UX Design for software products isn’t really rocket science, it is an process of refining ideas through research and testing.  UX Designers have a number of techniques to explore users’ mental models, discover opportunities, and generate effective ideas.

Here’s how they can work for you.

At the UX Clinic we have explored many of these UX techniques and shared the results with the software development community.

This post is a quick tour through the techniques we used in the 2014 season.

1- Heuristic Evaluation

This is a cheap way of bringing together User Experience experts to identify problems at the interface level.  For this method you need to follow the 10 recognized usability principles.  The goal here is to clean up the interface from obvious usability problems, then redesign and conduct tests with users.

There’s no excuse for you to not conduct research and evaluate the usability of an interface.  For this method you won’t need to recruit users, or use an expensive lab. The only cost involved is the actual time of the experts conducting the evaluation.  

In the words of Jakob Nielsen, “We must evangelize methods simple enough that departments can do their own usability work, fast enough that people will take the time, and cheap enough that it’s still worth doing.”Watch Episode 1.

2- Rapid Contextual Design

With this method you observe users in their own environment.  The goal is to understand how people interact with your product.  Then you organize your observations using Affinity Diagrams to generate substantial design ideas.  Your results will reflect your users’ mental model while using your product.

If you really want to design effective solutions, you need to understand,

  • What they’re going through
  • How those situations affect them
  • How they will ideally interact with your product.

Watch Episode 2.

3- Rapid Paper Prototyping + Usability Testing

This technique takes you back to basics!

There are minimum requirements that your software product must have so users can complete the task they have in mind.  If you want to learn how well your product is doing in terms of usability principles, you need to conduct Usability Testings on a regular basis.  This is an effective way to discover things like,

  • How difficult/easy it is for users to learn to use your app
  • How efficient users really are
  • How well they remember moving through the app
  • How satisfied they are at the end of an operation
  • What obstacles they run into when completing tasks.
  • Validate your ideas and get rid of assumptions by testing them.
  • You can test as as early as you make your first paper prototype.
  • Discover and fix usability problems at extremely low cost.
  • Avoid wasting development and design resources
  • Work only on features you are certain they work

Watch Episode 3.

#MethodCostProsWhen to use it
1Heuristic Evaluation LowExpertise being boughtLack of UX budget / Time sensitive scope
2Rapid Contextual DesignMedDeep understanding of users Creating new products or expanding capabilities
3Rapid Paper PrototypingLowTest early ideas at low costTest new ideas before developing them
4Kano AnalysisHighPrioritize featuresExpanding product’s capabilities
5Business OrigamiMedUnderstand complex interactionsDesigning for services with many touchpoints
6Scenario SwimlanesLowSeeing the bigger pictureDesigning for products rich in interactions and touchpoints
7Generative ResearchHighDevelop empathy for usersIdeating new products
8Elito MethodMedMaking sense of large sets of research findingsIdeating a new product and looking for ideas
9Experience PrototypingHighIdeation and early testing of ideasIdeating a new product and looking for ideas
10Semantic DifferentialLowMeasuring emotional reactionsGathering feedback and requirements

4- Kano Analysis

You can use Kano Analysis to discover which features have highest satisfaction potential among your users.  The data-driven results will help you choose where best to invest your design and development resources. With Kano you get to measure the subjective sense of expectation for any given software attribute.

This is one of our favorite techniques for choosing product features.

Kano will help you identify the game changing features for your software product.  It will give enough statistical confidence to prioritize your work.

When you are facing a product release you have the challenge to decide what features to include and how to deliver them within a tight schedule.  Everybody is giving you contradictory opinions. Kano gives you a systematic way to validate your feature choices. You will have more disciplined way to tell the noise from the game changers for your product.

Watch Episode 4.

5- Business Origami

If it’s too complex, let users make it simple for you.

This is a powerful research method for modeling and understanding complex features and services.  Basically you organize a workshop where users talk about their own experience with your product from their unique perspective.  You can iterate to explore different touchpoints of interaction between people and your product.

If you give your users the opportunity to tell their own story, they will!

Tangible artifacts will make it easier for them to visualize the bigger picture and for you to understand their journey with your product.  This will give you the chance to translate their struggles into opportunities.

Watch Episode 5.

6- Scenario Swimlanes

Many pieces have to come together for a particular interaction to happen and create a positive experience for your users.  Scenario Description Swimlanes it’s a UX deliverable that illustrates how these multiple pieces come together.

The Swimlanes technique helps you understand and visualize what these interactions are.  It exemplifies the various roles involved, business processes, tools, technology, features, etc.  It brings them all all together into a coherent picture.

Watch Episode 6.

7- Generative Research

With this approach you invite people to a series of collaborative activities.  By using tangible artifacts to represent aspects of their personal experiences, they will generate meaningful insights of the issue you want to explore.

Business Origami is a specific subset of this technique.  For Episode 7 we customized our own Generative Research activity.

People are the real experts–each of us understands our own way of  living best. They are more likely to express their feelings if you provide them with tangible artifacts to play around with.  This method invites them to build something (i.e., a collage, a prototype, an artifact, etc.); it will also help you and your team to truly engage and empathize with your users.

Watch Episode 7.

8- Elito Method

If you’ve conducted research, then you probably ended up with a large data set of observations.  Elito is a synthesis method that will help you to structure that information and generate design ideas out of it.

We found this method to work surprisingly fast.  It works by externalizing observations, judgements, and concepts collected during research.  It can very quickly help you make sense of large datasets and generate design ideas quickly. This activity can align your team’s efforts and put everybody on the same mental space.

Watch Episode 8.

9- Experience Prototyping

The Experience Prototyping is another instance of Generative Research.

This method is great when you want to explore and evaluate product ideas to early discover issues and design opportunities. Due its low cost, it allows designers to show and test potential solutions through active participation of users in a workshop-like activity.

This technique helps users narrate their own experience, and this in turn makes information more vivid.  This will make it easier for your team to engage with them and to feel greater empathy for them. This is also a great opportunity for you to learn how the ideal product/service should work from the perspective and worldview of your users.

Watch Episode 9.

10- Semantic Differential

It’s a survey-based method that measures people’s reactions to a concept presented within a scale of opposite or gradual adjectives.

This survey technique is very easy and inexpensive to deploy and it can really nail your users’ emotional reaction to your product.  Their feelings are reflected as points on a scale. The final report gives you options as to what to do next.

Watch Episode 10.

The Future

At the UX Clinic we are on a mission to put users in the center of the development efforts of the software community.  We are pretty confident that by doing so the products we create will have meaningful impact on people’s lives. As a result companies and businesses can thrive and we are going to help people to be more productive.  People will have fun using the apps and websites they love.

Over the last 18 months we have worked with 12 companies, evaluating their interfaces and proposing effective solutions to align their products to their own users’ needs and wants.  We believe in the power of UX as a brand differentiator. UX is truly game changer.

In the 2015 season we will continue to explore more UX techniques and design methodologies that you, too, can apply, including

  1. Remote Moderated Research
  2. Cognitive Walkthrough
  3. User Journey Maps
  4. Persona Profiles
  5. Affinity Diagrams

And many others.

UX Is the Answer

Remember never to get stuck on any assumption.  Test them. And then test them again.

If you don’t, the game might change without you even noticing it.  Practice design as a dynamic process, not as a one-time deliverable.

UX research will help you through the fuzzy process of discovering what people want and need.  Listen and observe your users with true empathy. They have the answers.