Companies spend millions on software each year

How do we improve the odds of success?

Published: July 26, 2021

Even though companies outwardly value a great user experience, many sites and apps are frustratingly difficult to use. According to Forrester Research, 70% of software projects fail due to a lack of user acceptance.

Phones, tablets, and PCs amplify our ability to analyze, learn, transact, collaborate, communicate, and connect. Great user interfaces accelerate the time it takes for novices to perform like experts. But their ability to do so depends on the quality of the experience, which, to a large degree, is dependent on the quality of the user interface.

Since software is at the center of many of our lives these days, it’s wonderful when companies understand the business value of an effective interface. Unfortunately, we are still conscious of the fact that they’re interfaces. Someday users will focus entirely on what they want to accomplish, and they won’t have to think about the interface at all.

As Don Norman says in his essay “Why Interfaces Don’t Work,” in The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design:

Then the interface will work, not because it doesn’t exist, but because it blends so seamlessly with the task to be done that it disappears from consciousness...A door has an interface -- the doorknob and other hardware -- but we should not have to think of ourselves as using the interface to the door: we simply think of ourselves as going through the doorway or closing or opening the door.

Don Norman

Technologies from Apple, Google, and Amazon enable a user to interact in a conversational manner, which for simple tasks is easy for these devices to learn. These capabilities hint at the possibility that someday we’ll have more integrated interfaces that we barely notice.

What does it take to create a great user experience?

The goal is to create an interface that one doesn’t consciously notice because it completely supports the tasks at hand. At a basic level, you shoud be able to answer yes to these questions: 

  • Is the app functional and reliable?
  • Is it easy to learn and efficient to use?
  • Is it performant?
  • And ideally, is it enjoyable and satisfying?

So, how do we get there? By following these five steps, companies will be on their way to creating better user experiences: 

1. Get real users involved and cultivate empathetic design skills. In the past few years, the market has exploded with innovative design and prototyping tools. But having great tools is not enough. The tools simply provide the building blocks of interface design.

Just like giving someone a hammer and saw doesn’t make them a carpenter, giving someone a design tool doesn’t make them an interface designer. Alternatively, great designers internalize the goals of both the user and the business - often observing users and developing insights that users could not express on their own - and are able to craft an experience that satisfies both.

The traditional approach, avoiding users during the design process and conducting usability testing late in the game to see how well the product matches a user’s needs, is broken. Instead, working with users throughout the process, prototyping and getting feedback along the way, is the right path to a great experience. Yet it’s amazing how often teams restrict access to real users, forcing a team to rely on product owners who may or may not have deep insight about what an app needs to do and how it needs to work.

It’s not enough to simply interview users and ask them what they want. With that approach, users will typically only be able to describe enhancements incrementally better than what they currently have. Trained designers and researchers need to rely on their observational skills in addition to asking probing questions to develop insights that get translated into magical experiences.

2. Don't settle - raise the bar! Companies get the user experiences they demand. For much of history, people put up with poorly designed tools, particularly internal ones (remember VCRs that blinked “12:00”?). Arguably, the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 raised the bar on what people expect from the tools they use.

Companies recognized the need long ago that consumer-facing apps deserved a great experience, and enlightened companies are finally recognizing that enterprise apps deserve to be great, too. Employees are increasingly less willing to accept lousy internal apps and sites. Technology is so integrated into our jobs that poorly designed internal applications can impact recruiting and retention.

3. Deploy teams that care. The user experience extends beyond what people see on the screen. The copy quality and relevance, the page's load speed, the interface responsiveness, and server reliability and stability all matter. So, while the UX team takes primary responsibility for the experience, it takes everyone on the team to deliver an outstanding product.

For the best results, the user experience needs should drive the technology decisions, which we call “experience-led engineering”, instead of the traditional approach where technology decisions are made in advance and often constrain the experience.

4. Use analytics to reinforce the desired behaviors. Microsoft incentivizes the technical support applications teams to optimize their applications for ease of use and minimize user support calls. They’ve used analytics to determine what touchpoints align best with their customers.

Reward and incentive systems need to be closely aligned with user satisfaction. Every contact someone has with a company, whether using an app, calling a helpline, or visiting a genius bar, is a moment of truth.

5. Prevent “the illusion of agreement.” It’s common for teams to debate scope by reviewing spreadsheets filled with user stories which, to be honest, are just brief clinical descriptions of the features. While this can be an effective approach, it’s typically ineffective at addressing the unspoken reality that while the team may agree on a set of use cases, the agreement is often an illusion.

The challenge is brought about because everyone involved often has a different picture in their head regarding how the app will look and work. The solution to this is to make efforts to get things out of peoples’ heads and into a tangible form that people can react to. We write narratives and create proofs-of-concept that illustrate the experience we’re trying to create, for example. Especially early in the life cycle, it’s more important to obtain constructive feedback than determine the best solution.

Great experiences = a necessary endeavor 

Creating a great experience is not an option anymore. It’s a necessity. McKinsey has shown that companies that value good design outperform those that don’t, often by significant margins. By applying these techniques, companies can avoid the failure rates Forrester Research has identified. We can all be on our way to developing great experiences through user interfaces.

Virtusa iComms

The intelligent communications marketplace

Related content