UX, the new frontier in software development

UX, the new frontier in software development
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The following is a guest post by Gregory Menivelle, a French-American entrepreneur and founder of smartnotify.us and Pyrasolutions, He also has a background in international expansion, helping companies achieve success on a global scale.

Chef David Chang (a famous US chef) was recently interviewed by Adam Savage and had an intriguing insight into one of his biggest business challenges: Whenever he goes to a restaurant, Chef Chang cannot help but deconstruct the dishes and find ways he would improve them. As a result, he hardly ever enjoys a meal anymore.

However, he is acutely aware that what makes restaurants successful is not the chef’s talent but the patrons’ experience.  So he works hard at making sure that his bias does not trump the “User Experience”.  You can view the interview here and yes, I admit to being a MythBusters fan. There.

This focus on User Experience (UX) should permeate outside of the restaurant world into our software; UX will become the next frontier in software development and the true differentiator between companies that succeed and companies that fail.  The problem is that many companies have a trumped view of UX and waste resources on things that do not matter.  Too often UX is associated with design and user-interface and, as long as the software “looks good”, people think that the UX work is done. This approach is likely to fail in the long run. There is a huge difference between making something look good, making something useful, and making something successful. Doubting me?  Then honestly ask yourself if you’d rather have (as an owner, investor….) the volume of craigslist or some of the supposedly paradigm-shifting mobile applications that act as marketplaces?

UX should refer to all the emotions we have before, during, and after interacting with a specific piece of technology or software.  It’s the delicate combination of your end-users’ preconceptions, prior experience, moods, beliefs, personal state of mind, and location.  Let’s look at some of the elements involved in each stage of engagement:

 

  • Before using the software:  Which emotions do you trigger in your audience before they even use your software?  These emotions go far beyond how your site looks.  For example:

– Do they get the feeling that you cater to them or is your website simply a showcase of how good/smart/witty your company is?
– Do they feel they can trust you or will they believe you see them as guinea pigs because of AB tests or even pricing testing?
– When they email or call you (or text, tweet, message…), how quickly do you respond?
– Do you ask for their credit cards before letting them trial the software (horrible practice if you ask me)?

All these elements, and I am sure you can think of a few others, are part of UX and will setup your audience’s emotions and expectations for your software.  It’s with this “baggage” that they enter the next stage.

 

  • While they use the software:  Like it or not, customers only use your stuff because of the promise that it is the best tool for the job (even games work that way).  The goal of the UX is to reinforce this belief and here are a few tricks:

– A good onboarding process to make it simple for people to get started.  This can be done via in-software help, webminars, drip emails.
– Gamification.  Gamification is a fantastic way to enhance the UX.  We will talk about Gamification in future posts.
– Support. How well do you support your customers when they have a problem?  Do you simply refer them to a FAQ (bad) or do you proactively help them regardless of their membership level (great)?

If you want to look at these topics further, I encourage you to see the steps put in place by companies such as Twilio or SendGrid.  They really focus on UX and have fanatic customers as a result.

 

  • After they use the software: UX does not stop when the user shuts down your software.  Quite to the contrary.  The UX steps you take when users are not actively engaged with your software are as important as the ones implemented when they do.  For example:

– Do you use drip emails to give hints about how users can further benefit from the software?
– Do you listen to requests and improve your product based on their ideas?
– Do you make it simple for customers to share with others how successful they are using your software?

 

The challenge in implementing these steps is that UX is a very fluid and dynamic process.  Here is an example:  On smartnotify.us we used to have a decent UX for the “newly acquired users”.  Notice the use of the past tense!  As our users are becoming savvier, they are seeking a different experience with the software.  The end usage of the software stays the same but the expectations around the usage are shifting.  Of course we help our users be successful in their jobs and adapt the UX but in doing so, it has now become harder for new users to get started!  Our new challenge in the coming months is to setup multiple UX paths based on the user’s sophistication levels.  This may seem like overkill, even for a startup, however, it is a guarantee to build a better, more engaged customers that will then help your company grow.  UX is fluid, do not try to make it a once-a-year initiative.

