One Secret Behind UXD that ‘feels’ Right

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User Experience Design is a powerful tool. It’s one of the few means for organizations to defeat existing brand loyalties. No matter how committed users may be to the competition, a superior design gets noticed.

UXD can actually be felt by site or app users. 

Abstract as ‘feeling superior design’ may sound, it’s a noteworthy distinction. Creating a complicated interface that feels simple is, actually, extraordinary difficult. Building a site or app that will  feel intuitive for users is an endlessly complex process. But I can tell you one thing: such work always stands on the same foundation.

Working with talented UX developers, the key takeaway I’ve gleamed is that the best UXD is built around what users actually do with a web-based offering, not necessarily just what they might initially claim to want from the design.

A few anecdotes help explain:

In pedestrian friendly campuses, such as universities, one interesting construction practice is to hold off on designing the pathways between buildings. Instead, grass is laid and walkers are allowed a sort of ‘test period’ to determine the pathways. The actual walkways are then built, with consideration for the worn paths on the grass.

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A Sony focus group in the 1980s serves as another illustrative example. Sony executives were surprised to learn that the majority of focus groups were eager for stereo systems and equipment in any color, so long as it wasn’t the traditional gray or black. Testing this data, Sony held new focus groups. These yielded the same result. People wanted more color options! However, for an added variable in this latest round of focus groups, these respondants were offered a free Sony product before leaving. And, to see if they’d put their money were there mouth was, they were given a wide variety of new color options. Still, the majority of these focus group members ultimately chose gray or black!

My favorite anecdote about actual watching behavior, rather than only responding to requests, is a quote from Henry Ford. When Mr. Ford was asked about his opinion on focus groups, etc, his alleged response was, “If I’d asked the people what they want, they would have told me ‘a faster horse’!”

Of course UXD would never work if the opinions of all stakeholders aren’t considered. To be sure, hearing and accounting for everyone‘s opinion is vital to the process. But it’s all for naught if you don’t also take a close look at actual behavior. Watching how a web-based tool is currently used is a crucial step towards building new tools that people will actually use and appreciate.

This is the foundation for UXD that just feels right.

2015: Don’t Panic

Facing a new year, it’s easy to be intimidated about web development projects. In fact, business owners today almost have to stay nervous about their organization’s web presence, lest they get left behind. Exciting and inspiring as our resolutions for 2015 might be, there’s always a lot of noise out there suggesting that we might be falling behind.

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams:

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I’ve always found solace in those words. Adams was a master of satire. But what always stuck out to me was how he playfully explored a universal theme. He knew that, at one point or another, all of us can feel a bit overwhelmed by an ever-changing world. Naturally, “Don’t Panic” are the sage words of wisdom written across the front page of his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s simple, blunt and maybe even perfect advice. In fact, it’s my message for anyone fretting about the future of their web development.

You’d have to have your head in the sand not to notice that this past year was filled with stunning new web services that will affect just about every industry. Conversely, there were also a number of high-profile cyber attacks. Sure, The Interview and North Korea were getting all the headlines at the end of 2014, but how many people do you know personally who were victims of anonymous cyber-attacks large or small?

A few? More than a few? Dozens perhaps?

2014 proved to us that the web space can be as dangerous as it is complicated. Taken all at once, the past year made a strong case that 2015 is also sure to present countless ‘game changing’ web developments as well.

Faced with all this noise, you can’t help put wonder if your business’s web-based infrastructure is as robust and impressive as it could be? Rapidly evolving design standards ensure that it is rare to ever be fully satisfied with your website or app, not to mention your internal applications.

Let’s try an experiment to see if we can really get your panic attack started. Just for a second!

Ready?

Brace yourself.

How is your site’s SEO performance? Does your site’s user-experience oriented design improve your SEO performance, as proven by Google Analytics? Does your website offer e-commerce functionality? If so, is it working perfectly? Which of your service offering(s) do site visitors routinely miss? Does each aspect of your customer relationship management system integrate into your site and staff processes seamlessly?

Starting to feel dizzy? Feeling swamped in question marks?

We’re not done yet!

Well what about apps???

Will people actually download that expensive new app you’re thinking about building? And how well would this app integrate with your existing site features, anyways?

Oh, hold up… do you currently have a website but not an app? Is your business considering a custom app? Most business’s don’t. But who hasn’t considered building an app for their business?

Should you start budgeting for an app!?

Let’s take a breath…

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Custom apps are a great example of a web development project many businesses and organizations considered in 2014. The reality is a lot of folks out there have been trying to bite off more than they could chew. With some consulting and a phased approach, development projects can be smaller (and far more manageable!) than all the noise suggests.

Let’s take a closer look at this app example. Should we panic if we don’t have the budget for an app right now?

