The UI/UX Lifecycle
Clive Howard and Jeremy Baines are both UX practitioners and former co-founders of Howard Baines, a user experience consultancy. UX Lifecycle: The business guide to implementing great software user experiences is a product of their partnership and real-world experience.
Their story captures the very essence of UX and breaks it down into a language that business owners can understand without underlying technical expertise. As a designer in the same field of work, I was excited to pick their minds and share what I took away from my research.
UX is a Process, Not a Title
If you do a Google search for “UX jobs,” you’ll most likely see the word “designer” attached to it. People who post jobs targeted at UX/UI designers are normally looking for a graphic designer, as if the two titles can be easily interchanged.
While design is a component in the UX lifecycle, it is only a small part of an ongoing process with multiple stakeholders. UX has become a “buzzword” in the job arena but it does not really articulate what one person does.
Instead of restricting UX to a career label, think of it as a journey that will ultimately increase user engagement and satisfaction.
Howard and Baines argue that user experience will take over the digital world by redefining what users want. Instead of looking for the most cost-effective solution, business owners will take the most user-centric route.
Although it may have upfront costs, implementing great UX has proven to have a strong return on investment (ROI). In addition, the cost of ignoring UX just to save money (in the case of a start-up, perhaps) could be detrimental to future growth.
Early on the book references a Customers 2020 report that claims, “72% of customers abandon purchases due to poor UX.” You might think you have a good product, but if your users don’t know how to interact with it you might as well have developed it in a vacuum.
The lesson here is that user experience will soon trump price and product features on the market.
Going Through the UX Lifecycle
In one of previous blogs I broke down the discipline of problem solving into five steps: define the problem, gather information, explore and brainstorm possible solutions, implement the best solution, and evaluate your design. I compared this to the “five basic steps to creating a great experience” laid out by Howard and Baines:
The Objective: What UX problem are you trying to solve? Later in the book the authors claim that even minute changes can make a significant impact on productivity. As an example, they reference how Amazon’s sales improved significantly after changing the color of its ‘buy’ button and adding an option for 1-click ordering.
The Process: How will you achieve the desired business outcome through your users? Maybe you want to increase your company rating. In this case, the process would be implementing feedback options so that the users can voice their concerns.
The Stakeholders: This step is discussed in great detail throughout the book. It stresses how UX is not simply the job of a developer or the property of a product owner. There is bound to be some friction during the UX lifecycle between different professionals with separate motives.
The IT team might be focused on functionality but not the aesthetics of the product, while the UX team might argue visual design is key to user interaction. There are also external factors like issues of legal compliance that might influence a stakeholder’s decisions.
Generally, you want to focus on getting the support of senior leadership within a company - people who can mediate between different departments and make executive decisions. This person (or group of people) will be responsible for making sure there is “cross-functional cooperation” and as little bias on the project as possible.
You might also be subjected to influence from partner corporations or outside sponsors. Once everyone is on the same page you can redirect your attention to the most important stakeholder: the user.
Howard and Baines talk about the participants in business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), and business-to-employee (B2E) relationships. People spend most of their time on the first two and don’t put much consideration into how change will affect their own workforce.
I wasn’t familiar with the concept of shadow IT before reading this, but it seems to be a growing trend in the digital age. It is easy for employees to opt out of using company software if they find it too complex or tedious with so many free resources on the internet.
However, there are a lot of privacy and security problems that arise when they venture outside of their computer and on to the cloud. They are shadowing their company’s own software by replacing it with a competitive product that provides a better user experience.
Research in the book also found that companies with a UX problem spend more money on training, have a higher turnover rate, and have poor productivity internally.
The Delivery: How will your UX solution be delivered? According to a Nielson study in the book, millennials age 18 to 34 spend 17 hours and 29 minutes a week on their smartphones. It’s become almost mandatory for companies to have a mobile-friendly version of their website if they want maintain a solid online presence.
We are starting to see automation taking over simple processes like billing and invoicing. If you are trying to free up your staff to focus on more productive tasks, your delivery method could be as simple as installing a desktop application.
The Result: Have you fixed the problem? This step is pretty straightforward – if you aren’t seeing any results then something went wrong along the way. There are a number of different routes you can take to measure success from one-on-one interviews to larger focus groups.
Although everyone has to operate within a budget, I strongly agree with this advice from Howard and Baines: don’t pour a bunch of money into a project if you’re not willing to spend any money on analyzing the business outcome. Far too many IT projects have failed because each was rejected by the users but the reasons for their distaste wasn’t clear.
“As much science as it is art”
If you’re a software developer or an IT professional than you probably think of UX as science. If you’re a UX/UI designer than you probably see it as more of an artform. Neither of these views are wrong, since great UX demands a diverse set of professionals to accomplish an objective.
Howard and Baines put this is layman terms by suggesting UX is like buying a used car. A consumer won’t buy a car solely based on its good looks. They’re going to want to know how many owners it has had, if its ever been in an accident, and how recently it has been serviced. Visual design is a key component in UX but it does not define it.
The book referenced several different companies to give real-world examples of the UX Lifecycle. Some were corporate giants like Amazon, GE, IBM, Barclays Bank, and Accenture, but the authors stress that size is not a factor.
The UX lifecycle can be scaled to meet the business needs of any company that wants to provide a great user experience. Another very important lesson to take away from their research is that UX is not a one-time project or phase. Society’s wants and needs change with technology so the UX process never really ends.
The approaches you take to software development can range from a couple of weeks to several years, but always center-in on what is best for the users. If you’re not sure where to start, the book recommends doing some generative research.
This involves studying actual people and workflows to see where they excel and where they fall short. You can also take a look at your competitor’s software and see if they are offering a product or platform that is more user-friendly than yours.
If you’re not sure whether you have a UX problem or not, communicate with your users! Chances are that if you’ve taken a wrong turn, they will let you know about it. It should raise a red flag if people are frequently reaching out to your help center or IT department with usability issues.
On a final note, there is no need to reinvent the wheel is there are UX options ready available to you. Remember as a rule of thumb that people don’t like change, we are all creatures of habit. If you dive into this book like I have you will see the words “consistency” and “familiarity” repeated several times throughout the text.
The authors suggest that someone outside the realm of UX should look into ISO standards to gauge what users interact well with. You will learn the best practices in creating a framework that is user-centric and visually appealing.