How a User-Centered Design Process Shapes Product Development

Roshni Shaikh

Roshni Shaikh

Agile Product Development

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like.  Design is how it works. - Steve Jobs

Have you ever pulled a door really hard only to realize that you had to push it in order to open it?

Yeah, me too.

More often than not, we *facepalm* into the moment thinking it’s our fault. But it’s not. It’s the door. It’s misdesigned!

The godfather of design, Don Norman - who’s a professor of psychology and cognitive science, and a former vice president of advanced tech at Apple Inc says -

“Discoverability of a design is - when you look at something functional, you should be able to discover what it can do for you.”

The same discoverability principle applies to tech and software as well—which forms the basis of user-centered design.

Why user-centered design?

  1. Product adoption
  2. Usability
  3. Interactivity
  4. Functional design

Product Adoption

Design is not the beauty of the product. Design is the product

“The purpose of user-centered design is to eliminate discoverability roadblocks and boost product adoption.”

A higher product adoption rate equates to more revenue. It’s a result of the same user buying the same product from you again and again.

One of the biggest reasons for customer churn is the lack of product discoverability and output. If customers don’t know how to use your product, they abandon it.

Poor user experience leads to poor product adoption.

And poor product adoption due to functional complexities results in higher churn resulting in a decrease in customer lifetime value.

For context, a 5% reduction in churn can lead to more than a 25% increase in profit.

So how do you solve these seemingly small problems that result in bigger revenue roadblocks?

Better usability and user experience.

Product Usability

70% of online businesses fail because of bad UX on their website/web app.

If the user experience is below average, a product with fantastic features and capabilities won’t scale.

You could have the best product in the world. But it won’t scale if it fails at ‘ease of use’.

Interactivity

Usability and interactivity go hand in hand.

“An interactive user interface evokes a dialogue between the user and the product.”

The interactivity of a design translates to an engaging frame, visual design, and a coactive layout that elicits a person’s interest in using the tool/software. The interactivity of a tool is always followed by a user’s feedback. Below is an example of an interactive design frame.

Interactive design frame example
Interactive design frame example

Functional Design

The ability of a product or tool to perform a set of practical functions is the functionality of a product. How a set of features combine to produce a desired outcome is an important aspect of UCD.

Here’s an example of a clean UCD of a front-end frame depicting the function of competition research by an SEO tool.

Clean user-centered design example
Clean user-centered design example

Functional design is being able to carry out a use case with ease and with minimal clutter and distraction.

User-Centered Design Basics and Principles

The basis of a frictionless user-centric design is based on 4 principles that solve real functional problems and eliminate usability roadblocks.

UCD Principle #1

Ask, empathize, conceptualize.

Realizing the value offering is the first step to design.

And this starts with involving the end users, understanding their goals, gathering their needs and requirements, and building functional products to suit their operational needs.

Conclusion: Incorporate and create a user feedback loop to understand how your customers think and feel about your product.

UCD Principle #2

Design is the dialogue between the user and the product.

Why is this important?

Let’s look at an example.

The above image is an example of a landing page with a complex user experience. I clicked a link to read an article on emotional intelligence. And the landing page shown below makes the user work hard to reach the content.

This is an example of difficult UI and dissatisfactory UX which makes the user work more to complete their action.

How can we make this better?

By eliminating user interaction checkpoints. Here is a list of UX interruptions blocking the effective flow of using the webpage:

  1. The ad sitting above the brand logo and the main menu overlaps the image and it gets confusing
  2. The ad is irrelevant to the content the user came looking for
  3. Due to the dominant placement of the ad - which is above the brand logo, the user gets the impression that the ad is more important than the content
  4. The “Add to home screen” pop-up further hides the content
  5. The first screen shows nothing of relevance to the reader to hook them to the page

Conclusion: Prioritize the end users’ preferences and work to solve their challenges without interrupting their goals.

UCD Principle #3

Interact, envision, and observe product usability.

In general, verbal feedback from end users is incomplete. Other than verbal communication, look for emotional and facial feedback including microexpressions like:

  • a raised brow
  • a slight shrug

Use the moment to ask about what they’re experiencing right now. The users will try to explain exactly what they’re doing, where they’re navigating, and where they feel stuck. Make a note of navigational roadblocks and address them in the end product to enhance its usability.

Conclusion: Verbal feedback is not always reliable and accurate because humans experience some degree of social pressure while providing feedback.

UCD Principle #4

Visualize, analyze, and materialize to maximize usability.

The 5 usability metrics to analyze user behavior are:

  1. Discoverability - The learnability of the UI
  2. Speed and loading time - The efficiency of the tool/tech stack
  3. Visual clarity - The ease with which you can use the tool
  4. Responsiveness - The time the tech stack takes to complete a user action
  5. User satisfaction - Through a CSAT/NPS or a feedback survey

The end result of this step should be a tech stack that uses low user effort and results in high performance.

Conclusion: Make navigation simple by increasing the efficiency of reach and reducing the time on task.

User-Centered Design Process

Customer experience is how you differentiate from a sea of competitors. And one of the easiest ways to offer a good customer experience is to make it a part of your product.

And to achieve the above, it’s important to take the design thinking approach for maximum usability.

