As software products become more usable across the board, people begin to demand more usable products in all aspects of their lives.

Making the Shift from IT-led Design to UX-led Design

June 9, 2015

Users are the heart of everything we do.

Software design is evolving to incorporate an increased focus on usability. For example, as consumer products get easier to use, people’s expectations change. B2B and enterprise systems must continue to evolve to meet this trend. People expect the software they use at work to be as easy to use as the ones they use at home. Yet many technology products, web sites, and applications – especially in B2B and enterprise systems – have yet to shift into more agile business frameworks and incorporate user experience design. For some, software is still being designed by developers and business analysts. When companies consider design an afterthought, the resulting products are rarely efficient or easy to use.

Business leaders who want to become more agile and remain competitive know that a sub-optimal user experience is costing them. These costs come in the form of reduced client satisfaction, increased customer support costs, and poor positioning in competitive sales situations. But they struggle to make the transition from an IT-led design organization to UX-led design organization.

For companies that have never followed a user-centered design process – or treated the design process as separate from development – evolving can be difficult. They may not trust that anyone outside their industry can gain domain knowledge and understand their marketspace. They may business stakeholders discount the value of the end-user perspective in bringing a product to market. Technology teams may resist sharing design tasks, perceiving this as having responsibilities taken away from them. Business leaders who want to embrace user-centered design may not know where to start.

Here are some tips anyone can use to begin to evolve into a user-centered design process:

Conduct usability research.

It’s less expensive than you might think, and talking to your users is the number one way to create a culture of user-centered design. You can start by observing users as an internal team, but you are likely to miss strategic insights due to internal assumptions and unrealized bias. Better yet, hire a consultant to perform goal-based user testing. Be sure to have your product and IT team watch sessions and discuss findings. Not only will observing the process can help get buy-in that there are issues, but also this research will likely turn up some “low-hanging fruit” that can be addressed quickly to solve some user pain points.

Define user needs first. 

At the beginning of your next development sprint or new product development process, try defining the problems you’re solving up front. Try to frame them from your user’s perspective based on your previous user observations. What are they trying to accomplish? How are you helping them accomplish that goal? By talking about your users and their needs – as opposed to solely focusing on internal business goals and limitations – you can align the needs users have with the ways your product can solve them.

Get the team sketching. 

If you don’t have ready access to user experience designers, try making everyone a designer for a day in a collaborative workshop setting:

  • Give everyone in the room paper and pencils.
  • Present a challenge your user is facing, including the users’ goals and needs to the group. Keep it simple.
  • Give everyone 10 minutes to sketch a solution to the user challenge using three screens or less.
  • Go around the room and have everyone share their design idea.
  • Choose the best solution – or a combination of solutions.

You’ll be amazed at the great ideas that can come from people who don’t consider themselves designers.

Run a UX-driven process in parallel to your traditional process. 

  • Try running a user-centered design process alongside the traditional process to see which one produces better results. Think of this as A/B testing of your existing design process vs. a user-centered design process.
  • If your internal teams want to keep doing things the way they’ve done them in the past, hire a consultant or UX firm to run a concurrent project. Afterward, debrief about the benefits to the UX approach and find small ways to incorporate some of the techniques into your existing processes.

People are incorporating and using digital products in their lives more than ever before. Most want to use something that makes their life easier. The evolution towards human-centered  design doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive. With some internal initiative, and perhaps a little outside help, companies can evolve to design software that better meets their users’ needs.

Useagility specializes in human-centered design and technology. We consult with many regional and national companies to increase user satisfaction, reduce costs, and build capacity for continual insights and innovative solutions.