The First Step in Creating User-Friendly Software

Nowadays, users expect all software to be easy to use. As such, “user-friendliness” is a demand that our creative team often hears. We usually tackle this challenge with the following mantra: the way to design simple and user-friendly software is through user research.

Ideally, user research is an ongoing process that starts at a project’s inception and evolves throughout its life cycle.

Drafting a solid UX strategy

Software development being what it is, we often have to work with tight deadlines and compartmentalized budgets, leaving little wiggle room for UX and emphasizing the need for a rigorous UX strategy custom-tailored for each project.

While a UX strategy must be extensive, it must also remain flexible. We do user research because we are looking to acquire new knowledge. This new knowledge often yields unanticipated results, which can imply a revision of our research plan.

Involving the whole team

Getting stakeholders’ and the development team’s buy-in is paramount to a successful UX strategy. This is why we involve clients, business analysts and developers in the drafting of the UX strategy.

User research is not an obscure, highly technical field, quite the contrary: it’s an area where common sense and general knowledge play a large part. The role of UX researchers and designers is to lead the process of creating a UX strategy, not to do everything on their own. While researchers and designers possess extensive knowledge on usability and research methods, it is critically important that they capitalize on the clients’ expertise in their fields and on their business logic.

Seven steps to creating a UX strategy

Our experience has shown that launching the UX strategy right at the project’s onset is key to creating user-friendly software. Here are our seven steps to a sound UX strategy:

1. Analyze business goals

Common sense dictates that the first step in drafting a sound UX strategy is to meet with business analysts and stakeholders to clarify the business logic for the project. The UX researcher’s role, at this stage, is to determine the user’s goals and how these align with business goals.

The UX researcher, in effect, acts as the end user’s advocate. This is usually when the whole team emits hypotheses as to how users’ needs match business requirements.

2. Determine user roles

Most systems have multiple roles (i.e., “clerk” or “admin”); however, they aren’t always clear-cut. It is entirely possible that a same user role is carried out by vastly different positions. This is why UX researchers like to categorize users in personas that are not necessarily linked to the business logic. These personas act as a useful reference for information architecture, usability and visual design.

3. Observe users in their current environment to find out how their behaviors can be measured

The first hours of a project should be spent observing users, or potential users, in their existing environment.

All stakeholders and team members should participate in this activity. This does not mean that everybody needs to go into the field: a debriefing meeting with pictures and video snippets tend to work well in communicating users’ reality to the team.

4. Agree upon metrics

At this point, the UX team possesses objective information about business goals, user needs, the users themselves and their environment. The next step is to establish a set of metrics that will be used as a reference throughout the project.

While the metrics can evolve as the project grows, initial data remains the benchmark upon which the UX team can verify its hypotheses.

Usability metrics can differ from KPIs, as they relate more to users’ needs than to business goals. However, all KPIs determined at a project’s onset should still be part of the basic metrics set.

5. Settle upon user research activities

UX can be measured and improved through many different activities: usability testing, live observation, card sorting, surveying, etc. However, no project requires all of them to be done.

There are two reasons to select a user research activity:

1. to gather and explore general knowledge about the user; and

2. to measure an identified metric.

UX researchers determine which activities should be used, and at which point in the process, in close consultation with the project manager.

6. Commit requirements to the project charter

Drawing up a calendar of UX activities is essential, but worthless unless it is committed to a project charter. This step ensures that all stakeholders, the development team and the UX team are all involved in user research.

Furthermore, user research and UX activities tend to highlight usability defects at every stage of development. As such, it is essential to set aside some time in the budget for UX-specific development. Otherwise, UX activities will lead to findings with no follow-up.

7. Start measuring

Finally, once the UX strategy is written up and agreed to by stakeholders, a base measure of all metrics should be taken. These base metrics are essential to measuring a project’s success right from the start.

Those are our seven steps to creating a UX strategy. Remember that no matter how rigid the budget or the deadlines, the team must be ready to change strategies. There are no advantages to a faulty UX strategy, unless it is used as a learning experience on how to improve it.

Also, always involve the whole team. The field of user research is predicated on common sense, and there are valuable insights to be gained from everyone involved in a project: stakeholders, developers, business analysts, designers and project managers.