When you build a site, you need to start with the user experience (UX) and work backwards. Even before you write a single line of code, you’ll need to know who the users you’re writing that code for are, as well as what the client’s objective experience is for those users.
Who Are Our Users?
That is the first question developers at Incapsula asked themselves when redesigning controls on its dashboard. In its case, developers chose to differentiate between customer experience (CX) and user experience. CX relates to customer interactions with a brand, including everything from the application’s appearance to the support a customer receives. For Incapsula, UX is a subset of CX. It relates to user interactions with an interface and how effective a system is at solving a user’s problems. Each case is different.
You’ll find that most clients say they want to establish an online presence, which really means nothing, because literally every site meets that criterion. This is the time to push back, when it’s early on in the relationship. You want to understand your client’s customers as well as they understand them. You’ll also want to understand their business and where the site fits into the business.
Too many developers try to shoehorn a template or existing successful design into a new project without doing the hard work and it’s simply not effective. It might make for a quick sale, but they’d be lucky if they get any more than the online presence they asked for.
I’ve found the more time you spend with a client in the early engagement, the easier things go as the process nears completion. It is in the early stages where the site’s needs and expectations are defined. You do this because you want to avoid a professional mistake that many student developers quickly discover. And that is: if needs and expectations are not first established, the project is never ending. Many developers have stories of completing a site for an aunt and the she comes back with some “minor changes,” because the site gave her some new ideas. You make the changes and she has another tweak. And back and forth it goes. In a professional environment this back and forth ends up with the developer getting fired.
Who Are Your Client’s Users?
The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer. No one site will satisfy every customer. If you’re building a retail site for a client, frugal shoppers might want price comparisons up front while high-end shoppers might be turned away by a site emphasizing price. Millennials are frequently cited as a demographic that care more about where the materials were sourced over pricing and presentation. These groups are not in silos and frequently overlap.
Resist the temptation of thinking that you know the customer. Only the business who has hired you knows their customers. They know what it cost to acquire them, maintain them. They know their demographics. The site has to meet these users’ UX expectations. Unless of course, the business is using the site to expand its customer base. These are things you need to learn.
Where Does the Site Fit in the Business Model?
Different sites are designed to perform far different functions. Is the site you’re building a lead generator for your client where potential customers will come to read a blog post and sign up for a white paper? Or is the final stop for a point of sale purchase after the hard selling has been done through an online marketing blitz, or an A/B test campaign. Is the site simply a brochure for an AmLaw 100 law firm or is it probate law firm with the goal of making people fill out a questionnaire.
There are thousands of variations to these because you’ll need to factor income, gender, age and so on. These are things you can’t begin to guess when designing a site. For example, how does a small insurance business that is rebranding its site provide a satisfying UX for both young and old visitors? Actually, it may not need to. The breakdown may not matter along the lines of age. It may be along regions. Insurance is its own animal. The thing is, you don’t know until you meet with the business owner, or marketing director. The more relevant questions that can pinpoint the target customer, the closer you are of knowing that customer and providing a satisfying UX.
Schedule a meeting with the stakeholders to learn about their customers. If the client already has a site, use it to gather questions for the meeting, saying that it appears they are going for this audience. Do not criticize an existing site, even misspellings. You’re likely to embarrass someone in the room. Use that meeting to build a profile of their ideal customer and if they are achieving that now.
You can also use that site to look at its analytics. Who is visiting? What is the bounce rate? What pages are most frequented, etc. Use this information and see if it aligns with their requests.
Understand (Their) Business
The more you understand business fundamentals, the better you’ll understand how to provide the site they are looking for. In the insurance business example mentioned above, what do you think are their greatest costs? Customer acquisition? Differentiation? Fighting the insurance behemoths? These are things that are worth learning before the meeting about their customers. You may have some broad questions about their business pain points as well. Just be careful with these questions; they should really all relate back to the customer.
Develop and Present a Plan
You still haven’t written a line of code, and more importantly the client is now deeply engaged with your process. The plan is the information provided by your client and your vision to provide their customers with a great UX based on who the customers are. Expect push back here. The internal politics that might have emerged during the meetings will make the turnaround slower than you’d like. But better to have the push back here than after you’ve put in all those hours building and rebuilding it.
DDoS mitigator Incapsula was in the process of rebuilding its site using internal developers. Because it’s an in-house project, it has access to all of the above and began to ask questions that if finds important to its business, like…
How Do We Want Them to Feel?
The developers at Incapsula cited five emotional states that users experience when using an enterprise application. These emotions are common yet not exclusive to enterprise applications.
- Power – Users want to affect real change while using the application.
- Control – Users want to be the ones directing their application.
- Assurance – Users want a secure application that performs as intended.
- Pride – Users want to view their application as superior to market alternatives.
- Accomplishment – Users want their application to help them achieve their goals.
In its customer reviews, Incapsula discovered that one of the recurring emotional states was that its customers needed a sense of assurance. Users wanted to know that a specific task ran after they clicked. Though the process always ran, the developers added a small indicator to show that it had and users were put at ease.
Incapsula is a larger company that can query customers and improve its CX and UX. But money does not make a great UX. Apple is the richest company on the planet and has a notoriously poor iTunes interface. What started as simple repository for music has become so bloated it’s nearly impossible to navigate unless you spend a lot of time learning it. It looks as if it has had input from too many departments without a person somewhere to say “no”. Apple is trying to please too many groups with one application.
With the stakeholders signed off on the site, you can now start to build. You know the customers, the purpose of the site, and you’ve defined what the new UX will be based on your client’s information.
Clearly understanding why customers that come to a site and what they need works in favor of both the customer and the business, providing the product or service the user wants with as little friction as possible. With your help, companies now have the opportunity to impact their business more effectively when a user uses your client’s services.