3 Simple UX Tips to Help Improve Your Product

Earlier I wrote about how UX design is about “curing diseases”. So to totally contradict that post (HA!), not every UX project needs to be a huge, dragged out project. When approaching any project/product, there are a few simple things that I consider first. These simple tips/tricks/hacks can help any kind of product whether it’s for enterprise or consumer, mobile apps or desktop software. Timelines are, of course, up to you.

First, reorg your contents!

In the Silicon Valley, reorgs can be a dirty word. But in this case, I’m not talking about people. The technical term for what I’m referring to is “Information Architecture” (IA). But all that it refers to is the contents of the system, and how they relate to each other.

As you iterate on your product, it is inevitable that you start adding lots of new stuff without necessarily putting a whole ton of effort into how to actually organize (or reorganize) the product to properly accommodate all this new stuff. So it’s a very good idea to periodically go back and reassess your product’s IA as your product grows and scales.

Designers typically do this by simply mapping things out. There really are tons of different tools available to help you do this stuff, so I won’t get into it here. The tools are really unimportant anyway. The simplest tool is a pen and paper. The important thing is to take a critical look at what’s in your product and think of better ways to categorize and organize it all.

One cool side effect is that you might be able to get rid of stuff that’s no longer relevant or valuable!

Nouns are nice, but verbs are… uh… “vawesome”!

Almost every product team does this. When creating an initial IA, you sit down and try to think of a logical categorization scheme, which almost always leads to a fairly generic taxonomy using nouns. What do I mean? Well, when categorizing things, people instinctively try to group things based on obvious “physical” properties. For example, anything that you own that’s the color blue could be grouped under a category called “Blue Things” regardless of what those things actually do. You probably learned about this kind of thing in 9th grade biology class.

But people approach products very differently than what scientific taxonomies allow. Most often, a user’s gut level reaction, whether they’re aware that they’re thinking of it or not, is to ask what a product does (not how is it organized). This is where verbs come in. When thinking about your product, consider first what sorts of actions or tasks are enabled for the user, and the closer you align them to real world actions (things people do in real life), the better. Then it’s just a matter of using action words in your product.

A real example where I applied this was when redesigning an enterprise accounting package. The product had a noun-based taxonomy and important screens were given object-based names like “Invoice Entry”. But when we interviewed accountants and data entry clerks, they almost always described invoicing as an action or as a task. So we changed the naming of certain screens from “Invoice Entry” to “Enter an Invoice” and when we tested the change, we immediately saw a huge increase in task completion and heard numerous times how people felt it was more “intuitive”. All it was, was changing from nouns to verbs.

At the end of the day, you may still have nouns in the categorization scheme. But at least by thinking of actions first, you have a much greater chance of making your product more valuable!

Prioritize activities based on actual behavior!

Lastly, there’s a usability heuristic (http://www.nngroup.com/articles/ten-usability-heuristics/) by the world-renowned expert Jakob Nielsen that says: “Match between system and the real world”. I alluded to this earlier, but it basically means that the capabilities of your product should align as close as possible to actual user behavior. But more specifically, assuming you’ve reorg’d the contents, and used verbs instead of nouns, now is the time to prioritize activities for the customer. To do it properly can take a bit of work. But an educated guess can suffice as long as you iterate quickly in case you mess things up. But what am I really talking about?

All it takes is knowing your market segments. Once you know the preferences and tendencies of your ideal customers, all you have to do is prioritize the capabilities of your product in accordance to what is most important to the customer and suppress anything that isn’t. If someone says “Somebody, someday, might want to do X”, it’s probably not important at all.

And it’s really not that much work to find out. At a bare minimum, get 6 customers on the phone (one by one of course) and interview them for 10 minutes or so. You could complete it in a couple days and get an amazing amount of useful feedback.

The benefit of doing this is you can clean up the UI so that only the most important stuff is front and center. You might even be able to remove anything that’s long outlived its usefulness.

Tying it all together

There’s a lot more to UX design than what I’ve written here. But people benefit when products are organized effectively. These 3 simple tips can help accomplish some of the basics. Reorg your product contents periodically, and especially when a lot of new stuff has been added willy-nilly. Use verbs instead of nouns to make your product more activity- or action-oriented. Lastly, prioritize the actions based on the real world behavior of your customers.

Thanks for reading.

3 Simple UX Tips to Help Improve Your Product

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