Embracing Excellent UX to Transform Workflow

User Experience design is the discipline of enhancing user satisfaction, by improving how users engage with services and products. The term ‘User Experience’, often abbreviated to ‘UX’, was coined by Don Norman (Director of The Design Lab at University of California and author to many well-known publications, who specialises in design and usability engineering) in the 1990s, who advocated for user-centred design. Penning the importance that optimal UX should be a basic requirement and that users should receive a personalised and meaningful experience. A user’s experience is determined by their emotions and connection with the environment you have designed. It is important to note that these environments are not exclusively digital either. This article explores the use of UX to transform workflow.

“I invented the term (UX) because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design graphics, the interface, the physical interaction and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose its meaning.” – Don Norman.

The dilution of the term ‘UX’ in digital sectors makes it harder for those outside of the industry to understand what it means and how it can improve their business. We aim to make this clearer.

The process behind UX

User Research

One of the major pillars of UX success is user research which,  coincidentally, is every designer’s starting point and absolutely essential. The data collected at this early stage can be either applied to an existing product to provide an insight that will help improve the product experience or can be applied to an entirely new product and become a foundation to act upon. To provide a solution, you first need to comprehend the problem. Users are crucial in providing insight.

User Personas

Once this research data has been collated it is then summarised into ‘User Personas’ to help group the different user types. But what exactly is a user persona? ‘A persona is a fictional character created to represent a user type that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way’. These become the targeted users and help outline the goals and needs of the user base.

User Stories

After the personas have been outlined their goals and needs will be translated into product functionality known as a user story. A user story is a description consisting of one or more sentences in the language of the end-user of a system that captures what they need to do as part of his or her job function.

User Flows

The very last step in streamlining a workflow is to produce essential user flows. They help visualise the path taken by a user for them to complete a task. It takes them from the starting point, through the steps required, all the way through to the final action. User flows help outline content requirements, pain points and where the flow can be improved.

Design Iteration

When the users have been identified and their needs noted down, ideas will be generated which will eventually be translated into a prototype. To ensure the prototype fulfils the users’ needs in the best possible way, it will be placed in the users’ hands so they can test that it is fit for its purpose and meets their needs. Feedback will be taken away, absorbed and the design will be amended. This process will be repeated again and again to further refine the product/service until both designer and user are happy that it’s the best it can be.

Good UX is good for business

To create a successful service that encourages users to engage with it, companies and designers alike must create an environment that users understand how to interact with and enjoy. Those who fail to provide an optimal experience for their customers will find themselves at a significant disadvantage to competitors who currently utilise it. Jeff Bezos, Chief of Amazon, invested 100 times more into user experience than advertising during Amazon’s first year, now worth $1 trillion (£779bn).

Good user experience is good for business, with companies boasting 37% increased revenue by implementing effective UX. Another business justification to invest in UX is that every $2 spent on UX returns $100 (according to PointSource) and Airbnb’s Mike Gebbia attributes design thinking for making Airbnb what it is today. In a 1973 lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, the second president of IBM Tom Watson Jr. declared that “good design is good for business”. Replace design with UX, the wisdom still rings true.

Difference between UX & UI

Both UX and UI are crucial to a digital product but despite this correlation, they are very different. UI refers to the user interface of a product (primarily digital) and how it looks and feels. In short, UX clarifies what makes interfaces useful, while UI makes them aesthetically pleasing, but more importantly, intuitive and usable. UX designers are the architects of a product, but it’s equally important that the product looks appealing and works intuitively or it will dissuade customers from using it.

Enhanced business workflows; some cases

More companies, after learning the importance of UX, have been adopting these practices and hiring studios to help streamline their workflows. These insights will hopefully inspire you to review your own processes and see how UX can help improve them.

Case: Re-Thinking legacy interfaces in social housing

A social housing technology provider required consultation on UX for a remote interface solution optimised for iPad. This product would change the way that housing officers operated across the country by streamlining their workflow, allowing them to work remotely and always have access to the information needed for day to day tasks.

KOMODO’s UX team accompanied the social housing tech developers to a number of workshop sessions with their customers from numerous housing associations. These initial sessions were directed at understanding the various types of users that will encounter the product and drawing up a list of key features and functionality that would benefit each user.

This was done by forming detailed user personas for each key user. By splitting the participants of the workshop into groups we were able to rapidly create several key personas and user stories. After initial stories had been created we were able to hold a group discussion to determine a high-level feature list and rough product roadmap.

