Four reasons to invest in UX design

If you're a commercial director or product owner tasked with improving existing propositions to deliver a better experience to your customers, you might struggle to specify the value and role of UX in helping you do this.

You'll probably ask yourself if UX is worth a slice of the project budget; if it's essential to getting something delivered and whether you'll learn anything new. In this article, I’ll lay out why, here at Nomensa, we believe UX design is indeed a necessary part of any project delivering a successful commercial offer in today's increasingly digital world.

What's the commercial value of investing in UX design?

As digital technologies become ever more ubiquitous, successful products and services need to be designed to span both the physical and digital.

Considering users' interactions with your service through the various devices, interfaces and environments they encounter through their typical day provides you with an opportunity to create richer and more engaging experiences. In a fast-moving world that’s awash with new technologies, it’s crucial to understand both the user themselves and the context that they - and your offering - will live in, or you risk making the wrong investment.

Taking a user-centred approach to design - getting to know your customer and testing ideas with them - has long been recognised as the best way to ensure that what you finally build engages them and creates a sustainable offering. This principle still stands in today’s context where digital technologies touch every area of life, but it brings new roles, behaviours and expectations to your users and makes their interactions with services more complex to understand and design for.

Expectations of an integrated and seamless experience are the norm: the delivery of an item 'next day', receiving real-time mobile notifications about flights, or being able to access a market on the other side of the world to sell crafts. New needs and opportunities are emerging but so are the toolkits to support organisations in facing the challenge.

Your customers and their needs are evolving alongside advances in technology. For your products to remain relevant you need to keep users involved and part of your process. 

So, here are four top reasons - illustrated by Kate Evans, one of Nomensa's Senior UX Designers - why you should invest in UX design:

1. UX design creates products and services that provide real value to people

There has been a boom in affordable, usable tools that connect objects to the internet and generate data, driving the much-hyped ‘Internet of Things’. With such a broad palette of new technologies available, it’s tempting for organisations to try and find ways to incorporate them into their products, for fear of 'missing out' or be seen as lagging behind. However, when looking at the wave of new products that have emerged, it seems the question of ‘why?’ has often been overlooked.

Many companies have simply been ‘sticking a sensor on something’ to make a smart product, just because it was possible. Although exploration and trial is a necessary part of the evolution of any new technology, a tech-centred approach usually doesn’t lead to products with long-lasting value for users – if they didn’t arise from meeting a need, then the delight of novelty can quickly fade like a dying battery.

Even Apple – a company heralded for its user-centred design and intuitive interfaces – struggled initially to find market success for its smart watch. Over time, it’s been the users who’ve found it provided value as a health management device. New technologies like AI, voice interaction, gestural interfaces, sensors and virtual reality allow you to be present in new environments, communicate in new ways and provide intelligence to your users.

Use research and UX design to explore how you can leverage the tech benefits to help and delight them. Provide a solution for a need, not the reverse. For example, the broader potential of AR and VR beyond gaming is emerging as companies explore how it can be used to solve problems. The C-Thru system from Quake Technologies combines a thermal camera and AR display in a wearable product to help firefighters and others in high-stress and hazardous environments to navigate their environment.

AdhereTech use a relatively straight-forward sensor tech to tackle a significant issue in healthcare; their internet-connected pill bottle is designed to solve the problem of patients forgetting to take their medication.

Real-time data from sensors on the bottle is sent via a cellular chip to the cloud, where the data is analysed and a reminder sent back to the patient. Since their average user age is 70, the company needed to consider using everyday communication devices that the patient already has. For instance, alerts are shown through lights or chimes on the bottle itself, or sent out via a phone call or text message.

2. UX design generates services that support people's complex lives

Technology gives us a wealth of information and choices, but it also brings new complexity to our lives. Your approach to service and experience design needs to evolve as it becomes possible for people to interact with others, businesses and data in a myriad of ways. Touchpoints between your brand and your customers can now happen across different locations and moments, but to design the ideal experience that supports them, you need to understand your customers’ lives, what motivates them, and what challenges them.

For example, when is a notification a timely alert and when is it an interruption? What does your customer want to achieve in your brick and mortar store, and what would they prefer to do in your online store? What kinds of data would they like to share with friends, and through which channel? Questions like these can only be answered by understanding your target users to see how they navigate this complex online/offline world, and how they want to interact with it.

Easyjet have studied the often-stressful experience of taking a flight, and designed their app and in-airport check-in experience to make it more pleasant and efficient for customers. The app is designed to be an in-the-pocket service for the whole journey; the user can buy a flight, check-in, choose a seat, make a purchase, check flight updates, change their ticket or hire a car, and the app will provide notifications based on real-time data and the user's location.

