Killer app or shelfware? It depends on the user experience delivered

IT leaders are being urged to look beyond the usual bells and whistles of application interfaces.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer
For the most part, IT leaders understand that user experience (UX) can make the difference whether an application or service becomes core to the business, or if it becomes more shelfware. However, UX thinking seems to be few and far between.
Photo: HubSpot

There are many factors to blame, especially the unending rapid pace in which applications and features need to be churned out -- the business is pushing to get things out the door before the full implications of interactions can be studied and refined. Plus, tight IT budgets typically don't have room for studying the design and workflow implications of application interfaces.

What is UX? It's more than the interface, it's the activities that go on around and are affected by the application as well. UX asks the questions that need to be asked:

  • Does the user really need this application page or interface?
  • What exactly is this application replacing?
  • How is this making users' jobs or online experiences easier?
  • Is the application interactive with the user?
  • How much trust and confidence does the user have with this application, page or interface?
  • Does the user have alternatives?

In a recent post at UX Magazine, Saul Gurdus observes that in 2015, simply having a pretty interface to applications doesn't cut it anymore. User experience -- UX -- is taking center stage as an important element of what user get out of applications.

However, Gurdus takes IT leaders to task, blaming poor application design for lack of adoption and application failures. He cites an example of lack of consideration of the user experience in rolling out a digital documentation application:

"...a theoretically perfect solution of replacing printed manuals with digital solutions ultimately fails because its later discovered that users love their printed manuals and have years of hand-written notes in the margins. The simple step of engaging and empathizing with users before solving for them would have easily uncovered this."

Designing a well-played user experience is key to successful application deployment. While Gurdus talks about consumer-facing sites, his lessons as just as instructional for enterprise end-users as well. He says three factors are putting UX front and center:

1. Power has shifted to consumers [and end users] and their experience matters. "A generational force has driven the consumerization of IT with new workers entering the market that expect and demand the same quality of experiences they get everyday from their beloved consumer products and services."

2. Enlightened companies will take responsibility for the entire experience. Expect to see stronger corporate support for UX among some example-setting companies -- something that may translate into more budgets for the design aspect of applications beyond interactions on the screen. There's a need to fuse application interfaces with other channels and mechanisms by which enterprises interact with end-users and consumers.

3. Lean and design thinking isn't just for startups. These emerging techniques put customers and end-users right in the thick of development. It's working iteratively with end-users to determine what they want out of applications as they are built. Concepts such as Agile have been around for a while, but it's only been lately that they have been getting the attention they deserve.

Gurdus urges more efforts to pursue design thinking, lean startup, journey mapping, and other human-oriented approaches to better understand what users need and want from applications.

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