The following sessions revolved around expanding these personas and digging deeper into the goals each needed to achieve within the iPad solution. Staying focused on the goal of creating a streamlined workflow app that would be usable both on and offline was critical. This focus enabled stripping the feature list of any unnecessary clutter making it easier for a housing officer to complete their job.

As soon as an early prototype was developed, it was tested with a small user group comprising of selected users to gain insight into how well the product performed. Feedback then drives product iteration.

Case: Transforming the way policing services are delivered

Northumbria Police’s Police E-Box project is transforming the way policing services are delivered to communities. Enabled by technology, officers and support staff can interact with the information they need in the place that they need it. For police officers, this means their communities. This capability will not only enable the increase of efficiency in redesigned end-to-end processes but also improve the quality of service provided to communities by the force.

Previously, IT services within the force were accessed from traditional desktop PCs in police premises, connected with traditional WAN/LAN technology. Mobile technology has changed infrastructure requirements and, importantly, freed officers and staff from the confines of desks when they need ready access to information.

One user story encapsulates the action of one function within the application, making it possible for our UX/UI designers and Software Developers to create a solution that provides all the features and functionality required to satisfy the requirement of each story. The ‘whole’ functionality of the application is comprehensively described using a backlog of multiple user stories, and once all the requirements of all of the user stories were met the product was deemed functionally complete.

Early project sprints were focused on defining UX deliverables, and the execution of the user interface. Interactive prototyping was used to present design thinking and progression to a steering group comprised of police officers from various sections of the force, to get insight into how they worked and collate feedback directly from them that we could use to improve and iterate design work.

The aim was to produce an application that worked in the real world for the police officers, so regular interaction with the end-users was fundamentally vital to the design process. This was facilitated through regular workshops with officers who would have the opportunity to conduct a ‘hands-on’ test of the prototype.

The wireframes were the next step and provided the basis from which to apply a visual design style that would suit the application, and most importantly, the user. Again, user stories were the base reference point so, at each stage of wireframing, the design team made sure that they were aligned with the user stories and ensured that the task flow was facilitated as economically as possible. A full library of task flow diagrams and wireframes was established providing a detailed breakdown of the feature set for the development team as well as a strong structure for the design of the GUI. All of which was exhaustively tested with the project team at Northumbria Police and is a strong case for the use of UX to transform workflow profoundly for the better.

Future technology in policing

It’s important to keep up to date with upcoming technologies, and how these can be utilised to enhance workflows. AR (Augmented Reality) has been known for a while but has begun to get traction as companies being to realise the potential. We understood that this tech could become revolutionary if adopted by the police force. Allowing for quicker checks and hands-free assistance, and even able to identify criminals with integrated facial recognition. This technology has recently been adopted by Chinese police forces who have boasted arresting seven criminals with crimes ranging from human trafficking to hit and run.

Case: Police Career Development Platform

A digital career development mapping tool that allows officers to support their career ambitions easing the traditional process of searching for jobs in the policing sector and analysing these to see if the role is applicable to you. This tool encapsulates everything needed to take skills from your current job role (if applicable) and comparing them to your chosen career ambition. Officers have informed data allowing them to take the next step in their careers easier.

To understand the project a discovery session at the beginning with multiple officers from the sector provided scope for the project. It provided great insight into what users needed and wanted from this tool. The attendees prioritised these so that it was clearer where they saw the most benefit.

Following on from the initial discovery session, user flows were produced to enable us to really drill down into the user’s journey through the platform. Reiterating multiple times provided a picture of how best to lead the user through the steps until they reached their end goal and provide users with a defined list of possible job roles.

Once these were passed off and prototyping was completed on the numerous screens a user group was arranged to receive feedback from other officers to help validate our solution. The workshop yielded great results. It was attended by around 15 officers; all of who had bold ideas. The ideas needed prioritising from most valuable to the end-user and which were ‘nice to have’. After making the various minor alterations to the prototype it was styled up and developed in-house.

The platform dramatically improved the career development workflow for an officer in the sector and provided them with a process for selecting their job skills and personal skills to help inform their personal career development plan.

Case: Just-in-time product manufacturing

A high profile manufacturing company needed to streamline their workflow so that they can help empower workforce individuals to make the right decisions in a more timely manner. They had built up success over the past 10 years, over this period of time the manufactured products have become more complex and in demand.

