Great Customer Experiences through Design
Too many companies approach design from their own point of view and too few really look at how customers actually use products, according to a report on user experience (UX) design. While the report looked specifically at the financial industry, the findings should resonate for any organization interested in helping customers through great design.

Business Processes Dictate Design

Proper usability or user interface design starts with understanding the processes and needs of those using them, April McGee, chief of technical staff at UX design firm Human Factors, said in an interview with CMSWire. 

"Immerse yourself in the customer environment," McGee said. "Go see how they use the tools."

Perhaps it goes without saying that some companies are further along than others when it comes to usability, but in general, large, established companies tend to take longer to catch up on modern design changes. This is but one of many conclusions from the recent UX Mistakes Made by Financial Institutions and How to Avoid Them report by Human Factors.

Companies in the banking, insurance and financial services industries in particular struggle with user satisfaction ratings, the report found, and they rank at the very bottom compared with other industries. They garner only around 50 percent satisfaction ratings, a 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer Key Findings report found, a finding that likely reflects people's low opinion of the financial industry overall.

No doubt, there is room for improvement in how all companies -- not just the financial sector -- approach building great customer experiences via design, and that is what McGee laid out in her report. Whether building a website, an app or internal networking/intranet tool, businesses need to dig into how people really use those things, and not just assume they will use them as intended.

This idea can be thought of as the user is not like me ethos, a design principal used to incorporate the end user's thoughts and processes into the design of a particular tool. 

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One way to track how a UX design project is progressing is to develop a UX maturity dashboard or scorecard.

5 Steps to Great Customer Experiences via Design

In her highly detailed report, McGee recommended five UX priorities for financial institutions, but any organization could benefit from the insight:

  • Document user habits and usage patterns -- Take small steps, McGee suggests, and shape, refine and deepen knowledge of customers.
  • Team effort needed to create design standards and templates -- Based on customer knowledge, build standards that can be reused throughout the design and development.
  • Ingrain continuous UX improvements -- This goes back to the top of this article. Aligning business processes with development needs must be strategic.
  • UX memory must be safeguarded -- Design assets must be readily available if they are to be used and not forgotten.
  • Help customers carry out their tasks -- Don't get too caught up in being novel and engaging --it's about the customer's goals.

To that last point, the most prudent example is that of the dust up over Apple's flat design choice in the recent iOS 7 update for iPhones and iPads. Flat design versus skeuomorphic became a trendy topic around the iOS 7 release, but it's just that, a trend. Usability professionals shouldn't be blinded by these kinds of debates, as Baruch Sachs argued over at UXmatters.

It's still about what customers need to complete their tasks, Sachs wrote, a position that complements McGee's recommendations.

What Not to Do

McGee offered a few tips on what not to do for executives and developers considering design thinking's impact on the look and feel of their handy new iPhone 5S or iPad. Don't chase any kind of elusive wow factor, McGee said, and instead focus on removing bottlenecks from people's workflows. In that same vein, McGee added, try not to confuse amplification with simplification.

When designers try to emphasize certain things, they sometimes tend to shove too many things in front of people. That's not the right approach. Attempting to improve workflows by exposing every possible tool in an interface is not simplification.

Similarly, when a team member or executive decides he or she has discovered a particularly grand new widget or design element, there can be an overwhelming desire to copy it. That isn't innovation. McGee warned against mistaking market research for usability research. While one is certainly cheaper than the other, it is no substitute. Market research focuses more on people's opinions about what they do, not what they actually do.

Designing customer experiences via UX design needs to be as strategic as any other part of a business, and it needs to be customer focused, McGee said. "Organizations need to have someone high up, like an executive, advocate for UX design, and it needs to be a holistic approach."

Title image courtesy of everything possible (Shutterstock)