Slow load times, an unintuitive interface designed to mislead users, text and images that jump around as other images load. By now, we’re all familiar with tech that doesn’t work as expected, but there are risks to your profit when your design—user experience—makes users give up… or wish they could.
Four reasons to invest in user experience
#1 If you keep your users happy, they’ll sell for you.
Word-of-mouth is still powerful, or indeed more powerful than ever. What if your application isn’t e-commerce ? Your employees might not “sell” you as an employer because of their experience using an app, and a negative user experience (UX) can correspondingly affect their overall feelings toward their work.
#2 Lower your costs
In addition to savings in the time employees require to use the system, firms with a good user interface in their apps can realize cost savings in the form of fewer support requests. Customers and employees alike will find what they need intuitively and not need to open a ticket or call for help. If the app was designed to reduce the personnel hours needed for a function, then it makes no sense to frustrate the user and drive them to pick up the phone anyway.
This is one area in particular where a government agency or department can save costs and – in the political version of loyalty – earn citizen respect with good UX. (On the flip side, the government agency can write itself out of existence by using web pages with UX design so bad that each user gives up and leaves their service, also saving costs…)
#3 You’ll get more engagement if your user experience is designed well
#4 You’ll get more loyalty if every step of the customer journey has been well thought out and carefully tested
Jeff Bezos is famous for having figured this out. Early in the Amazon founder’s days of building the company, he invested millions in user experience and not in advertising. He was bucking all of the advice he was getting, but in the end he created the online shopping experience other merchants seek to emulate. Simply put, the user experience on your e-commerce site should not involve too much friction on the potential customer’s path through to the end of the sales funnel.
A personal perspective
Let’s change the perspective and look at the problem from an end user’s point of view. Let’s imagine that you are looking for a peer-to-peer car-rental service. There are a few to choose from, but only one has a smooth, intuitive sign-up process for users to complete. Some of the user interfaces looked nice, but it’s difficult to imagine what business goals any of the others have, or if they’re enjoying any business success at all. It goes without saying that you will choose the one that allows you to complete the transaction faster and with greater ease.
Back to the four reasons
Even if your site or page is not about sales, it’s important to not let anything distract existing and potential users from the page content. Your visitors are there to get information, and a frustrating user interface will send them to get the information elsewhere, losing you a potential customer.
Google did research on this topic in 2018, finding that a page load time of three seconds increases the probability of site visitors on mobile devices bouncing away by 32%; at 10 seconds, that probability increases by 123%. Similarly, as the number of elements—text, titles, images—on a page goes from 400 to 6,000, the probability of conversion drops 95%.
Now that with Core Web Vitals Google Search evaluates usability (since August 2021 for mobile, starting February 2022 for desktop) in terms of time-to-load, its algorithm might very well lower your page rank, lowering your visitor numbers.
If you’re also using affiliate marketing, then the longer that eyes stay somewhere on your site, the more affiliate links those eyes will see, of course.
It’s a similar story with employees using an intracompany application. A poorly designed user experience will add unnecessary stress to the day and cost you some of your staff’s valuable time. A financial services company claims to have doubled the number of calls it makes to clients per day by shortening the time it took employees to create quotes, by rethinking its software to improve the employees’ user experience.
Meanwhile, a government agency redesigned its website, which reduced the time it took to find information by 62% and saved the state $1.2M per year.
User experience: one possible definition
So what exactly is included in the concept of user experience? This aspect of human–computer interaction has many dimensions beyond being a popular business buzzword, dimensions that UX designers should be able to handle:
- Ensure that the system/software/site is in line with the business’s interests and strategies;
- Organize information logically so that visitors can quickly understand and learn how to navigate the interface to find what they want or need;
- Consider human motivations, attitudes and desires, and be able to translate those into the navigation pathways;
- Be sensitive to ethnic and international diversity;
- Remember about users with disabilities;
- Apply ethics so that the site doesn’t exploit visiting users;
- Understand what the development framework makes possible and what its limits are.
That’s a pretty broad range; a well-considered team may be more likely to handle all of these dimensions well with insightful and dynamic thinking than a single designer could.
