The pace of information technology is changing rapidly. How we use internet and what we know about it has drastically changed over the past decade. Technology is changing and people are not afraid to try new things. Cash is no more the cash in wallet; rather it is becoming virtual money, which can change hands from smart phones and wearable devices.
In this age of new technology and fast-paced life, there is something that connects users with technology. That something is User Experience! Today, creative and innovative ideas are the critical elements of a successful business. People want something new all the time. Customers want to use new applications and devices without training. For end customers, it does not matter which technology is being used. Users prefer and appreciate applications and software that is intuitive, creative and easy to use. The success of a new idea and how it is implemented is measured with customer feedback, star ratings and the number of downloads from end users.
The boundary between design and technology is fading out. A multitude of design aspects are driven by technology and smart devices. Applications are becoming simpler, easy to use and rich in new functionalities. Users download mobile apps as per their needs. Applications too have become fast, responsive and multi-device enabled. Owing to this, designers and developers continue to face challenges to develop apps that meet all the requirements of users and clients.
At times, there is friction between the ease of use of an application and the UI development frameworks that support the application features and behavior. In some cases, a compromise has to be made between usability and technology, so that the application can be developed using a specific UI framework or platform. There are so many UI frameworks to choose from, with many more new frameworks already adding to the list. The primary reason for introduction of so many UI frameworks is to support varied application requirements and enable the ease of application development and maintenance.
With evolution of smart mobile devices and fast data connections, the application design and development paradigm has changed. Now, the focus is shifted to design paradigm: “Form follows the function!” We identify/define user needs and expectations before developing an application. Once the application is developed, user acceptance is required to ascertain if the requirements of users are met or not. Technology is evolving to support the users’ needs, as well as their preferences for particular software or apps.
This change in focus has given a lot of importance to User Experience design.
User Experience (UX) design evolved from the field of Print and Advertising, where design and layout principles were used for magazines, brochures and posters. The term, ‘Human Factors’, is loosely used to identify human aspects of products, services and software applications. With the advent of IT and personal computers, “Human Computer Interaction” evolved to define people’s interactions with computers, applications and software.
The basic question that pops in our mind is – How do we design these applications and apps, which users and customers will like? How do we improve operational efficiency and the ease-of-use of very basic and monotonous tasks in applications? UX has the answers to all these questions. Traditionally, these aspects did not matter much. Computers and internet medium were new, and users had to accept whatever was thrown at them. Technology was driving user experience!
As per ISO 9241-210 standards, UX is defined as: “A person’s perceptions and responses, resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service”.
The design process in UX focuses on understanding user profiles and their needs, and then designing an application around these user needs. It is also called user-centered design. These aspects are the heart of usability and UX design.
Internet companies are spending more and more on UX to differentiate their offering from that of their competitors. We may look at the highly competitive and fast growing e-commerce market of India. Here, 3-4 big players like Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal are leaving no stone unturned to gain market share and grow faster than their peers. Although there are many factors that may determine the supremacy of these players, UX is something that these e-commerce companies are focusing on in a big way. Amazon, the world leader in the e-commerce space, is getting tough competition from relatively new Indian players like Flipkart and Snapdeal. Amazon is still fighting for the number one slot. Easy-to-search, easy-to-select and easy-to-buy products are the most important things that attract retail customers. Dedicated UX teams use all aspects of design process to make the buying process more intuitive. Each team is using a different paradigm, but the design process is more or less similar. Who wins this race is yet to be seen.
LTI understands the importance of user experience design. Our internal products and IPs (Intellectual Property), along with client service projects, undergo detailed UX assessment and design solutioning. UX teams try to resolve problems and bottlenecks by thinking out of the box. There are many case studies where the UX team won prestigious projects from big clients because the proposed solution was technically superior, intuitive and easy to use. Several applications designed and developed by LTI have won awards at several forums.
Design thinking and user experience cannot be driven by a handful of individuals or teams. It needs to be taken up and followed by all stakeholders; starting from business owners, architects, developers, testers, deployment teams and client engagement managers. If any of these stakeholders does not participate in the UX of an application, the application may not get thumbs-up from customers.
There are usability and UX events/trainings planned for non-designers so that they may understand and adopt the very basic elements of usability and design thinking in their day-to-day activities. With institutionalization of the UX design process, development teams are finding fewer bugs and fewer client acceptance issues.
Gartner and other analyst reports have concluded that by following the UX design process, cost of software development can be reduced by up to 25%. Additionally, user acceptance levels also increase drastically. Internet companies earn 10-20 dollars more for each dollar spent on UX.
Looking at all the benefits and ROI (Return on Investment) of UX and usability, it makes business sense to follow UX process and institutionalize it.
With changes in technology and hardware, user experience will also undergo a change. However, “form follows the function” may still remain relevant. To think like an end customer is the key!
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