It’s important to understand your users.
Some people are so concerned with the way something looks (does it fit into the current design/development trends?), that they forget the purpose of what they are building. This can be said (in my opinion) about both websites and applications… and the larger the organization, the worse this problem tends to be.
If my career was the entirety of my life, then it’s fair to say that I grew up around research-based approaches. Design and development were always so far removed from me that I didn’t really get to understand them until recently. I get how important they are, I even get that the trends are trends for a reason other than aesthetic value. But what pains me, deep down inside, is the lack of importance placed on making informed decisions, rather than just what someone thinks is right (when most of the time, they’re not). What was that saying? “Advertising agencies think everyone is as stupid as they are”. It’s time to change this.
User experience, after all, is user experience. How somebody experiences your brand, your product, and yes, your website.
Something I give the Social Media industry credit for is their reliance on metrics. Because social was the new kid in town, it had to prove itself. A website or application’s success is not built upon traffic numbers, rather the ability to guide the end user to a desired action. Driving people there by spending thousands of dollars does not accomplish anything if you can’t get someone to accomplish something. Wasted effort, wasted money.
In a perfect world, user testing (real user testing) would guide and lead designers and developers to understand that the decisions they’re making (emergent strategies, if you will) contribute to more than just how something functions and what it looks like. How better to understand the purpose of these things than to get a handful of users in a room and figure it out? There are even base-level things that can be done to understand how people currently use a site:
- Card sorting
- Morae tests
- Deep analysis of current web analytics
- User personas
- Task analysis, etc.
All of these things prove easy enough that they shouldn’t be a barrier to good user experience, they should be a gateway. Those hours you pay to have someone perform the basic foundational tasks are an investment to secure happy users. The users probably won’t even feel elation from the outcome, it will be so organic that they won’t even have to think about it.
Alls I’m saying is that having something that looks nice and works means nothing if you don’t understand how these elements contribute to your organizations success — and the only way to do that is to understand the purpose of your site or application.
Informed decisions: a hell of a drug.