It’s certainly true that a custom app can be a great value add for your business. Many app services can even open up new revenue streams. They can even help to strengthen your customer’s engagement with your service offerings. Yes, there are thousands of web development considerations to keep you up at night. But most of them really are designed (and often pitched) as more vital and/or more complicated than they have to be.

Let’s break down the app debate. This really is a great example to work with. Because, if there is one web development take away from 2014, it’s this:

In 2014, most reports suggest that we officially access web pages more via mobile devices than computers. In 2015, these figures will push firmly into mobile.

So does this mean that you need an app immediately?

No.

Before even thinking about an app, and perhaps even instead of building an app, it’s vital that your core website is optimized for mobile browsing. In 2015, not every business will need an app, but every website really should be optimized for mobile browsing. Indeed, a site that functions smoothly via mobile browsing is often more practical than a dedicated app.

Is your site optimized for mobile browsing? If not, or if you are unsure, this should be a simple focus to begin 2015.

There may come a day when most business services are accessed through apps.

But right now, in 2015? A mobile optimized site is far and away your first priority. If your core business deliverable and/or revenue stream isn’t from an app service, the vast majority of your mobile traffic will be directed through your core website. And site visitors will be turned off by a non mobile-optimized site.

Most folks browsing the web don’t care if a dedicated app isn’t an option. Again, it’s true that an app might help you gain a customer or build a stronger connection as a value-add for customers. But a non-optimized or poorly optimized site can actually help you lose a customer.

So what’s the take away here? What’s the good news?

Building a customized app from the ground up can be costly. Optimizing a site for mobile (and tablet) browsing is a relatively minor expense.

This is just one example for how some general consulting could help you see the individual trees instead of being overwhelmed by the site of the entire forest. A trusted developer can help you can feel more confident about the direction of your business’s web presence.

Of course, there are trends that can’t be ignored. Business owners will still have to pay attention to these trends, taking action where necessary (such as with optimization). But it’s never quite as scary and dramatic as it seems.

Your infrastructure needs to walk before it can run. Take a look at the larger universe of development options. But keep your feet firmly planted. Just be ready to face what’s right in front of you and your organization.

And don’t panic.

 

Public Sector Tech Incubators (They’re real!)

Web development moves fast, exponentially so. It’s hard to keep pace. But with change comes opportunity.

To lead the charge in web-based innovations, and to capitalize on their utility, requires an environment that is equal parts imaginative and assertive. It’s been proven again and again that small-to-medium sized technology incubators are one of the best means to create substantive innovations in web-development. Looking at the larger picture, these same principles can be found at play in the public sector. When considering web-responsiveness in national governments, it’s interesting to note how huge economic powerhouses often lag behind the adaptability and responsiveness of smaller nations.

No nation illustrates this fact better than Estonia.

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The term ‘E-Estonia’ isn’t new. The moniker has been used for well over a decade and it couldn’t be more apt. Today, Estonians vote and pay their taxes online with remarkable efficiency. Citizens are pleased with these services, and governments the world over have taken note. In fact, starting next year, this nation of less than 1.5 million residents will be offering ‘e-residency’ for tourists. Indeed, this web-based ‘residency’ is such a modern offering that there are few existing programs to even compare it to. But the gist of this ‘e-residency’ is that it will allow tourists and other brands of non-Estonian residents to utilize public-sector services offered by the Estonian government.

How such a concept as ‘E-Residency’ could evolve is anyone’s guess. Hopefully it will lead to greater efficency in the general relationship between ‘resident’ and government services. This could even be the beginning of a highly-effective digital means of promoting tourism and attracting new business. Indeed, the end result of such innovations could be greater efficiency and even significantly less expenditures for governments the world over.

Meanwhile, back Stateside, we see innovations in our public sector’s web development mostly at the state and local level. There are countless examples of state governments and/or municipalities leading the way with new web-based services. Not all of these innovations prove themselves successful. After all, each new web-based service needs to offer genuine utility and ease of use (easier said than done!) But using state and local governments as mini laboratories to learn ‘best-fit’ public sector solutions can be a great resource.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, the city of San Francisco is one municipal government that is actively testing new web-based solutions. The city is already over a year into its effort to bridge the gap between innovative online offerings and now-outdated government services. Of course, San Francisco’s Entrepreneurship in Residence program is just one noteworthy example of how governments can work towards updating their services and fostering civic engagement by adopting modern web standards.

In short: larger, more slow-moving government bodies would be wise to play close attention to development experiments such as Estonia’s ‘e-residency’. Projects such as e-residency may offer us a glimpse into what might be much more commonplace in the future. If we learn as much as we can from these experiments, we may save ourselves a lot of headaches (and money!) as we avoid the rough patches they are sure to illustrate on their development journey.

What say you, dear reader? Do you have any examples of how small governments are innovating web-based public sector services?