User experience is the primary competitive advantage for businesses today. The web or mobile interface that is the easiest to use is the one the most people will use. And that’s how market share is won. But what is this elusive quality called “usability?” And how do you know if you need to improve the usability of your web or mobile user experience?
If you can answer "yes" to any of the following questions, the user experience could be improved by optimizing usability.
- Does the user experience require user training?
Highly usable interfaces train users through the experience of using them and don’t require extra time to learn how to operate. If the user can’t find and start using it, they will likely move on to use something else.
- Does it take less time to complete the same task offline?
The user experience should help users complete tasks more efficiently than they could in real life. User interfaces should optimize, not complicate, tasks. If it’s easier to make a phone call for help than it is to find information online, the user will use the phone and the business will pay for the call. Or, the user will reach for a competing product that does a better job of optimizing their performance.
- Is it more enjoyable to complete the same task offline?
Some experiences will always be more fun in real life than they are online. We can’t design a digital hug. But user experience can be more than functional, it can be enjoyable. For example, research has shown that people sleep with their iphones. People form emotional bonds with interfaces that provide them with positive experiences. The user experience should be optimized not just for function but for actual user enjoyment and consequent bonding.
- Does the user experience require the help of others or documentation for users to run the experience?
Generally, users expect a product to be self-service and do not want to invest extra time or resources into running it.
- Is there something you could take away from the user experience and have it still run?
The user experience should be free of unnecessary distractions. Simple isn’t easy, but it’s the work of the user interface design to simplify decision-making for its users.
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, consider implementing the following user research to optimize usability and provide you with objective design solutions to improve user experience:
Heuristic Evaluations are a fast and affordable way to get insight into how to improve your product usability. A usability practitioner evaluates an existing application or prototype on its ability to support user decision-making. The interface should work with the users decision-making abilities. When there is high usability, users make decisions quickly, accurately, with precision and are able to find all available solutions. When there is low usability, the interface works against the user’s decision-making ability, obscures solutions, slows decision-making, and supports inaccuracies. A heuristic evaluation will uncover usability problems, often discovering specific design solutions to improve product usability.
Ethnographic Research recognizes and describes the cultural qualities of a user group and notes how culture and experience affect user decision making. Ethnographic researchers go to the field—a user controlled environment—and observe people using the interface on their own devices and settings. It is important to conduct observational research because users have a very hard time describing how they make decisions. There are rules of thumb and cultural guidelines they go by that are assumed by their social groups, but not usually described. An ethnographic researcher uncovers and documents these unique qualities so that the user interface design can work with and not against the user’s decision-making strategies.
These are just a few of the many types of user research methods that uncover your users’ attitudes, preferences, and behaviors and lead to informed design decisions and qualitative and quantitative results. Picking the right user research methodology depends on what you are trying to achieve in your market and how long your product has existed. There are many methods of research available that can fit in with any project timeline or project management style. In the end, any user research is better than none.
Designing usable interfaces requires insights into the unique needs of the end users, the people who will actually be using the system. They are the final decision makers. And you cannot afford to ignore them.