Alternatively, we could let Don Norman define user experience: “True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features.” (The Definition of User Experience, Don Norman & Jacob Nielsen)
Return on investment in UX?
Call it the elephant in the room if you will—the ROI for optimizing user experience is the big question that has no satisfactory answer. That’s not to say an answer hasn’t been attempted, but much like ad spend: it’s a bit of guesswork and estimation (the Nielsen Norman Group go so far as to offer a full-day seminar on the topic).
Forrester Research offered a rule of thumb in 2015: for every $1 spent on user experience, the return is $100. Somewhat more concretely, we might take a look at redesigning an internal application. If the new version reduces the amount of time it takes to complete a particular common task, we can take the frequency of that task, multiply it by the number of employees who perform it, and multiply again by their average hourly pay and the number of working days.
Or, looking at the broader picture, consider the report titled “The Trillion-Dollar Problem.” The authors estimated that 35% of online shopping carts are abandoned, leading to the titular problem—with a then-projected $5.4tn global sales figure, that 35% would represent $1.4tn in lost sales due at least in part to bad UX design.
Users that are satisfied with the meaningful user experience offered by your product or service are more likely to return for that positive experience again. Even if they don’t specifically remember the name of your site, or indeed type your URL in the address bar, they’ll be more likely to recognize the link when it comes up on Google, or even be turned off when the first link they click on isn’t yours. That’s the beginnings of a loyal customer base. We can thus define customer journeys as UX design that retains users rather than prompting them to leave your product(s) behind.
Invest in defining user personas
More than just market research and hiring a UX designer or three, you’ll need user research. You need to understand who will use your site or app, because you will need these user personas for proper user testing of your app design… and to pay attention to their feedback to gain insight (hint: proper testing means engaging real users—your target customers). Take the time, make the investment in all of the necessary adjustments, weigh new ideas carefully, and eliminate usability issues.
Remember that your end user is key—your UI design is ultimately there to provide positive experiences for the end user and not just to impress the CEO or shareholders. Of course, they should also consider good UX important, and know that it’s more than pretty visual design.
Well-known winners and losers at the Good vs Bad user experience game
To start with “ancient history,” we can look back to when Macintosh and Windows were new and the alternative was DOS—typing green letters on a black screen. To have a Mac at the beginning of the 90s was to be a computer geek to those who didn’t have a computer yet and to be a pretender to the actual geeks using PCs. But it was MacOS leading the way for Windows that led computers into ever increasing acceptance.
Google vs. Yahoo (and other web directories)
The simple, uncluttered user experience Google offered versus the clunky, incomplete web directories (i.e., categorized lists of creator-submitted sites) of the 90s catapulted Google to the giant it is today. More than just search, Google was truly a pioneer in UX design, showing the world what it hadn’t yet fully realized.
You may have gone directly from Windows 7 to Windows 10, but you’ll probably still remember the clunky tile interface that was so different from previous versions of the OS. The tiles lived on in Windows 10 in the Start menu, but they’re out for the new Windows 11.
Intended as a competitor to Instagram, it aimed to show pictures taken by nearby users. Unfortunately, its UI design involved new, unfamiliar icon designs that made it too difficult to use. It was discontinued a year and a half after launch.
Nintendo’s Wii U
Nice looking hardware, but the user experience was poor: the controller had a low-quality touchscreen, and the games ran surprisingly slowly. Nintendo discontinued the Wii U, leaving just the GamePad, and got to work on the Switch and its superior UX design.
It was a juice maker . It may seem too simple a device to ruin with user experience, but the designers did – by putting ALL of the controls in an app. It was useless without wifi.
User experience: don’t cut corners to reduce costs
The good news is that the business world is waking up to the importance of not just user interface design but the entire user experience. A UX designer is still also a UI designer, but I hope you know that interactive design is a significant, though sometimes less visible, component. The UX design process can feel like something in the way of the “move fast and break things” philosophy—just remember Amazon’s success and every time you’ve ever bounced… and then refocus your UX mission.