A UX Story
You may find any number of definitions that attempt to make it clear what it is that we user experience (UX) professionals do or how we somehow make things better for your user and consumer community. Unfortunately, none have been so effective that this question can be eliminated from discussions, proposals or marketing pitches. So, instead of trying to define it, let’s try demonstrating how it works through telling a story.
Making a Change that Works
Roger is an Account Director for a global ad agency. The agency has just won a new contract with Dock 10, a provider of mid- to high-end home furnishing and accessories. Dock 10 has not experienced high volumes of customer complaints or slumping sales, but realize their online presence is a bit passé. Their website is very linear and their online sales show a high percentage of return customers but a considerably lower rate of new customer sales. Additionally, Dock 10 has a lot of foot-traffic in their north and northeast store locations, but Midwest, foot-traffic sales is comparably lower. Meanwhile online sales show just the opposite results.
The project has been funded and now the work begins to assess what change is needed and what needed resources are available to make the change.
A core team of disciplines is assembled to determine how to manage whatever changes are coming. The core team is usually made up of representatives from Project Management and Development, with Development holding the largest responsibility of determining what other disciplines will be engaged and to what extent (e.g. Quality Assurance, Design, and User Experience). For the sake of this example, it has been determined that the project will include 8-10 developers, 3-4 Designers and 1 UX professional. For the record, it is standard practice to assign a single UX professional to a project, large or small. So for now, let’s just look at this story through the eyes of the UX professional.
Joshua is a mid-level UX professional. He has been at the ad agency for the past 18 months but he has a total of 5 years experience as an Information Architect in Retail and Entertainment industries. In the truest form, an Information Architect has the responsibility of creating the conceptual designs (wireframes) and has little to no experience with the research side of UX that encompasses facilitating online or in lab studies of how the user interacts with a product. Joshua is such a person.
Joshua is now a part of the Dock 10 redesign project. His responsibilities are contained to the redesign of the online shopping cart. Specifically, he is tasked to “modernize” the experience.
Joshua must keep in mind the reason why the client has asked for changes to the web site in general. One thing he notes in the objective section of the business requirements document is that the site does not seem to attract new customers. The first thing Joshua will do is perform a heuristic evaluation of the shopping cart experience from start to finish. A heuristic evaluation or expert review of a digital product such as a web site is a usability engineering method for finding the usability problems in a user interface design so that they can be attended to as part of an iterative design process1. Generally speaking to effectively conduct a heuristic evaluation, you need more than one evaluator as there is no way one person can discover every usability issue in an interface. So, to ensure he unveils as many issues as possible, Joshua creates a matrix of conditions, written in lay terms and enlists other members of the project to assist in the evaluation. The evaluators may not be savvy with usability terms, but they can certainly identify things they don’t like or find difficult to understand and make note of them. Joshua can then take their information and determine the usability violation.
Next, Joshua may request various forms of historical data that may reveal usability issues that may factor into the lack of new business. For example, data logs of web activity and/or call logs from customer support centers may reveal areas in the shopping cart experience that would demonstrate any issues users may have experienced but did not directly report. Additionally, employing the use of market listening tools would also assist UX in developing a strategy to enhance the shopping cart user experience.
Now armed with the results of the heuristic evaluation and various sources of historical user data, Joshua can now assess what changes need to happen that (a) meets the business goals and (b) enhance the user experience.
The heuristic evaluation showed areas within the interaction that rated poorly and that rating correlated to information discovered in historical data. One thing that stood out the most was the “clunkiness” and depth of the user experience. Evaluators and customer data showed the experience was awkward and time consuming. In the redesign, Joshua would have to develop an experience that fit user expectation in work flow and timeliness.
But let’s not forget the improvements the client requested; attracting new customers and improving sales in the Midwest. Realistically, UX cannot ensure sales hikes but enhancing the user experience may be an indirect factor to an increase.
Web analysis data revealed a significant drop-out rate across numerous product pages. Additionally, a few key factors in the “clunkiness” of the web site include (a) difficulty locating the method to add the desired product to the shopping cart, and (b) difficulty locating the means to view items in the shopping cart.
To take this a little further, Joshua considers the physical locations of Dock 10 stores in both the Northern states and the Midwest. He discovers a higher percent of the Midwest stores are located in college towns; towns were most of the population consists of transitioning college students, with the nearest general population towns within 15-30 miles away. Joshua hypothesizes that the difference in sales in the Midwest may be due to issues discovered online. The online difficulties affect consumers in both markets but in the northern states the physical location of the Dock 10 stores is more convenient to a wider variety of shoppers; shoppers with financial means to make both planned and impulse purchase decisions.
