So you’ve got a great idea for a new mobile or Web application. You’ve done your market research; you’ve done your business planning; and all signs point to “yes.” So now it’s time to go out and hire some developers to start building the thing. Right?
Not so fast.
Karin Schmidlin is a member of the faculty at the University of Waterloo for the Master of Digital Experience Innovation program, as well as a consultant in digital strategy, user experience and gamification. And, according to her, you need to spend some time getting inside your customers’ heads before you build anything.
“Companies are starting to wake up to the fact that they need to invest in really thinking through how users will interact with the technologies they create,” Schmidlin says. “We need to realize that ‘fancypants’ technology isn’t enough. We often forget that actual people are going to need to use it.”
Companies that do master the user experience (UX) in software design stand to gain big time.
Think of Apple and the iPhone. They were able to dominate the smartphone category, and expand it well beyond the core corporate market that was pioneered by BlackBerry. And they did that mainly by taking existing technologies, combining some of them in somewhat novel ways, and making them easier and more delightful to use than anything else on the market.
Superior UX means Apple can charge more for their phones than competitors, too, allowing them to maintain global leadership in smartphone revenues even though they fell to second place – behind more awkward-to-use Android-based phones – in total units sold.
Companies doing work in the currently hot field of bringing game concepts to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging – so-called ‘gamification’ – may have more to gain than most from enhanced UX design.
“A lot of [UX focused] research now is in game development,” Schmidlin says. “What is it that engages people so much?”
“Often companies will take a single piece of a game experience, like points or badges, and think it’s going to increase engagement. It won’t. You can’t just chop it in pieces. That’s not a full experience.”
So how do you bring User Experience expertise to your team?
According to Schmidlin, “you usually don’t hire programmers to design UX. You need a different set of skills. Be that psychology or design thinking or those kinds of skills – people focused.”
“There are so many tools now to build tech, there are free website generators, mobile app tools, but you can’t do UX without people. You do need to go and talk to your users and see what they need. Even copy on a website, you need to know your audience.”