Truly great user experience design doesn’t start and end with the design department. Companies that do it right instill that focus throughout every aspect of their business.
When Andrew Maier graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Mathematics and took a job with a startup in Atlanta, he figured his future was destined to include a lot of late-night coding.
Then Maier had an epiphany: He didn’t really love sitting in front of his computer writing algorithms. In fact, he was passionate about a very different part of the process: user experience design. He reveled in the possibility of taking something cold and stale (see: binary code) and turning it into something that got people excited.
So Maier switched gears. In 2009, he started his own practice and co-founded UX Booth, a publication by and for the user experience community. Maier recently sat down with OpenView to talk about how he defines great UX design, which pitfalls often trip up B2B companies implementing a user-centered design approach, and why communication is critical to creating well-designed software.
OpenView: At a high level, how do you define great user experience design?
Andrew Maier: Great design helps people feel empowered. It isn’t always obvious from the outset “how,” but when great design happens, it feels like it was supposed to be there. Great user experience design focuses on a design’s users and, ideally, prompts them to look back fondly at their experience with a product or service.
The best user experiences facilitate flow: They’re smooth, unforced, and beautiful. Ideally, UX design removes any impediments or distractions from a user’s interaction with the software or website. Unfortunately, too many product designers forget that. They insert bevels, modal windows, or poor microcopy that ultimately complicate the design and distract users from the things that really matter.
OV: When a B2B company implements a user-centered design approach into its product development process, what are some roadblocks that can keep it from being effective?
AM: I think one of the most common challenges is simply the transition to a new way of thinking. Product developers are almost always emotionally invested in the products they’ve created thus far, so it can be difficult to convince them that a user-centered design approach is the right thing to do.
If someone spends a year or more building and designing a product, they want to believe that it’s perfect. It’s not going to be, of course, but you need to assure them you recognize that the time they spent building the product wasn’t time wasted. Even if the product could benefit from a design overhaul, having the product out in the market and gathering feedback is important. From there, you need to re-direct the developer’s focus and encourage them to be more user-centered in their approach to design.
Another common challenge is convincing every department in a company to buy into the user-centered design concept. A lot of businesses still believe they know what their users want or need better than their actual users do. These presumptions are almost always out of touch with reality. You can’t really know what design features your users want until/unless you research their needs – and then you have to actually incorporate that feedback into your design process.
OV: How important is communication between departments to the user experience design process?
AM: It’s critical. When companies struggle with user-centered design, it’s often because their departments (sales, marketing, customer service, and product development) are not communicating effectively, either with each other or with their product’s end users. Lack of communication makes it impossible to design products that are truly tailored to the customers’ preferences and tendencies.
When we mutually understand our users, we have a much better chance of improving their experience. In a perfect world, companies would have their sales, marketing, customer service, and product development teams meet regularly and share ideas and information. This fosters empathy and allows everyone to better understand (and collaboratively develop) their product’s personas.
Teams need to be on the same page, and the only way to do that is to tear down the traditional walls that separate sales, marketing, product design, and customer service, and construct a collaborative environment that’s driven by user-focused communication.
Photo by: Ben Grey