Why UX is not optional

UX isn’t just about how things look, it’s about how end users think and engage with a digital experience. Even a modest investment in UX will pay dividends in terms of usability, engagement and performance.

Josh Smith

By Josh Smith, 6 minute read

In the fast-paced world of digital production, user experience (UX) design has often been considered the icing on the cake – a ‘nice to have’ but not necessary. If you’ve ever heard someone say ‘we need to do the UX’ then you know they’re missing the point and, frankly, failing their customers. 

While most accept UX in principle, the most common stumbling block is cost. If that is your concern, I’d ask you to consider the role of good design in creating ROI. According to the Design Value Index, from 2005 to 2015 design-led companies maintained a significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by 211%. You may not be Apple or Disney, but UX is fundamental to your design process and history tells us that investing in good design practice pays back. 

Source: https://www.dmi.org/page/2015DVIandOTW

Admittedly it’s not hard to spend $100K on UX activities if you’re building a corporate website. However, with a bit of savvy planning and expert guidance, you can develop a UX program that provides genuinely valuable insights that can not only save you money but increase revenue opportunities.

But I already know my customers

Maybe you’re a business owner or perhaps you’ve been working in your industry for years and you know your consumers inside-out. So what possible value could there be in UX? It’s just going to confirm what you already know, right?

Well, maybe – and while validation is certainly a part of UX, the average website or app is a complex design challenge, so do you really want to take an extremely risky bet and potentially miss the mark by basing your entire project on ‘gut feel’ and assumptions alone? Besides, knowing more about your customer is never a bad thing.

That extra knowledge might be something as simple as shedding light on the way in which users navigate around your site or the terminology they use to find something. A typical problem we find with our clients is when they’ve structured their products to reflect the structure of their business. A study completed by Nielsen Norman Group found that by basing a website on discovered customer mental models instead, they could improve task completion from 9% to 80%. That is massive! And, it’s just the start.

How about when the project is far bigger or all the problems are altogether unknown. You may have an understanding of your customers, but how could you know how they’ll respond to change or something entirely new? Better still, how can you know about customers you’ve yet to see or are coming to you from a competitor with entirely different expectations? 

This is the real value of UX. A UX professional's craft is spent in the grey areas and clarity is only found by spending time with human beings. It is through this process of inquiry, testing and observation that we can gain an understanding of people’s behaviours, the rational and irrational decisions they make, and how past experience informs the way they make sense of the new.

It is only by doing this, that we may craft a great user experience. Getting it right will boost conversions, increase brand loyalty, avoid lost revenue and spend on fixes or worst-case scenario: building the wrong thing entirely.

So what exactly is UX?

In some corners, UX has become synonymous with a nice-looking user interface. The reality is that UX is not really about creating that final beautiful UI. And, while It certainly contributes to it, at Luminary we have expert visual designers that pair with our UX team to do just that. 

However, as we discovered above, UX is more about uncovering human behaviour and defining simple functionality that meets a user at that moment when they really need it. It’s therefore central to defining the product you should build, not something that can be ‘bolted on’ at the end if there’s room left in the budget. 

UX is not about user-led design

Contrary to what some may think, UX is also not about designing what users want. In fact, we don’t take much notice of what users say they want, as most times they don’t know. Instead, we listen and watch for what they actually do and craft solutions that meet their needs. Sometimes the solution isn't even a product. Content, process and service recommendations often surface from UX work too. 

To get the most out of UX, it really needs to be part of the planning phase, before any actual design or development work begins. There is no single way of bringing UX into your project. But, a typical program might include some or all of the following:

  • Review: An analysis of where your digital assets stand in relation to competitors and design standards
  • Research: Interviews, literature review, and surveys designed to gain insights into user behaviours and motivations
  • User Journey & Personas: Using insights from research to define your customers behaviours and how they interact with your brand. These provide a blueprint for improvements
  • Information Architecture: Organising, labelling and structuring information with your end-users. Before validating it’s efficiency through task-based testing
  • Workshops: Ideation, training and codesign to collaboratively define solutions
  • Prototyping: Creating low-fidelity interactive designs that serve as a low-cost testing ground for new products
  • User / Usability testing: Recruiting prospective users to evaluate your concept through a series of defined tasks. This can be done in-person or online.

Not all digital projects will need to go through each of these processes. The beauty of UX is that it can be uniquely tailored to suit the circumstances. (For more detail on UX options, check out our UX services page.)

UX without blowing the budget

If you’re just testing the waters with UX, or you have a very limited budget to work with, you should still implement it in some form. UX is essentially a continuum. A modest UX program is still going to provide more value than none at all. 

For example, instead of running in-person user testing, you might do it online using something simple like Zoom. You should also reconsider your sample size of participants. You don’t need to talk to 50 users from every single segment to identify potential issues. In fact, when testing anything with more than 5 participants, you will see severely diminished returns. 85% of usability problems can be found in this small sample. At Luminary, we recommend testing often with less. Small groups of 3-4 participants over 2-3 rounds with design iteration in-between will gain you the most value.

You should also never underestimate the value of the data you already have at your fingertips. For example, something like customer query logs from your customer-facing staff can offer vital insights into where and how big a problem is. Conducting internal workshops among your staff can also be a cost-effective way to gather relevant insights. At an absolute bare minimum, you should at least undertake some degree of UX review and competitor research to get a gauge of best practices in your industry.

UX does not provide an iron-clad guarantee that all user experience issues will be unearthed from the outset. However, it does provide you with more evidence from which to make informed decisions and avoid unnecessary costs and delays down track.

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