User experience development is often a lot of X, but not enough U

When it comes to enterprise systems design, "everyone is responsible for looking out for the user."

One of the trends that is shaping IT priorities in the year ahead is an increased emphasis on the user experience, or, as it is affectionately known, UX. It will be part and parcel of Agile, Scrum and other collaborative development activities. However, while Agile and Scrum are all about what users need and want, designing a great UX may still be getting lost in the shuffle.

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Photo: HubSpot

Hoa Loranger, director at Nielsen Norman Group, cautions that even in groups setting out to intentionally design good UX, they're focusing too much on the X, and not enough on the U. There simply isn't enough user input going into UX development efforts. she observes in a recent post.

As with any important technology initiative these days, the effort requires engagement from across the enterprise. This may cut across a range of areas, including product management, development, marketing, content, customer service, graphic design, and interaction design, Loranger says. "In other words, everyone is responsible for looking out for the user."

This may even be the Achilles' Heel of Agile development in enterprises, she suggests. "My latest interviews with Agile team members reveal that most teams are not performing user research on their concepts or designs. Respondents cited time constraints and lack of UX resources among the top reasons for this trend."

Loranger suggests several approaches to incorporating better UX into software development and delivery:

Identify and work directly with the ultimate users of the software. Often, development teams will work with corporate stakeholders to design software that may be intended for someone else, such as customers.

Do your research. Conduct user surveys, as well as other research methodologies such as surveys, focus groups, A/B testing, and usability testing,says Loranger. Having solid data about user preferences will help settle debates and promote common purpose among team members.

Sketch and test -- then repeat, if necessary. Loranger suggests probing user preferences with lightweight diagrams and plans before setting it to digital form. Development time can actually be sped up "by testing sketches and wireframes first, before a single line of code is written," she says. "Don't waste resources building something functional only to find out too late that it is not what people want or that it contains major flaws."

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