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There are many assumptions that we make as stakeholders. We have a deep technical and strategic understanding of our products. We know how the products were made, what their intended use case is, and how they relate to our overall business goals. We are experts in our websites and products, but if we do not manage our expertise with humility and empathy for our user’s needs and behaviors, we risk making decisions influenced by our pre-existing beliefs. This hubris can lead us to ask fewer questions and make assumptions on behalf of users. Ultimately, we develop products and websites that were designed for ourselves and not real users with real problems. This is not meant to be an insult, but is meant to be an honest reflection of our limitations as human beings. It is nearly impossible for us to generate objective insights alone, however, with a little bit of curiosity, empathy, and willingness to be guided by research, we can mitigate these risks by controlling for our bias and creating highly usable products and websites.
Two types of expertise
The only way to determine what users want is to conduct research. Qualitative and quantitative research are equally important in the world of user experience (UX). Quantitative research gives us the “what” while qualitative research gives us the “why.” Using analytics platforms and conducting quantitative testing is essential, but often stakeholders shirk the responsibility of talking to users and analyzing their behaviors to get a better picture of the “why” piece of UX. We claim to “just know” what users need or why they need it. However, business, technical, and design expertise do not imply user expertise. It is up to stakeholders to pursue the users we are designing for. We must come to the table with viable problem statements, goals, and hypotheses, but we also need to let go of assumptions and stay flexible when our research leads us down unexpected paths. Products and websites should be designed with users at the center of a delicate balance between business goals and technical limitations. This will allow us to create exciting and simple interfaces that attract users and support larger business goals.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
According to Jakob’s Law of UX, people spend most of their time on other sites. Therefore, the interactions we build into our websites and products must maintain consistency with external standards. This does not mean that we can’t take risks and push boundaries, but these risks should always be calculated and informed by our research. Users expect and respond positively to internal and external consistency, but they do not behave consistently. This calls for a healthy balance between structure, flexibility, and accommodation of user error.
Recently, a member of the team at SUMO Heavy correctly pointed out that if we replaced the text on a CTA with text that a user would not find on any other eCommerce website, we would run the risk of only satisfying the short-term goals of the UX pain-point we were addressing but ultimately compromising our larger business goals of driving conversions. These types of callouts keep us mindful to stay in the sweet spot between discovering what is best for the user and what is best for our businesses.
Be wary of blindly copying competitors
Consistency with the outside world is essential, but we must also understand the context of our websites and products. Taking a look at exciting new features on a successful website can be a great way to get creative juices flowing and to start to ideate, but it only gives us a snapshot of why that company made those decisions. While looking at a competitor’s website, it is not enough to just compare our UI to theirs. Considering their business size, investment in research and development, UX resources, and user demographics are also essential to determine if the features and UX of a good looking website make any sense to explore for our own. Competitive research is essential, but with every insight gleaned it is also vital to consider what our specific users in their specific context need and want out of a product.
On our quest to create websites and products that are easy and exciting to use, it will save us a lot of pain to involve user research from the very beginning. If we approach our users with curiosity and test our findings we will do just that.