Every UX battle is won before it’s ever designed

Sun Tzu Quote.jpg

The eureka moment

From Wikipedia:

The eureka effect (also known as the aha! moment or eureka moment) refers to the common human experience of suddenly understanding a previously incomprehensible problem or concept. Some research describes the aha! effect (also known as insightor epiphany) as a memory advantage, but conflicting results exist as to where exactly it occurs in the brain, and it is difficult to predict under what circumstances one can predict an Aha! moment.

As a memory advantage? I would state that in the context of end-user research as a “good listener” advantage.

If I look back at the customer research and user studies I’ve performed over the last 15 years, every one shares a common trait: we learned something significant that neither I nor my client understood about the customer.

These eureka moments can drive sweeping changes to the design direction of a service, app or product.

I cannot overemphasize the incendiary effect of a eureka moment produced by an effective user study.

Three Eureka Moment Anecdotes

One – Keeping It Real

I've written about the importance of interacting with end-users in the field, as opposed to using a lab environment (Go out into the field and rap to these people). At the end of that article, I shared an anecdote that forever changed how I approach UX design.

I once conducted a user study that included interviewing health care practitioners who, themselves, interviewed others as part of their job. Their role was to follow up with patients who had undergone medical treatment of some kind to make sure the patient was following their health care directives and to assess their progress.

The eureka moment came from those Registered Nurses on how important it was to keep the conversation friendly, natural, supportive, smooth and on-point. Their interviews are conducted over the phone, not in-person; nonetheless, every RN told me that patients could sense when the interviewer was ‘reading from a script’ or simply following a checklist. When that happens, patients often become nervous and hesitant, they stop proactively offering additional information and just tersely answer with a short yes or no. That realization broke ground for the application’s main success scenario in the design work that followed.

Those RNs have a tough job and I am forever indebted to them for teaching me more about UX interviewing and observing in those two weeks than in the years that came before.

Two – It’s All in the Hands

On another project, I was tasked with rapidly designing and prototyping a working solution, after developing a “user study” that made best use of years of in-house knowledge of the client’s customer base. That’s client speak for: “…don’t waste our time and money talking with customers, the product manager knows everything. Just start drawing screens/pages/wireframes.”

The product was a touch screen app running on a Panasonic Toughbook®, physically mounted inside the cabs of pick-up trucks. The end-users were, to a man, retired construction contractors that had transitioned into working for land management bureaus. The eureka moment: they were manly men … with huge meat-mitts for hands, limited computer skills and an inability to follow the rules. Like, for example, using their mounted terminals while driving, which was expressly forbidden. These seemingly unimportant details don’t show up in the client’s big spreadsheet of product features, which are mostly a listing of competitor’s features.

Lessons learned from the user base drove a visual design with absurdly large buttons, a seriously bright color palette and a coarse-grained decomposition of functionality to limit the attention required to view information while driving.

Three – You Never Know When You’ll Need That Fish Scaler

Fish scaler: Although the fish scaler is used by many fishermen to scale fish, it's often derided as one of the least useful tools in this model. However, there are other uses for the fish scaler, including carving pumpkins.Knife Depot.

A landmark project in my career was re-designing a management app for a SAN (storage area network). The client had previously been recognized as an ease-of-use leader in the market, but had badly slipped in that category; a realization that most in the company were not eager to embrace.

We performed comprehensive user experience research, interviewing a large number of customers, as well as field sales engineers and even sales prospects from lost deals. By comprehensive, I mean we literally spent six months in the field interviewing customers and assembling our conclusions.

The eureka moment was realizing that customers only used a handful of very basic features. It was eye-opening and the result was a decision to sharply tack-away from the previous product's kitchen sink approach. Instead, we would favor a slimmed-down feature set that would reduce complexity, ease learnability and emphasize recall-ability for overworked storage technicians. A recurring theme in dealing with legacy apps is that everything is there for a reason. To not include the fish scaler means that N-Zillion dollars in revenue is at risk (that’s zillion with a ‘Z’). You’re new here; you don’t understand.

Equally eye-opening: the redesigned product won trade magazine Editor’s Choice awards and was driving sales of the parent product, based on user experience alone. The lesson I learned was to filter out the noise and really listen to what customers want – and it’s usually not a grab bag of features, it’s basic blocking and tackling stuff.

Six Principles of Effective User Experience Design

Sun Tzu was doing UX before it was cool and long before everyone started bleating: “experience”. He knew the importance of satisfying a need or a desire, within the customer base, as opposed to clever design or features as ends in themselves.

Research without design is the slowest route to victory. Design without research is the noise before defeat.
— Sun Tzu

To maintain the correct focus on a digital product’s user experience I have learned to prioritize six principles of effective UX design.

1.     Functionally Correct

2.     Error Tolerant

3.     Efficient to use

4.     Easy to learn

5.     Easy to remember

6.     Subjectively pleasing

Follow KRUTSCH on LinkedIn and on Twitter to read our next post that expands the above list and illustrates why they are so ordered.

Ken Krutsch is Managing Principal of KRUTSCH Associates, a digital product design firm, specializing in product vision and realization, including customer research, roadmap development and full-stack user experience design.

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