Golden rules for achieving great user experience

16 June 2016

Nathan Adams

Nathan Adams

User Experience and Design Lead Consultant

I can’t guarantee that if you follow everything below, you’ll produce a fantastic design and deliver great user experience every time. What I do know is that when I’ve ignored these rules I’ve delivered less than optimal designs, which has resulted in significant issues later on in the build, test and deployment…

Why has User Experience become a focus within Enterprise IT?

A little under 10 years ago, Apple introduced the iPhone.  Overnight perceptions were changed of what a good User Experience (UX) is.  In addition to this, the continuing advances in websites, apps and other technologies have meant that our expectations surrounding the software and hardware that we interact with have totally, completely and utterly changed. 

It’s not surprising then that these expectations and desires have filtered into the workplace. Enterprise IT now needs to understand the benefits of great UX, and more importantly how to deliver it. Established methodologies and processes are not typically geared up to generating the best designs, and over the last few years I’ve looked to other design disciplines to see what I can learn. The following are golden rules and practices that can help you achieve great UX in your designs.

The rules:

1.    Preparation

  • Make time for design. If there isn’t enough, try and get it.  If not highlight the negative impacts.
  • Get the right people involved. Make sure you get the people who’ll actually use the end product day to day, not just managers and subject matter experts (SME’s) – although you still need them of course!
  • Create the right space. You can’t run an effective workshop with distractions, or the wrong facilities.

2.    Discover

  • Start with a blank sheet. You need to challenge your own preconceptions of what the solution should be, as well as everyone else’s.  
  • Use your team effectively in workshops. You can’t keep time, take notes and lead the workshop.  Ask your developers for assistance; they’ll provide you with another level of insight.
  • Take time to listen to everything relevant. It might not be obviously in scope, but understanding the whole picture can help identify future ‘iceberg’ issues.
  • It’s not just about User Interface (UI). User experience can be driven by many other elements, so get the 360º view, consider all the elements in play (especially things like emails and approvals).

3.    Design    

  • Make time to reflect. You will have gathered a lot of information, make sure you have time to digest and properly understand it all.  Build time in to your plan to do something else giving yourself ‘processing time’.
  • Remember to focus back in on what you want to achieve. Chances are you’ll have dug up quite a few other issues which are outside of your scope (and if you haven’t, you might need to dig a little more). Don’t get distracted by these, but make sure you have the appropriate strategies in place to handle them.
  • Don’t get lost in tools. Everyone loves a tool which helps them do their job, and if it’s software we all love a new tool! But make sure you’re comfortable with the fundamental tools; pen and paper (or whiteboard).  If you want to use additional ones consider timing – at what point in the process will it add the most value…will it add value? Don’t use a new tool for the sake of it.
  • Interact, Build, Prototype and Demo, but ultimately throw it away. Whatever tool you do use, remember the code is to be thrown away. You’re using something to help show areas which are difficult to visualise using other techniques, not to help kick-start code development. Generated or hastily thrown together code is not a good foundation for any eventual app.
  • Care about the parts you can’t see. Quality informs UX. Often it’s the parts the user can’t see that result in a perception of poor quality; whether it’s poor performance, or a poorly thought out aspect. Sadly, the UX you deliver is going to be a product of the things you did wrong, not the things you did right.
  • Understand the relationship between excellence and cost. Reality will (and has to) intrude into your design. Not everything you want to do will be possible without blowing the budget sky high. Show the value a feature adds, then you can prioritise the features you need to keep. Also remember to set expectations; great UX costs time and money.

4.    Everyday skills

  • Learn to draw, then practice, and keep practicing. Irrespective of how good you are as an artist (and it’s likely you’re not amazing) drawing is a skill and you need to practice it, every day. Practice = improvement.
  • Know yourself. Design is not an exact science, there is no easy route to success every time. Know and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing your limitations allows you to address them and develop.
  • Be your own worst critic. Design awareness is a double edged sword; you see issues with everything around you, and you are probably the harshest critic of your own work. Remember to celebrate the successes, but never be complacent, and never be satisfied that there isn’t a better solution out there.
  • Keep creating and designing. We don’t always get the opportunity to design everyday so make sure you always have something you can be working on. Ideally something outside of work. Design skills come with practice, keep practicing.

You won’t always be able to satisfy all of the above.  However being able to articulate the impacts of poor design can at least act as an ‘early warning system’ of potential future issues, and can help mitigate them. The more you can follow these, then the more likely it is you’ll deliver the UX that people expect and have become accustomed to in their day to day lives.

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About the author

Nathan Adams

User Experience and Design Lead Consultant

Nathan's inspiration comes from designers. How they think and what they do. Over the last couple of years he has made a significant shift in his approach to implementations:  from a technical IT viewpoint to a design one. Understanding how designers work has really helped him bring an enhanced user interface to his projects. All too often in the technical community the value is placed on the coding and the backend. Nathan's passion lies with helping clients and his peers truly understand the benefits of excellent user experience. 

The Dieter Ram 10 principles for good design are Nathan's mantra for design, and particularly user interaction. This assists him to deliver seamless and intuitive user interfaces for the projects he runs. The important thing for Nathan is to focus on how people will use the technology.  

Working on projects ranging from £100k+ through to £10+ million, Nathan spent 2 decades working with Barclays, so it won’t surprise you to learn that typically his clients come from financial services.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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