Joshua plays out his hypotheses by contracting a third-party testing facility to conduct a focus group study using current and potential customers in both markets. His hypothesis is supported as customers in the Midwest convey their frustration with the online shopping cart and add that the local Dock 10 store is not “on their way” to any other shopping needs. So, for them “fixing” the online experience is of great valuable. In summary what results show is that when customers could not achieve their goal online, they simply did so in person when convenient. However, convenience had a higher frequency for northerners.
Now that Joshua is rich with customer feedback information, the question becomes how does he bring this all together in an effective and efficient design that is also engaging? One approach would be to see how competitors are doing it and make note of their product’s strengths and weaknesses. This can be accomplished through competitive intelligence methods – a comparison of competitor products to your own product. Additionally, Joshua could again use his access to listening tools to crawl around the internet to hear what consumers are saying about competitor products. From there Joshua can begin creating a best-in-breed application for e-commerce solutions.
To help Joshua and other project teams focused on creating an experience that meets the customer needs, Joshua can create personas. Personas are stories about online behaviors of fictitious customers. In a sense the story you’re reading now can be considered a persona. However, personas are far less detailed.
It is a common practice for a company’s internal marketing team to determine the target audience for a product. In our story Joshua has been provided target audience information: women, ages 35 – 54 with an annual household income of at least $85,000. However, Joshua considers a more granular level of customers. While women are most likely to purchase home furnishing goods, they are not necessarily purchasing these items for their own use. It is likely a parent could be purchasing items for friends and family.
Personas (aka Storyboards)
o Rita is preparing to send her oldest daughter to a college several states away from her home. Cara, will be living in a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 roommates. In Rita’s financial situation, it would be less feasible to purchase furniture in her home state of Utah and have it transported to Florida, so she will order the furniture online then go to Florida two weeks prior to school starting to help Cara decorate her new apartment.
o Charles and Barbara’s youngest son is getting married and they will soon enjoy the benefits of empty nesting. The first thing they would like to do is convert their son Ben’s bedroom into a theater room for Charles. They’ve looked at quite a few options online, but Barbara would like to see the furniture before purchasing. Once they arrive at a store near them, Barbara makes a decision on the pieces she would like but notices the price online is cheaper. So instead of purchasing today, she has decided to take advantage of the online price.
Now that Joshua has a better idea of what changes to make, and the audience he needs to appeal to, he can start creating the wireframe designs. This will take considerable collaboration with design and development to ensure the concept drawings are feasible for the development schedule.
Once the wireframes are at least 75% complete, this would be a good time to measure the success of the new design with real customers. Again, Joshua contracts with a testing facility to moderate usability studies to evaluate the new design. It is not unlikely some adjustment will have to be made to hone in on the design. Typically, this could involve 20-25% changes to the design. This is a very opportune time to make adjustments to the design as it helps manage the cost of the project.
After wireframes are complete, the design team can create functional design comps that will eventually be made into a functional product by the development team. All along the way, it has been Joshua’s responsibility to ensure the agreed upon ideas within the wireframes are carried over into the design comps and then to ensure the design comps are converted into the final product.
Last on the plate of responsibility for Joshua is to ensure the product meets quality assurance (QA) standards. He works with the software testing team to identify issues in the redesign before the product is released to the public. With QA is often a trial segment where a select group of real consumers are granted access to the new product where they interact with it and provide feedback. Again Joshua must compare this data to data he has learned along the way; it is a way to measure the success of the redesign project. Adjustment may be made at this stage of development as well.
Over a considerable amount of time that the new product has been on the market either in trials or full release, Joshua can now confidently report that the business goals have been met and that the product meets customer satisfaction. Joshua reports to his Account Director that online sales have closed the gap between market segments by nearly 12% and customer retention is up 23.4%. Development reports the product has been released on time and under budget.
Of course this whole story has been fictional from start to finish, however, it should be noted it is a likely story. With the involvement of UX research, your company can enjoy bringing your products to market on time, under budget and to the satisfaction and acceptance of your customers.
2012, we launched the first of three social survey in January. Register today to have your voice heard.
Share your thoughts on:
to be a study participant. It's free and confidential!