#92: Software Application Speed - UX Design

Continuing the conversation on Software Application Speed, I look at one of the means of improvement - User Experience Design.

In this episode I introduce User Experience Design, its subset User Interface Design and how they can help your users get things done easier, with less frustration, and greater efficiency.

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Published: Wed, 07 Jul 2021 16:27:04 GMT


Hello and welcome back to The Better ROI from Software Development podcast.

In the last episode, I gave an introduction to speed on why it's a critical factor in our software applications. Not just for those consumer facing applications such as our sales websites or mobile applications, but also for our own staff in terms of their own productivity and being able to get their job done efficiently and effectively - and helping towards the productivity of the organisation.

In this episode, I'm going to talk about one of the factors that can improve the speed for our users, whether they be customers or our staff or our partners.

In this episode, I want to talk about User Experience Design.

So what is User Experience Design - often referred to as UX? Well, interactive-design,org describes it as:.

"User experience (UX) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function."

In truth, User Experience Design as a field is incredibly wide. It's a very large discipline and certainly goes well beyond what we need to talk about in this episode. If you think about User Experience Design as being anything that would encapsulate the user's experience with any part of your product - so in fairness, that could include marketing, branding, colours - anything that may impact their use of your service or product.

For the purpose of this episode, though, I want to narrow down on what is known as User Interface Design, or UI, which is a subset of the wider UX.

UI design or the User Interface Design is focussed on making sure that the user interface say, for example, what the customer sees our website is easy to use, is pleasurable and it's efficient.

Let's talk about easy to use. We want to make sure that any software application we present to our users, whether that be consumer or whether it be our own staff, is easy to navigate and use. We don't want to make it complicated.

And that feeds very much into that pleasurable, or more importantly probably, frustration free, that we want our users to go through. I'm sure you've used software in the past that has caused you a level of frustration. That causes bad feelings. It makes it very difficult to want to work with that software if it's so poor. And if that's a consumer, they can vote with their feet. If it's our staff, then we're impacting their productivity.

But let's also talk about efficiency. Efficiency for me is how well that software interface is designed for its use. Take, for example, if your software requires a user to click up in the top left corner to do one thing immediately followed by the bottom right corner to do something else that isn't very efficient - there's actually quite a movement of your mouse from one corner to the other.

And that, while may seem trivial, is actually quite a poor user experience when it comes to that user interface. But oddly, it's quite common, it's quite common for us to have our buttons towards the bottom of the page, our buttons to say next or OK. But we've learnt over time that that isn't the best place necessarily for them to be.

You want efficiency of mouse movements, efficiency of hand movements, efficiency of eye movement - by keeping the things that need to be used together, close together.

So, for example, if you're doing a search, you should have the search box and the search button right next to it. You shouldn't have a search box where you can put the terms in or the product, whatever it is you're looking for, and then have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to actually click the search button. That's incredibly inefficient.

And again, we do this all the time. Probably more so with our internal software. Where we're expecting our teams to just scroll down. Surely that's not a lot of work for them to do? But think if they're doing that hundreds and hundreds of times a day.

If you've developed a piece of software, say, for a call centre to look something up, if they're having to put a search term in at the top of the page, maybe an account number, and then scroll all the way back to the bottom to search - how efficient is that going to be for them? How much time in their working day are they actually losing by moving up and down?

Even if we ignore the possible impacts of things like RSI, the repetitive strain injury, of doing that over and over and over again.

And the same is true eye movement. When you look at a website, you want to have all the information that you want to look at easily navigable. You shouldn't expect to see a heading in one place and then have to search the page with your eyes to find the remaining content. It should be in a logical and expected position.

All these things feed into that User Interface Design, it feeds back into that, ultimately, back into that user experience.

And why am I talking about this when I'm talking about speed?

Because the better the User Interface Design and the better the User Experience, the faster is for the user to use it. And with a customer, that means they're able to navigate quicker for it, find what they're looking for, achieve what they're trying to do - whether that's buying from you, whether it's registering or whether it's doing any number of activities, as long as they can find it quickly and efficiently - that's the speed I'm talking about.

And of course, when it comes to your own staff and your business partners, you're looking to make it efficient so that you're able to get the job done quickly and effectively and making sure that you're keeping that productivity levels high.

So some things to think about when you're looking at UI design.

Are you asking the user to complete needless steps? One example of this is if a customer is coming on to order, do you ask them a whole series of marketing questions, questions that you want to use for profiling later? Are you asking them all these questions for your benefit so that you can potentially sell to them later on? Now, your marketing team may think that's great: "Yes, we definitely want to know their age, their gender, their socioeconomic backgrounds". But by having all those steps in there, are you potentially producing a poor experience for the customer? Are you slowing them down to the point where they're struggling to get the job done that they need to. They've come on to buy a teapot, they haven't come in to fill in their history, their family tree, almost just to buy a teapot.

You have to think about that User Experience, and then obviously the User Interface Design, of what you're trying to achieve and what is valuable to you as an organisation.

And it may be that those questions are super critical to you as an organisation. Personally, I would suggest its probably not the case if your main role is to sell teapots.

As I said earlier in this episode, User Experience Design is a massive subject, as indeed is User Interface design in its own right - and that's only a subset. There is so much possible detail that can be gone into in those two fields, much more than I'dever tried to cover in this sort of episode.

And the same is true of a team; I wouldn't expect a team to know all of this. I would, however, expect a team to understand some of the basics. And I'd always recommend having that skill set, that skill knowledge at the team level. It's much better for the team to have awareness of User Interface Design principles or User Experience principles, then just have an individual that is being parachuted in to try and help teams as they go.

This is one of those skill sets that really needs an expert probably to come in initially and work as a coach, working as a trainer, helping the team develop the skills rather than having an individual whose primary job is.

And by distributing those skills throughout the team, we're able to produce better effects, better outcomes, because the team are thinking about it rather than just an individual that's being parachuted in maybe towards the end of the piece of work and having to try and retrofit some of these things.

So definitely make sure that any of these skills are trained and coached into the team as a whole.

In this episode, I've given a brief introduction to User Experience Design and the subset User Interface Design.

I've tried to tie the idea of that good User Interface Design back to making sure that our sites are designed well, our software is designed well. Designed so that we're minimising effort, designed so that we're minimising the need for extraneous activities, designed to make things easy, designed to remove things that aren't needed.

Ultimately, to give the user of our software an easy to use, pleasurable and efficient experience. Something that they want to come back to time and time again. Something that they're happy to use, whether it be as a customer, as a member of staff or as a partner.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode. I look forward to speaking to you again next week.