They secured a large account which was a massive boost for them but this also meant demand soared. The products they made were simpler and generic. But over time the products became more customisable driving rapid growth that created supply problems.

The task was getting the right information to the right people at the right time. To make smarter decisions about when to manufacture when it needed to be shipped and stored etc. As tech has advanced it meant that there’s far more data readily available for them to make informed decisions, however finding the time to make those investments has been a struggle.

The starting point of this process was to map out the current workflow. This provided a baseline as to how they were currently working unveiling the issues that had gone undiscovered. It was evident that change was required, to fix a high risk, over-complicated and inefficient workflow.

In the past slow communication of information meant that by the time the workers have been able to stitch together the data points an excessive amount of time would go by due to the volume of data and system speed. Keeping up with demand was the real challenge.

Utilising historical data bringing together insights from across the business helped them predict demand and make better decisions to help reduce over manufacturing. Old processes and systems had led to larger stock holding than was necessary.

Collating and stitching this information together still only solved half the problem. This information needed to be meaningful and relevant across the complete organisation, from factory operators up to the offices. Discovering what the floor workers and office employees needed to see was important so the information could be tailored to them. The interface was designed appropriately for all professions within the company. This information was then taken and informed design decisions, as to where the workflow could be most improved. That’s where smart thinking was required.

The outcomes of this engagement ranged from real-time personalised dashboards for each user to access information across multiple devices. Employees can now receive the insight they need to react. A big part was tying existing systems together to provide a more automated and streamlined operation. They can now make smarter decisions about when to manufacture when it’s needed to be shipped and stored etc.

Future technology in manufacturing

Manufacturing is a precise industry, from building phones to jet engines every product is built with pinpoint accuracy. The tiniest mistake can be devastating, as Intel discovered when they lost $1 billion due to a fault in a graphics processor chip. This risk factor has allowed augmented reality to really grasp the industry. Numerous large manufacturers have begun to trial and test adopting augmented reality within their daily workflow, which so far seems to offer nothing but pros. The variety of ways it can be used and implemented is extraordinary. Some of the more prominent uses are Quality Assurance, Safety Training and complex assembly, but there are many more.

Boeing is boasting a 25% cut in build timeThyssenkrupp managed to cut their service call time by 4 timesAirbus managed to cut their inspection time from 3 weeks to 3 days, and these are just some of the results shown after adopting the technology.

The business value of UX

Determining which strategy will work best for your business can be daunting and more often than not businesses will stick with an ineffective solution. The best place to begin is by taking a comprehensive look into your strategy and the solution you are supplying to customers. By reviewing this and applying the process of user experience research and design, you are able to learn how better to engage with your customers and provide an unparalleled experience to your competitors.

Shockingly 40% of customers will turn to a competitor after a bad experience. This is a scarily high percentage yet companies with optimised experiences have seen nothing but improved metrics. It’s important to note customers willingness to seek a better experience and they will pay for a good service. According to ON3, 87% of customers say exceptional customer service is worth paying for yet only 37% of companies received good or excellent customer experience scores.

To better understand how UX design can enhance ROI (Return On Investment) Harvard Business Review alongside Motiv and Design Management Institution generated a design stock market index. A stock market index is traditionally used to measure performance differences between one segment of the market and the larger stock market. The design value index included a very select group of 15 companies (Apple, Coca-Cola, Herman-Miller, IBM, Intuit, Newell-Rubbermaid, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Starwood, Steelcase, Target, Walt Disney, Whirlpool, and Nike) to compare the general stock market against that all shared a common characteristic. They use design as an integral resource. The index results showed that the design-led companies over the last 10 years (2003-2013) held a significant advantage over the majority stock market and outperformed the others by an extraordinary 228%.

Using this data, the Design Management Institution collated ways in which these companies are winning in the market. The basic common factor between them was that they used design methods to understand their customer needs better. They also translated research insight into palpable solutions for their customers. This paints a vivid picture as to why customers are willing to pay more for an elegant Apple product, or above the market average for a chair.

How you can reach your potential and use UX to transform workflow

A discovery workshop is just one stage of many in the process of creating robust and user-focused products or services. The aim of running a discovery workshop is to lay the necessary groundwork to gain a deeper understanding of what your expectations of the project really are – building the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons.

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