Which then leaves us with the last UX challenge:  Who should be the UX leader in the company?  My recommendation is to look at who should not be your UX leader!  It should not be your tech group because as tech people we have the tendency of simply throwing more tech at any question. It should not be your design team either because what looks good has little to do with UX. Rather I’d recommend having a UX team.  The main stakeholder needs to whomever does Business Development.  This person is at the frontline of interacting with the customers and can act as their advocate in the company.  This person can then bring in the tech and design competencies to implement the UX strategy.

Finally, hire your customers to be your UX experts.  Get them involved in your company, meet with them, be proactive.  Of course to do this properly there is one other role you need to grow and promote in your company.  Next week we’ll look at this other key role that most startups neglect (not that I’m talking from experience!)

7 Responses

  1. Avatar
    baptlac

    Impossible not to agree with you. The software market is getting more and more competitive as new solutions rise every day. Features differences are slighter than before, thus UX becomes the ultimate game-changer. I like the comparison with restaurants, because websites and softwares should be imagined just like a regular store you would walk in. Would you often go shop in a messy supermarket where you can’t find where they put what you are looking for? Never. UX in software is exactly the same as in real life.

    • Avatar
      ocelotman

      Yes, some users actually _like_ messy – and the example of Craig’s List was given – what is it users want? Craig’s List fit the bill perfectly, even with a very minimalist (ugly?) UI. Sys. Admins _like_ command-line interfaces. The USER is key, and you are NOT your user.

  2. Avatar
    David Battanbong

    Many of us software designers have been involved in UX since, well, 1999, 2000. Guess it’s OK then for a French blog to talk about it in 2013.

    • Avatar
      Liam Boogar

      The key thing to remember is: “I owned Converse before they were bought by Nike.”

      That’s what my pretentious highschool friend used to say to me, sporting a warn-out pair of Chucks. And I always remember that when people try to invalidate someone’s opinion by saying that they had that opinion, or were discussing that topic years before.

      I’d like to think we’ll still be discussing UX improvements in 2025.

  3. Avatar
    michaelemmett

    I liked the post. A few comments:
    I think you are too limited in your definition of the role of UX when you state they’re focused on “what looks good”. Visual design is only one aspect of UX. It also includes user researchers (qualitative and quantitative research, usability tests) and, in some ways even more importantly, there are Interaction Designers. Interaction Designers work hand in hand with Product Managers to help shape the user and customer requirements set. Smaller startups might not have all three roles under UX, but they can certainly find those who can do multiple roles.

    Regarding the “before use” content part of your post, it’s a good perspective but I don’t think you go far enough. A common mistake many UX designers and product managers make is to conflate the “buying” decision with the “usage” reality. They’re (too often, sadly) very different. Bells and whistles sell. Cool visualizations that rarely have a practical applications sell as well. Build this perspective into the original product design.

    A successful UX recognizes that people frequently make decisions for purchase based on aspirations for use, not on a realistic assessment of what they need. Sometimes these aspirations are driven by long feature lists supplied by reflexively listening to analysts and their checklists. Sometimes the aspirations are driven from competitor products marketing “must have” features.

    It’s strange that you refer to the “Business Development” role, which is often linked to sales and partnerships that drive new business opportunities, as the “leader” for the UX team. While this would certainly make the UX more sensitive to the buyer criteria I referred to above, they are often pretty far removed from the daily usage scenarios (except in an idealized form). The “leader” of UX should be someone who understands user-centered design, but also knows how to balance with business requirements and challenges. If that’s a business development role, then great. But I don’t think Business Developers provide the right perspective across the search, evaluate, buy, deploy, use life-cycle.

  4. Avatar
    Octavia Maddox

    I’d like to add that user expectations are also increasing. It is no longer acceptable to roll our a clunky experience when they are used to dealing with Facebook, apple stores, amazon customer experience and the like.

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