true purpose and meaning of why users choose to affiliate or purchase from that organisation, then bringing it to life in a way that propels them from anyone else in that space.

To get off on the right foot, establishing vision, mission and values are a good way of setting down some markers for success, and prove effective as a first step in driving alignment. From here, you can craft a compelling brand story, one that connects with users and builds empathy. 

Empathy is a key aspect throughout any successful company or product, understanding the needs, feelings and worries of your customer and reflecting them in what you set out to do and achieve. 

Use tools like the value proposition canvas to help you define your brand's position and communicate the value it will bring to customers. This planning will help when it comes to developing a visual brand language to implement, whilst helping conversations and decision making about the aesthetic application. Design is subjective and there’s no getting away from that. A real skill that comes with experience is juggling opinions, and designing something the user can use and satisfy the majority.. If you’re at a real crossroads UI design wise, it is a good idea to use platforms like Usability hub or get the designs in front of the users you used in the initial research phase to get their thoughts and opinions on the subject. 

At Parallax, we approach brands digital-first, this means we know the landscape the brand needs to navigate and put considerations in place to ensure experiences aren’t compromised whether it be by accessibility or usability. These digital standards can be somewhat forgotten or overlooked when third parties are used for branding deliverables, so make sure everyone is communicating and collaborating to craft brand foundations that are fit for purpose.

Align the team

Like I mentioned before, UX outcomes are stronger than UX artifacts, but to drive alignment amongst the team I’ve found user personas to be the most effective and quickest way to bring all these insights and learnings together. By nature, they’re the very definition of being user-centric, if used correctly. Remember to constantly evolve them as you learn more about your audience, they should be updated regularly and centrally stored so they’re accessible for all stakeholders.  

From the outset, it is critical as a team to define and agree upon roles, responsibilities, goals and a way of working that delivers value. When it comes to goals and objectives for the project, ensure they are consistently present throughout the design ideation and creation process. This step can be quite straightforward if the previous two steps have been followed, if things are still a bit murky and there’s some fierce debate, don’t be afraid to go back a step. 

Design is never a linear process, it’s ok to say ‘we don’t know’ or ‘I’m not sure’. It isn’t ok to just accept something at face value. 

In my experience, I’ve found design values and/or principles to be an effective way of fostering a shared and agreed pathway to align the team. They provide a clear way to guide behaviour and know if the correct decisions are being made. Embrace design thinking to create meaningful and effective solutions that cater to your users' needs whilst staying true to what you’ve agreed as a team. If you’re building a new service or product, and have no existing experience to analyse and gather feedback on, then make sure this is factored into your approach. Without knowing the exact market fit or customer’s feelings, the aim from the start should be a collaborative exchange of ideas, knowledge, experimentation and support.

Test and iterate 

You never really know how a customer is going to engage with your product or service until you actually release it, monitor tracking tools and speak to users afterwards. You can go some way to testing though before committing to hours and hours of development work. Advanced prototyping features can create realistic experiences without the need for coding, you can validate designs through usability testing platforms such as Maze. This platform in particular is powerful in that it can be heavily customised, integrates with various design software and provides reports of data on important metrics such as time to complete task.

It is widely known that attention spans are reducing, senior stakeholders time is tight and our ability for consuming content is quicker than it has ever been. So rather than spending time documenting problems and why it matters in long documents or presentations, designers can frame UX problems effectively through using data coupled with sketching. Midjourney is a fantastic new tool at a designers disposal for bringing real problems to life in a visual way that everyone can understand, this then encourages divergent, collaborative thinking by putting the team in the users position - therefore building empathy. 

Ensure that your brand's creative direction does not compromise usability, and conversely, that a lack of creativity doesn't hinder user adoption. Ideas don’t just have to be just that anymore, secure senior stakeholder buy-in by proving early adoption of new features and functions. Testing should be empowering all the working team and iterating should never stop. Recognise that each release is just one step in an ongoing process. Outline your roadmap with goals, not specific solutions, this will utilise your team's skills to develop optimal solutions.

Conclusion

Dealing with conflicting opinions, and getting stuck in small issues means the bigger picture is missed or time pressures allow corners to get cut. It proves the need for experienced teams with strong leadership traits to be able to spot when this could have a negative impact on the objectives and key results. That being said, it’s why it is more important than ever now to work smarter and take advantage of innovative technology and tooling to help you stay on track, get the job done and deliver value. No one questions the value of being user-centric. But few designers, product owners or those in delivery positions will confidently say their organisation is truly user-centric. 

Your aim should be to build products and services that resonate with users time and time again, by implementing these steps continuously throughout the process, they should stand you in good stead to deliver successful business outcomes.