In financial services, Monzo has revolutionised the banking experience by putting the user at the centre. Delivered with delightful graphics and under the promise of being ‘a bank for everyone, that works with you, for you’, Monzo has focused on user needs instead of copying competitor features in a race to the bottom. 

They have delivered an app with benefits that make sense in their customers' daily lives: tracking all spending and setting budgets, temporarily ‘freezing’ a debit card if it goes missing, or making an instant payment to a friend’s phone via Bluetooth.

3. UX design enables new user roles and business models

Traditional ways of doing business and the role of your customer are changing. The conventional model of a company delivering a product to its passive customers has been disrupted. Digital technologies and the web have enabled people to meet in platforms hosted by brands and assume a variety of roles – sometimes to provide the value and sometimes to receive it. The lines of customer and provider are blurred. To engage your audience and play a role in this new economy, you’ll need to involve them in your approach.

Companies like Airbnb, Etsy and Uber provide a platform to leverage this new model of value exchange – peer-to-peer networks that connect people and resources on-demand. Airbnb couldn’t have emerged and grown so effectively had it not taken a user-centred twist on the age-old model of hotels. For example, they understood that trust played a huge role in the user experience – and indeed was integral to the business model - so they focused on the user to understand the ways in which that trust could be promoted between peers using social technologies and UX patterns.

Take GiffGaff as another example. It's a virtual network operator originally set up as a startup inside the telecoms giant O2 in 2009. It has no Customer Service department, and instead brings customers with questions or problems together with others who can help to answer them on their community platform. Rewarded with points and credit, the system is both efficient (response time to questions can be minutes) and helps to build a loyal community of happy core customers who act as an extension of the GiffGaff team.

4. UX design will ensure your product is...usable!

Access to the web is increasingly seen as a basic right, and digital presence as an increasingly important part of any service. So, your offering needs to be accessible and usable by everyone, whatever their abilities. The little screens in our pockets have become such an integral part of everyday life that it’s easy to imagine that everyone interacts with the internet and digital platforms in the same way, but there’s a risk that brands end up designing for only a section of their audience.

Make it usable
By observing you customers' experiences first-hand through UX research, you are more likely to build a product that is a delight – not a frustration – to interact with. 'Design' can be defined as creating a solution to a challenge defined by certain restrictions. Whether those restrictions are a user’s physical or cognitive impairments, the limits of the device or internet connection your customers might have, or challenges people face brought about by injury or ageing, they need be addressed from the very start of your project.

There are principles and patterns already developed from user research to help you build a universally-accessible product. Use existing guidelines as a starting point, and combine them with a growing understanding of your different customers’ specific needs to feed into the design of a usable, delightful experience for all. It’s even possible that by knowing your customers and their needs, you can leap-frog your competitors by leveraging new technologies to deliver the service in an innovative way that disrupts the market.

A good example of accessible digital design is the UK government’s digital estate (gov.uk), which is designed to be usable by everyone, and follows the Government Digital Service (GDS) guidelines. Looking at accessibility from another angle, Skype Lite is a lighter version of the communication app, especially designed for the Indian market. By looking at the needs of users there, Microsoft saw the value in producing a product that performs reliably on low-bandwidth 2G networks, and added in features that made sense for users – including a way to filter annoying promotional texts from their inbox.

Bring UX design into your process

In conclusion, bringing a user-centred perspective into your design/development process makes business sense. As both technology and your customers’ expectations evolve, UX design ensures you remain relevant and competitive. There are different tools and techniques that can be used throughout the design, development and maintenance of your product which support an iterative approach of research, prototyping, testing and validation.

At Nomensa, we are experts at humanising technology and helping our clients to innovate, design and deliver new experiences in today’s digitally-connected world. We have rich experience in UX design and research, and will work with you to define the best blend to help answer your questions and support your vision. These might include qualitative methods like ethnographic research/contextual inquiry (as written on our blog by Joe Knowles) or lab-based usability testing, as well as quantitative methods like online surveys or studying web analytics. Our approach sees us working in multi-disciplinary teams of researchers, strategists, writers, designers and developers to get a balance of input that leads to a user-centred, commercially-viable and technically-sound solution.

And if accessibility is your concern, you might like to know that we are key members of the Web Accessibility Initiative, where our team help to shape the evolution of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) framework.

If you would like to know more, please get in touch - we’d love to hear from you.

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