What UX Design does for your business software

By putting the end-user front and centre of design, UX Design maximises the adoption, use, and efficiency of professional software products. We will explain what this entails and how specifically we go about it to ensure that the experience our solutions provide increases the productivity and satisfaction of those who use them on a daily basis.

The UX in UX Design stands for User eXperience and is to be understood as the end user’s experience of a product or service, the notion of experience encompassing all areas, as reflected by the ubiquity of the expression “customer experience”. In France, where the word “design” primarily refers to outward aesthetics or appearance (object or architecture design), there is a tendency to forget that its primary meaning in English is the equivalent of the French “conception”, meaning a plan for the construction of an object or system, or for the implementation of an activity or process. It is this latter definition of design that we are talking about here, UX Design being defined as a user-centric design method with a view to providing him or her with the best possible experience. To this end, it employs knowledge and techniques derived from research into ergonomics, cognitive and behavioural psychology, and neurosciences.

Applied to business software, this method has enabled a break with the dogma of the early days of IT, when it was believed that the onus was on the end user to adapt to the product’s logic – in reality that of the developers, governed by technical considerations. What was acceptable as long as software was used by specialists ceased to be so when software became everyday working tools directly pitched at business users, who in most cases were not IT people. It will be appreciated that the computerisation of business tasks and processes would have been far slower if the software designers had not taken account of the practical dimension of their products by working, initially, on user interfaces (UI) and, nowadays, on the experiential dimension, of which the UI is only one aspect.

What UX Design makes it possible to reconcile

Be it designing a new product or developing an existing product, creating a software product’s user experience takes account of and above all reconciles:

  • the functional requirement, namely the business task or process, which the software must make it possible to perform, whether this requirement has been identified by the publisher, or expressed by his customers;
  • the individual user’s behaviour, namely the way in which he spontaneously uses the software tool he is provided with to achieve what he needs to as part of his business roles and responsibilities;
  • the implicit expectations of any software in terms of general ergonomics and aesthetics, no business tool being able to diverge from the standards of interaction and visual codes of the consumer sites and applications which are our subconscious point of reference.

The objective is for the response to the functional requirement formalised in the software to be as close as possible to the way in which the user prefers to work. The conundrum is that business software is pitched at many users, experienced to some degree or other, and who, as such, go about achieving the same task in different ways. The optimal design is the one that satisfies most users, be they experienced or complete newbies, this satisfaction relying both on the “look and feel” of the interface, and the ability to perform the task or tasks in question efficiently and quickly.

Instead of developing the product end-to-end and delivering it up to the users’ judgement after the fact, UX Design involves users before the “hard coding” phase, enabling the design team’s (product owner, UX designer and developers) assumptions to be validated, amended, or corrected. This is the raison d’être of user tests, an indispensable stage in the UX Design process, which also requires an answer to the following question:

How do you test a product that doesn’t yet exist?

In the UX Design approach, user tests are conducted on a so-called “high resolution” mock-up, akin to a prototype. This mock-up, created by the UX designer, comprises images representing the various screens required to complete the task, or set of tasks, in the future product. The navigation elements (menus, buttons, links, etc.) featuring in these images are actionable and can trigger animations simulating real-world use of the software’s features – for example, opening a new screen after having clicked on a button, or displaying a pop-up after selecting an item from a drop-down menu.

The mock-up is developed based on the scenario to be submitted to the test users. The typical scenario consists in asking them to perform a specific action within a given time. When being confronted with this situation, the user is filmed to observe his attitude and responses to the screen. His actions and interactions in the interface are also captured on video, which makes it possible to know exactly how he is going about executing the request. The analysis of these two categories of video enables the UX designer to assess how efficient the proposed solution and choices crystallised in the mock-up are, to identify friction points and irritants, and to amend the proposed solution accordingly.

How are trade-offs handled?

A test is even more informative as it is conducted on a panel comprising business users already familiar with the software, others who have never used it and, especially if one wishes to evaluate how intuitive the proposed solution is, users from outside the business area. The desired objective in putting together the test panel is not so much the number of different profiles likely to use the solution as their representativeness. A panel of 15 to 20 testers is ideal for validating the introduction of a new feature or interface change.

Trade-offs are made depending on the most commonly observed behaviours: if more than half the testers managed to do what was asked of them within the allotted time, the proposed solution can be deemed to have met the efficiency criteria expected of a business tool; if most users had to make two or three attempts to achieve the objective, there is a methodical analysis of what might have tripped them up: it might be an insufficiently prominent button at a key moment in the process, an omission, or an incorrect message in the context-sensitive help, or else a feature that is hard to find because it has been located in a menu where no one thought to look for it. These elements are reworked to remove as many stumbling blocks and irritants as possible. If there are a lot of corrections, or if the first test was anything but conclusive, an amended version of the mock-up may be retested. The reiteration of the tests depends on the degree of criticality of the new features implemented, both from the publisher’s and his customers’ perspective.

A continuous improvement mechanism

Although they significantly reduce the risk of developing and bringing to market solutions, versions or features that do not meet with their target audience’s approval, user tests on a mock-up are not the only tools at the design teams’ disposal to improve a business software product’s user experience. The prevalence of SaaS enables the constant monitoring of real-world use, identification of areas for improvement, and their prioritisation. This is what we here at GEOCONCEPT can do thanks to the linking of our SaaS planning and field service management solutions with a digital adoption platform.

In addition to step-by-step support for users in the performance of their tasks, this platform provides statistics on the amount of use of the various features, and on the paths taken by users in performing key operations. This information source is used to simplify interfaces, propose alternatives and shortcuts, and automate recurring tasks – all developments aligned with the latent expectations which our design and development teams are keen to address so that our software products are increasingly easy to master, and which your users are increasingly happy to use, and efficient in doing so.