Golden rules for achieving great user experience

The following post was originally published by Bluefin Solutions, a Mindtree company and global SAP consultancy that specializes in technology strategy, implementation and change.

I can’t guarantee that if you follow all the instructions below, you’ll produce a fantastic design and deliver a great user experience every time. But I do know that when I’ve ignored these rules, I’ve delivered less than optimal designs that have resulted in significant issues later on during build, test and deployment.

Why has user experience become a focus in enterprise IT?

A little under 10 years ago, Apple introduced the iPhone—and perceptions about what constitutes a good user experience (UX) changed over night. The ongoing advances in websites, apps and other technologies have utterly transformed our expectations surrounding our daily interactions with software and hardware.

It’s not surprising, then, that these expectations and desires have filtered into the workplace. Enterprise IT now needs to understand the benefits of great UX and, more important, how to deliver it. Established methodologies and processes are not typically geared toward generating the best designs, so over the past few years, I’ve looked to other design disciplines to see what I can learn. The following are golden rules and best practices that can help you achieve great UX in your designs.

1. Preparation

  • Make time for design. If not, you (or others) will need to make time to deal with the negative impacts of poor or rushed design down the line.
  • Get the right people involved. Find the people who will actually use the end product every day, not just managers and subject matter experts (SMEs)—although you still need them, of course!
  • Create the right space. You can’t run an effective workshop with distractions or in the wrong facility.

2. Discovery

  • Start with a blank sheet. You need to challenge your own preconceptions about the solution—as well as everyone else’s.
  • Use your team effectively in workshops. You can’t keep time, take notes and lead the workshop. Ask your developers for assistance; they’ll provide you with another level of insight.
  • Take time to listen to everything relevant. Some issues might not seem to be in scope, but understanding the whole picture can help identify future “iceberg” problems.
  • It’s not just about user interface (UI). A variety of factors can drive user experience, so get the 360-degree view by considering all the elements in play (especially things like emails and approvals).

3. Design

  • Make time to reflect. You will have gathered a lot of information, so take the time to digest and understand it all properly. Build processing time into your plan.
  • Remember to focus back in on what you want to achieve. Chances are you’ll dig up quite a few other issues that fall outside your scope (and if you haven’t, you might need to dig a little more). Don’t get distracted by these, but do have the appropriate strategies in place to handle them.
  • Don’t get lost in tools. We all love a new tool that helps us do our jobs, especially software. But you need to be comfortable with fundamental tools like pen and paper or a whiteboard. If you want to use additional ones, consider the timing and value. Will they add value, and at what point in the process will they add the most value? Don’t use a new tool for its own sake.
  • Interact, build, prototype and demo, but ultimately throw it away. Whatever tool you use, remember the code is disposable. Your goal is to illuminate areas that are difficult to visualize using other techniques, not to help kickstart code development. Generated or hastily thrown together code is not a good foundation for any eventual app.
  • Care about the parts you can’t see. Quality informs UX. Often it’s the parts the user can’t see that result in a perception of poor quality, whether it performs poorly or is not intuitive for the user. Sadly, the UX you deliver will be a product of what you did wrong, not what you did right.
  • Understand the relationship between excellence and cost. Reality will (and has to) intrude into your design. Not everything you want to do will be possible without blowing the budget sky-high. Show the value a feature adds, then prioritize the features you need to keep. Also remember to set expectations; great UX costs time and money.

4. Everyday skills

  • Learn to draw, then practice and keep practicing. Regardless of your natural ability as an artist (and it’s likely you’re not amazing), drawing is a skill that you need to practice every day. Practice equals improvement.
  • Know yourself. Design is not an exact science, and there is no easy route to success every time. Know and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. Recognizing your limitations allows you to address them and develop your skills.
  • Be your own worst critic. Design awareness is a double-edged sword. You see issues with everything around you, and you are probably the harshest critic of your own work. Remember to celebrate your successes, but never be complacent—and never assume there isn’t a better solution out there.
  • Keep creating and designing. We don’t get the opportunity to design every day, so make sure you always have something you can work on—ideally something outside of work. Design skills come with practice, so keep practicing.

You can’t always satisfy all of the above. However, the ability to articulate the impacts of poor design can at least act as an early warning system for potential issues and help mitigate them. The more you can follow these guidelines, the more likely it is you’ll deliver the UX that people expect and have become accustomed to in their day-to-day lives.

Contact Bluefin Solutions, a Mindtree company, to learn more about how we can help you deliver the best possible user experience every time.