The UCD process comprises several phases as shown below:

Research & Identify: To develop an understanding of user needs

The central role of a persona within a user-centered design
The central role of a target persona within a user-centered design according to ResearchGate

Investigating a target user persona helps developers understand what they’re building and for whom. A user persona helps streamline the design process by narrowing down the product strategy - To focus on helping the target users achieve their purpose through the product.

Steps to building a user persona

Developing a user persona for a product is a qualitative, quantitative, and generative (brainstorming) effort. To being with, create a template like this one:

How to build a user persona user-centered design
User persona template by bibb

Identifying the end users and setting context helps us understand the product scope and circumstances. A product analyst employs the below Requirements Engineering Methods to extract the user persona:

  1. VoC Interviews - Voice-of-customer interviews to delve deeper into understanding product usage and user behavior
  2. Focus groups - This empirical approach to qualitative research helps product researchers gather and examine the information from end users and practitioners in the industry
  3. Online surveys - A survey is a cost-effective tool to get insights on who your users are, what they’re looking to accomplish, and the purpose behind their goals
  4. User tests - User testing is a qualitative research method to help gather insights on how potential end users use your site/tech, and what they see are the strengths and shortcomings of your product.

Define & Specify requirements

Once a system analyst or a product owner works to gather requirements using the methods mentioned above, it’s time to plan, prioritize and get approval for the specified requirements.

Requirement gathering and planning for user-centered design
Requirement gathering and planning

How do we prioritize requirements for user-centered design? By categorizing them into functional and non-functional requirements.

Functional vs. Non-functional Requirements user-centered design
Functional vs. Non-functional Requirements

Create solutions through design: User journey mapping

User journey mapping is an elaborate process. Once you’ve gathered the data from research, collate your ideas, create user stories, and user story maps, design prototypes, and validate your designs against standard data.

Here’s a chronological list of tasks to arrive at User Journey Mapping:

USER JOURNEY MAPPING PROCESS

  1. Requirements gathering
  2. Requirements engineering and categorization
  3. Create Epic stories
  4. Write user stories
  5. Define story-level tasks

Make a list of your requirements. Categorize them as functional and non-functional and map a user story for each function/feature.

A user story map shows the several possibilities of a user's interactions with your product. A user story focuses on non-functional requirements like the user experience — what the person using the product wants to be able to do. Whereas conventional requirements focus on core functionality — what the product should do.

Here’s an example of a user story:

how to create a user story with example
Example of a user story from Propelrr

User story templates help you understand the importance of a feature to your end users. Here is a template to write a basic user story:

As a [type of user], I want to [perform task-A] so that I can [achieve goal-GA].

Once you’ve created user stories for each of the features/functions, it’s time to group the user stories into epics.

Agile developers use epics to assemble related user stories into a broader category. The epic story template shown below helps you capture epics and user stories in one place.

how to create epic user story user-centered design
Example of epic user story template by Atlassian.

Let’s understand this with an example.

Embrace Global is an Economist Innovation company that manufactures low-cost, portable infant warmers that replace traditional and expensive incubators for premature babies. Let’s assume that their end goal is to reduce the heating time of the warmer. Ideally, here’s how the calibration stories shape up:

Goal: To reduce the heating time of the warming device

Epic story: Optimize the time the heater takes to heat up

User story 1: Experiment and calibrate the auto-thermistor against various temperatures

User story 2 : Engineer the microprocessor code for different temperatures

User story 3: Debug and optimize the heating time

Task 1: Clock the time it takes to heat up the aluminum heater

Task 2: Clock the time it takes to heat up the heating wax packet to the desired temperature

Task 3: Clock the time it takes for the wax to come down to the room temperature

User stories examples real-time

User journey mapping is a process of bringing all of the above processes together to have an overview of the tool’s capabilities.

This is an example of a user story mapping of the UI interactions between the user and the tool

Test, evaluate, iterate

“Usability testing is all about getting real people to interact with a website, app, or other product you've built and observing their behavior and reactions to it.” - Hotjar

The goal of this phase is to test if the product is primed for real users. Testing and evaluation is the process of organized calibration of the performance and functions. We conduct a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the test results in this phase.

Some of the usability testing methods are:

  1. VoC Interviews
  2. Focus groups
  3. Online surveys
  4. Task Analysis
  5. Heuristic evaluation
  6. Eye-tracking and cursor-tracking heatmaps

Validate your product design against these 3 crucial design parameters:

  1. Is the tech stack design accessible?
  2. Is the tech stack design easily usable?
  3. Is the tech stack functionality easily discoverable?

Low-fidelity prototyping is an effective usability testing method to measure the user-centeredness of the design. This is an opportunity to understand if the users:

  1. Know how your product works
  2. Are able to navigate through the product without feeling stuck
  3. Are able to complete the tasks they needed to
  4. Are able to use the product without technical roadblocks like system errors or bugs
  5. Find the tool easy to use
  6. Find the tool fast and responsive

Once you complete a phase of testing against the above parameters, rebuild and repeat the set of instructions until the desired criteria are met.

Conclusion

The principles of user-centered design, such as empathy, iterative design, and feedback, ensure that the end product is not only functional but also usable and enjoyable for users.

By adopting user-centered design processes, businesses can increase customer satisfaction, reduce costs associated with rework, and create products that have a competitive edge in the market. And to build unique products, you need the best strategists, product managers, UX designers, and engineers.

Looking for a highly-skilled team of product design experts? Check out DevSquad.

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