The business case for user experience (UX) design is compelling. With studies showing benefits like reducing development time by 50% or customer support costs by 90%, UX can offer your organization a dramatic competitive advantage.
However, many organizations still only offer lip service to UX and design processes.
As a product designer with over twelve years experience creating successful products, here are my top four reasons why UX should be your team’s highest priority.
Reason #1: UX design helps you make better mistakes
Wait, better mistakes? If you’re thinking “what a downer, Ian,” consider that failure is an active ingredient in any creative process. Harnessing it with design processes can give you an edge.
Product teams can’t expect to succeed the first time every time. We have to embrace that making mistakes is an inevitable and vital part of creativity. Learning organizations embrace UX because they realize failure may be inevitable but it doesn’t have to be the catastrophic.
I once sat with a first-time CEO of a travel app startup and asked if I could see their work in progress. They’d had a team of half a dozen working on it for the better part of a year. “It’s not ready,” he told me. As the story unfolded, I realized not only had they failed to ship anything yet, they literally hadn’t even shown the app to anyone in their target audience. They were waiting to get it just right first. When they finally launched the “perfect” app, it flopped and they ran out of money before being able to pivot.
That team believed they could achieve success by avoiding failure. That eventually backfired. It always does.
That’s why embracing a product process that encourages failing forward faster could be a matter of life or death for your company, and that’s something Design Thinking processes and attention to UX offers.
Fictional homicide detective Harry Bosch has a sign on his desk that reads, “Get off your ass and go knock on doors.” The product team equivalent is “Get off your ass and go talk to real users.”
Even if you have literally nothing to show yet, not even a target audience, you can start interviewing people you think are close. If you’re only a smidge further along, drawing a design on a cocktail napkin and showing it around can be helpful. In fact, it’s not uncommon that I draw out a full mobile UI in embarrassing scribbles on note paper and go ask strangers about it at the train station or Post Office. If you’ll accept more humble beginnings, you can be learning and validating while your competitors are sitting on their butts in front of a screen, just guessing.
That’s how lean UX processes like user research and rapid prototyping give you an edge.
And that’s how embracing UX can make failure your secret weapon.
Reason #2: UX design saves you time and money
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” –Albert Einstein
At least 50% of a programmers’ time during a project is wasted doing reworks that are avoidable. The problem becomes even more serious when you add to that a similar amount of time the entire rest of the team presumably also wastes during those same reworks.
UX to the rescue! Industry studies found it saves 35-50% on development time.
Here are three key features of design processes that save you time and money:
- The research phase built into Design Thinking and User-Centered Design requires that teams get concrete about a target user and their specific needs, motivations, and expectations.
- Brainstorming lets you explore and assess more––and more divergent––paths forward. Not only does brainstorming tap the latent wisdom within your team, it helps build consensus and buy-in from its members. If you’ve ever tried strong-arming a resentful development team into doing something, you likely see the value here at a glance.
- Rapid prototyping and validation lets you try out more of these ideas and learn from your missteps quickly and cheaply. Prototyping also ensures more concrete requirements for a development team that allow them to continually assess and provide feedback on the possible scope of work. It also helps you avoid feature creep and reworks more often because you’re already listening to what real customers think before you sink months of work into one approach.
Reason #3: UX design increases revenue by reducing friction
Many companies leave huge amounts of money on the table by neglecting UX. It’s often easy to find low-hanging fruit through usability testing and user research that can unlock significant new revenue.
You might be surprised how often this is true at even high-performing companies.
I recently helped one of the fastest growing fintech startups in the world look for ways to reduce customer friction using their main feature, a complicated multi-step workflow.
After just couple hours of usability testing, I identified multiple steps at which users were taking long pauses, fumbling around, reading and re-reading long lines of explanatory text, and saying things like, “Ummm. Let’s see now. How do I do this? What is this now?” These are all clear signs of high cognitive load.
My proposed solution was stupidly simple: break up complicated steps into smaller, bite-sized ones. It took me about a day’s work to identify the problem and hand off a design mockup of a fix.
A split test later showed the simplified flow improved total conversion by eight-hundred basis points––a full 8%––across the entire product. Product managers told me they usually considered an improvement of 50 basis points a big win and had no idea there was low hanging fruit like this available in a product that had been refined for years.
I later crunched the rough numbers and estimated the company’s ROI on my time for this improvement was over 600x annually.
That’s the kind of revenue opportunity that expert UX design can offer where there’s existing product-market fit. Arguably the even bigger ROI of UX design is in creating brand new and disruptive products so they can achieve that product-market fit.
Reason #4: UX design makes customers happier
Customers can tell when you put their needs first, and User-Centered Design ensures you to stay laser focused on exactly that.
It’s common that my projects see orders of magnitude improvement in customer satisfaction scores after just a few days work.
For example, I once did usability testing of a major tech company’s mobile apps with new users. Users opening the apps for the first time were hit by a registration form with no other info about the product––something unfortunately not that uncommon.
As I suspected, the scores were as bad as could be: 0% of users expressed satisfaction, and four out of five of them didn’t even understand what the product was or why they’d use it. A look at the analytics confirmed that nearly two-thirds of new users were bouncing at this point. That’s a giant hole near the top of your customer acquisition funnel.
I set out to design and prototype an all-new welcome experience addressing these concerns. Just a few days and multiple prototypes later, customer satisfaction was up to 80%, with 100% of testers now demonstrating a clear understanding of the product and its value to them.
Integrating UX design into your existing product process can take some time and careful planning, but the rewards are potentially huge. UX design doesn’t just help your team run more smoothly, it also drives key performance indicators for your business: reduced development costs, higher conversion, more loyal customers, reduced churn, more referrals, easier sales, and reduced support costs, just to name a few.