Why UX is cool and important to the success of your embedded software

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UX (User Experience) is something that you don’t notice… unless you’ve had a bad user experience. No one ever comments negatively on the blood monitor that just does what it needs to and does it without exception or the helicopter that flies as it’s expected to. When UX works, everyone’s happy, safe and satisfied.

You make sales and enjoy reduced operating costs—when UX is done right.

But people become frustrated when things don’t work as expected. When it’s not obvious how to perform actions. Like relying on manually having to turn a thermostat up or down, because it’s too complicated to programme the timer and the instruction book disappeared into obscurity several residents ago.

You’ve likely experienced the app or website with a complex onboarding process. Signing up, verifying your email address or mobile number, and then stepping through an interactive tour that tells you how to use the website or app and won’t disappear until you complete it.

When all these issues crop up due to poor UX, it can lead to fewer customers, long onboarding process and far more support requests.

Everybody loses.

But what is UX?

There are a lot of different definitions of what UX is exactly, but to borrow from our new colleague Dan Goodwin, and new resident UX expert, user experience is:

“All aspects of an end user’s/customer’s interactions with an organisation, and its products and services.”

User-centred design thinking is at the heart of good UX

Getting to the heart of good UX for any service or product means putting users first—having empathy for them. The design is focused on the user and everything that affects their interactions with a product or service. You need to learn about users’ needs, their:

  • Context
  • Goals
  • Motivations
  • Behaviours
  • Emotions
  • Mental models
  • Capabilities
  • Tasks
  • Journeys
  • Pain points

But good user-centred design is not about working with assumptions about what users are experiencing in each of the above points. Rather it’s about starting with those assumptions and then going out and researching if those assumptions are right or wrong, or there’s something you didn’t even consider. It means collaborating with your team, your stakeholders and users.

Typical processes you may see during UX design

The collaboration between team members, stakeholders and users all happens through various processes. There are different UX philosophies out there, including Lean UX and Agile UX, but the processes used often crossover. So, here are a few you might encounter:

User Groups

User groups are, like the name suggests, groups of users who may interact with a product. Depending on what’s being designed, you can likely pull together more than several (assumed) user groups. These groups may be based on their literal job role or by what they’re trying to achieve.

But you should be wary if you end up in a situation where you have numerous user groups. Too many and it might be a sign that you’re not really designing for anybody.

Empathy mapping

It’s tough building empathy for users. You’re not them. You don’t necessarily know what they’re facing (think that earlier bullet list). You need to do user research (and eventually meet users). But how do you get to the point that you’re ready to do that research? That you can start to empathise with them?

Empathy mapping is a way for project teams, alongside stakeholders, to bring together what they think they know about a group of users and start mapping it out. This “map” helps you to build empathy for users.

(On the left is an Empathy Map for our customers and then on the right is an example of User Journey Mapping.)

Personas

In Lean UX, you might hear of “Proto Personas”, which are created by teams and stakeholders, made from all those assumptions you might have gathered in the above processes or other methods. It combines elements of empathy, uniqueness and user needs. These give you a good starting point for further research and design.

The most powerful personas you want to end up with, however, aren’t proto at all, but fully fledged, based on information from research based on real data from real users.

Interviews

Meeting the users. Talking to them. Asking them “the right questions” to find out information that checks your assumptions and maybe gives you new angles to think about. It’s research.

What are the right questions? These are questions that don’t ask about your designs and ideas and what users think of them. Good questions explore all those earlier bullet points, focusing on user needs.

Handy, right? Interviews are pretty good at providing qualitative data on these. The data can be used to further improve personas, though as it is users talking about their needs, it’s attitudinal based. And that’s okay, but what users say and what they do (behavioural) are often two different things.

That’s why a lot of UX design methods will include…

Observed Usability Tests

Here you put a prototype in front of a participant who represents a potential user group and you get them to complete a specific set of tasks while they think out loud. This is a behavioural research method that also produces qualitative data.

You observe participants (capturing their experience, ideally, through video), while they attempt to follow tasks that are based on what the product has been designed for. This is one of the best ways you can test your designs.

UX improves products and user outcomes

IBM found with its IBM Design Thinking practice (PDF)—IBM’s spin on UX thinking—that products designed using the practice got to market twice as fast as products not using it. That design time was reduced by 75% and that development time was reduced by a further 33% on average. Being user centric and focusing on that human element had real world benefits.

A good user experience can leave a real financial impact on a product. Reduced operating costs, because there’s less onboarding and support needed, increasing efficiency, are a benefit of good UX. Making a product to fit a specific user group in a specific sector can lead to greater revenue and profit, because a product designed for a specific group of users and not everyone, will have fewer unwanted and unused features—enabling it to sell better in that sector.

UX is cool

With more and more of our customers interested in UX for their products, the Bluefruit team are taking part in ongoing UX training with Dan, our new UX expert. We’re already bringing user-centred thinking and processes to a handful of projects. Much of the thinking around UX design fits in well with our existing Lean-Agile processes, so it’s going to be good to bring this extra dimension to how we work across our client work and internally too.

If you want to work with outsourced embedded software developers who take you and your product seriously: get in touch today.