Agile UX and the 3 Pillars of a Successful App / by Gavin Lau

Over the last few years, excellent user experience design has proven to be a distinct business advantage. This is part 2 of our 3 part app series with insights, from our Annalect leads in product marketing, UX and data solutions, on a successful business application strategy.

Today, the term “user experience” (or UX) as a discipline encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

As a UX Practictioner for more than 14 years, I’ve had the good fortune to be involved with some great clients such as Autozone, Paypal, The Nature Conservancy, Hewlett Packard and many others large and small. During that time, I’ve been involved in enough successful software endeavors to have developed a strong working theory as to why people should chose one solution over another.

For this article I’m going to focus on the modern strategic role of UX research and interaction design in relation to developing a meaningful user relationship with your app or service. The following are ideas that traverse software aimed at any screen size and as such, are completely relevant when producing and or evolving a mobile application or service.

In order to generate the best possible experience for your target users, you need to get really good at 3 things:

  • Establishing empathy

  • Agile iteration

  • Measurement

There are many other pieces that help a project hedge for success but these are the epics that need to be mastered.


The distinct business advantage of a strong UX

The degree to which a software product organization has refined its UX practice is directly tied to the degree of success that the organization will see in its products. The data is clear; software features with a poorly designed user experience have a drastically lower potential ROI. Sound sensational? It isn’t.

Two important things happen in that quote:

  • 83% return on investment is, by any standard, incredible

  • The difference between current ROI and the older crazier ROI (10x even 100x) on UX investment speaks to the fact that excellent UX is now table stakes.

As a refresher, a “good user experience” for software is defined as:

  • Having utility (having the features I need)

  • Usability (easy and pleasant to use)

  • Making it useful (utility and usability combined).

*The importance of great UX applies both in the B2B and B2C space.


Human to human, empathy up front (repeat after me, “I am not the user”)

In 2014 Ryan Kramer wrote, “there is no more b2b or b2c, software is now human to human”. This is a statement (and a book) that becomes more true with time. Apps are now such a big part of our daily experience that naming the difference between the software I use at work and what I use personally is nearly meaningless. Today, the average user expects the same level of contextual relevance and usefulness from every software experience he or she has. Being spoiled for choice, users are prone to shop until the solution they find is sufficiently meaningful.

Establishing a meaningful user experience of any kind requires empathy.

As opposed to the traditional software design approach, based strictly on business requirements, software design should be led by qualitative and behavioral research in order to establish empathy. Early contact between a business plan and actual users can lead to some counter intuitive findings, but the reality is, they are usually only counter to initial incorrect assumptions (ignore them at your peril). These insights should be shared effectively with the team and stakeholders in the form of a well-understood series of activities and artifacts. These artifacts, such as wireframes, personas, user flows, etc. produced by a UX team, are tools. Tools to tell the story about user needs, vet ideas, align stakeholders, create alignment, and minimize the risk before the build as well as optimize the product when in the market. The artifact strategies and techniques vary depending on the need but the ultimate goal is to establish empathy.


A safe place to measure and iterate AKA the importance of self-reflection

Software is hard, complex, and expensive, not to mention risky over long periods of time. Before a product makes it to the production phase it is essential that the entire team is in regular conversations with potential or actual users and is listening via quantitative data analysis and qualitative research. As mentioned earlier, leading with qualitative and behavioral research will set up a roadmap of accurate themes based on real user needs. When modeling the software answer to those needs, testing the prototype with actual or potential users and iterating on real information before going to production will add even more confidence and context to the roadmap. The same applies to a product after launch. Observe quantitatively for the “what” and interview real users (qualitative) for the “why”. Iterate. Rinse and repeat. I cannot overstate the value of the process – research, hypothesize, iterate and measure. Nor can I overstate the challenge of actually getting this process cemented in an organization. Self-analysis is hard. People are threatened by the idea that they may have been wrong therefore are not prone to self-analysis, especially in a business environment. Rigorous self-analysis via qualitative and quantitative research is the most valuable way to hedge for success in software development.


Point in summary

If you made it to the end of this article, thank you. “The User Experience” as a facet of business crosses over all departments when building out a piece of software for any screen size. From the top to the bottom, every member of an organization manages a piece of it. The information contained in this article really is an over simplified Pollyanna version of a strong UX practice but if you focus on these broad strokes: work to establish empathy, measure your ideas against both quantitative and qualitative data, and iterate regularly informed by your findings, you will have an excellent chance at creating something great.