Putting Your Users First: The Key To Great Design

As a totally unbiased (I swear!) software product designer, I firmly believe in putting your users first. The benefits your company will get from designing a focused, consistent, and easy to use product, are manifold. However, some companies just don’t know how beneficial design will be for them. As a result, design and usability are often pushed down the priority list, relegated to afterthought or luxury status, instead of an integral process of creating a product that is genuinely great.

As I discovered when I first joined Swrve, this is something that can be particularly true in 'engineering-led' organizations. In our rush to ensure things work (which is, of course, pretty important!) it can be easy to forget that the job involves more than just creating something functional. During my time with the company we've learned to consider the whole experience of the product - 'who is going to be using it?'; 'what are they thinking?'; 'how are they feeling?'; 'what is their goal?'; 'is this the best possible solution to reach that goal?'

The consequence of neglecting these questions is, more often than not, a hard to use and over-complicated product, that down the line your customers won’t want to use. And if someone is stuck with a badly designed solution that they simply have to use, it will affect their emotions, they’ll complain to their boss, and it will snowball into bad feedback and a damaged reputation for your product.

After all, usability is the connection between the goal and the person.

Thankfully there is a growing movement in the tech industry to place greater importance on design, with more and more companies realizing the benefits of it. This is highlighted by the success of companies like Airbnb and Pinterest, which were co-founded by designers and place their users at the heart of their product. Whether your product is designed for millions of casual users, or a handful of specialized customers, designing a product that enables them to do what they want to do in a simple, efficient and logical way will only benefit your company.

Expect higher retention for your product, greater awareness of its capabilities, a growing reputation, and ultimately more revenue. This blog offers some insights on how to put your users first, so that they get a product that they are happy to use, and helps them do their job better:

Focus On The Person AND The Job

Someone in a company has a goal to achieve in the job they have to do: this is where it starts, and this is what it boils down to. After all, usability is the connection between the goal and the person. We have to understand the teams that use the product and their workflows, and think about how we can help them every step of the way.

This involves knowing who is going to be using the product on a daily basis and communicating with these users regularly so that you can process their needs, and how they are feeling, into designing something truly valuable to them. Ask them a question like ‘what goal do you want to achieve?’, which is a better question to ask than ‘what do you want?’. These are often two very different things, and the customer doesn’t always know best. Or to quote what Henry Ford may or may not have said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.

For instance ‘increasing conversion’ and ‘being able to send push notifications faster’ do not equal the same thing.  Defining a clear vision of the product’s end goal will enable you to create the best version of your product for your customers.

The process of defining a clear vision of a product's end goal

Simplicity Is Key

The best product design should strive to achieve a user centered dashboard which users feel comfortable with, and actually want to use, that enables them to reach their goal. Anything that feels like it’s overly hard work will lead to reduced performance from users, and damage your product’s reputation. Simplicity and focus is the key, so untangle complicated processes by separating them into clear and manageable segments. Why confuse the user? Confusion leads to mistakes, whereas a well thought out and easy to use product gives users full control and clarity of the process.

Give Them A Sense Of Security

Some products have the power to do major damage to the company if misused. Good product design should mitigate the chances of any mistakes happening. After all, your user’s job could be on the line. Having processes in place to reduce errors will alleviate the fear that they’ll accidentally send a missile alert to the entire population of Hawaii. This was exactly this kind of worldwide news story that will influence design for the next 20 years! The importance of giving your users confidence shouldn’t be underestimated - it is a word that consistently crops up when asking them what they want to feel when using a product, along with in-control and being empowered.

The only way to validate that you are doing all the above is to regularly communicate with your users and customers, getting their feedback, and improving your design as a result.

Provide Help & Guidance

Even when a person is confident using a product, and are seasoned in many campaigns, there are still times when they need reassurance, and that they find out where they are going right, or just as importantly, going wrong. If campaigns are running and there’s a goal that’s not being met, suggest why this may be the case and advise them on what to differently. For example the audience size chosen to send a campaign to may be too small, and increasing the size of it, or broadening the parameters, could help them reach their goal. And the empowerment of being able to find out “if I leave this campaign on for another 2 days, I’ll deliver an extra $10,000” will genuinely make your users fall in love with your product!

The only way to validate that you are doing all the above is to regularly communicate with your users and customers, getting their feedback, and improving your design as a result. The unfortunate thing about good design is that it is never finished - you may reach the end of a project, but then the loop begins again. But that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?!