User Experience Design for Software Products: It’s more than Visual Design Alone
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The level of user satisfaction can almost entirely define the future of your product on the market. This satisfaction depends not only on the performance of your software but also on the general impression from using it - that is, on user experience, or UX.

Multiple studies back the importance of user experience with striking statistics. For instance, the Design Management Institute revealed that the companies with a stable focus on design and UX have been outperforming S&P Index (based on 500 largest US publicly traded companies) by 211% and maintaining a stable advantage on the stock market for the past 10 years.

This article helps you to understand how UX design is done and explains why UX-related efforts in software product development pay off.

UX design as a process

User experience design is often perceived as a work limited to visual planning only. Yet, contrary to its name, UX design process doesn't involve the action of design alone and is heavily based on the comprehensive investigation of user behavior, their needs and expectations.

To ensure the best user experience for your product, it's crucial to properly manage the UX design process, and for that, you need to understand what exactly this process is. Below we list the basic steps of UX design and explain what should be done on each of them so that you can have complete control of the situation in the implementation project of your product.

Understanding of a future product

The first step helps you to finalize the vision of your software product. When you have a clear idea of what you want your product to be, you can formulate precise expectations and requirements, which are indispensable for both UX designers and developers. You can rely on the 'Who-Why-How' scheme and position your product by answering the following questions: who will use your software, why will they choose to do so, and how exactly will they use it.

Research

Once you're confident in the understanding of the product, you - or your business analyst - can proceed to gain insight from different sources. The goal is to search for other people's opinions on your product idea and get a fresh perspective on it.

The bare minimum is to have a look at the market of similar existing products and then analyze users' impressions from using them. Just going through online software stores and looking at user ratings and reviews (the negative ones have extreme value) can be quite enlightening.

However, try communicating with your future user base directly, too. Look for an opportunity to observe target users in their environment, convey face-to-face interviews or conduct online surveys. Focus on learning the future users' age range, occupation, everyday challenges, the possible frequency of use of your type of software as well as common tasks they'd want to solve using it.

Analysis

All the information gathered at the previous stage has no real value until it's thoroughly examined. The analysis phase implies diligent work with the obtained data. As a part of this work, you create fictional examples of your future users (user personas), as well as the reason and the way each user persona will interact with your product (user scenarios). Thanks to everything you've learnt about your future users, you'll be able to get into your users' heads and view your product the way they wish to see it. 

Prototyping

Even if you scramble through the previous steps without professional help, here you definitely need assistance from experienced UI/UX designers. It is a complicated job to represent the principles of human-computer interaction formulated on the analysis stage in a visual form. Designers have to combine conventional patterns that enable self-explanatory navigation with the individual functionality of your product. 

So even though the raw prototypes and wireframes seem like basic sketches drawn within a few minutes, there's a considerable amount of time behind them spent on figuring out the most convenient and transparent way of interacting with your software. 

Usability testing

Regardless of how skilled a UI/UX designer is, it's highly unlikely that they will be able to create an impeccable design on the first try. Usability testing is a phase in the UI/UX design process that allows designers to align their vision with that of yours, as a product owner, and the target users, as future customers. 

There are multiple methods of usability testing, but effective ones always involve a test group of users who interact with your product prototype to make sure it's usable. One of these users should be you, and you have to carefully check the prototype against all of your initial requirements. However, the impressions of other test users - preferably those who can be your product's real target audience - are way more important.

To get the necessary feedback, usability testing professionals prepare a list of to-do tasks for your test users to perform with the help of your product. Once the tasks are complete, the testing specialists are ready to follow up with specific questions, concentrating on the impressions from performing the task.

If testing reveals any user frustrations, you (or your business analyst) can conduct additional research to get new data, so that UX designers can address these frustrations in a revamped prototype. This way, the prototype can be improved until the necessary level of UX is achieved.

What you get with great UX

Increased conversion and loyalty

When choosing software products, people usually come for UI and stay for the performance and UX. In other words, if you ascertain that the functionality of your software is not only stable but also represented in eye-appealing visuals with self-explanatory navigation, you make one of the most necessary investments in the success of your product.

Lower development costs

Some project owners try to save budget by speeding up or outright ignoring certain stages of the UX design process. However, they end up spending twice as much later, when developers have to work on the issues that could've been easily resolved on the UX design phase. 

For example, it may transpire during production that one of the software features is only accessible from the main menu, while other features are interconnected and allow more convenient navigation. The most cost-effective option, in this case, would be to proceed as is, risking to cause user frustration, while the costs of fixing the issue will depend on how late it was noticed: the later, the higher.

In the end, it's a lot cheaper to fix something about a software product when this 'something' is a few lines on a paper, not a few hundred lines of code. So, by meticulously working on the image of your product on the UX stage, you prevent greater and costlier challenges. 

Lower support costs

One of the tasks of UX design is to predict user behavior and help to build software that will be self-explanatory in everything it does. By making sure your users can easily find answers to most of the questions they may have regarding your product, you reduce the number of support assistants you will have to hire after the product's release.

Takeaways

Quality UX design is a sure way to continuously increasing your customer base and quickly turning new users into loyal customers. By realizing the role of every phase of a full-scale UX design process and choosing to invest time and budget in each of them, you create a product that has high chances to stand out in the crowd of competitors and easily catch on.

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