It Pays off to Pay for UX

‘Every dollar invested in improving user experience returns from 10 to 100 dollars later.’No matter if this is a product, website or application, developing an idea usually involves an extensive budget. Designing, manufacturing, promoting – all these demand a lot of money and time. Since both are precious, many companies, especially smaller ones, try to save as much as possible. What is usually omitted in such cases are UX research which aims at disvocering the target users’ needs and expectations and UX design focused on accomodating the product to these and so ensuring a positive usage experience. At first replacing professional UX research and design with assumptions based on common knowledge and Google search may not seem such a bad choice: the product is ready be released anyway. Unfortunately the negative consequences of this decision almost always haunt the company either right after the product meets the public eye or later when its success has already been taken for granted.

One dollar banknote.

Wave of Misguided Assumptions

No matter how great the product seems to its originator in order to be successful it must seem equally great to the target consumers. Assumptions about their needs and expectations won’t suffice – lack of thorough UX research may lead to failure of even a potentially promising product. Do you remember Google Wave? Released in 2009, this web app was supposed to make communication easier by merging the most useful features of email, chat, wiki and social media. Sounds intriguing? It must have been to Google which spent fortune on developing Wave and introduced it enthusiastically even before its key components were fully tested. As Zach Bulygo from Kissmetrics says, the app ‘was filled with lots of features that Google assumed people wanted.’ This assumption may have resulted from the fact that Wave was initially released to developers only. With their extensive knowledge and specific needs, they may have been thrilled with the app. Unfortunately, the actual users weren’t: numerous complex functions, lack of basic ones they were used to and complicated, unintuitive interface – Wave simply didn’t address the users’ needs.

This scenario could have been different had Google done complex user testing on a bigger and more diversified group of potential users. Observation of their interaction with the app would enable to spot the main difficulties the users encounter and interviews in focus groups would help to determine which features they find useful and which are unnecessary. If this have been done, we would all probably use Wave, instead of Slack.

When Polish Belle Met Campbell

The needs of two almost identical users’ groups may be completely different.It seems quite obvious that failure is a serious possibility, if the product wasn’t tested sufficiently. But what if it was and after being introduced has proved its worth? Does it mean that UX research is no longer necessary? Nothing could be more wrong. Let’s take famous Campbell Soup as the example. Introduced on the market in 1895, Campbell Soup has almost immediately won hearts of American consumers and became indispensable part not only of US cuisine but culture as well. As the global distribution started, the Campbell was successively conquering international markets… until it reached Poland somewhere around 1992. The success that was taken for granted surprisingly didn’t come. No, it wasn’t the matter of poorly developed economy but the consumers’ mentality. In the early 90s the idea of serving canned soup instead of homemade one would have never crossed the mind of any Polish housewife – what a disgrace! Contrary to Campbell’s assumptions, the needs of two almost identical target users’ groups proved to be completely different.

Rows of cans with soup.

As in the previous case, UX research could have prevented that failure. Had Campbell interview the users or at least dug into the cultural differences between the markets and created personas based on the data gathered, it would have been obvious to them that Poland wasn’t ready for their product yet.

No Longer Angry Planning Laundry

Ok, new market means different consumers and different consumers mean different needs. If the product’s distribution isn’t planned to be expanded and a bunch of satisfied customers generates continuous profit, it may seem the time for UX design finally belongs to the past. Well, not necessarily. Consumers’ needs change all the time and the first one to address these emerging expectations is usually the winner. Move back in time to let’s say 10 years before and think of doing laundry or actually of what you needed to buy to do it. Do remember yourself carrying a huge bag with washing powder in one hand and heavy bottle of fabric softener in the other? Nightmare. Bless Unilever for introducing laundry capsules! No matter how effective a washing powder may be or how beautifully scented a fabric softener, those consumers who are fed up with carrying heavy shopping bags won’t buy them anymore.

Contextual interviews and observation of the consumers’ behaviour in their natural environment were probably the trigger to introduce the product truly accommodated to the their needs. Had any other, even a minor, company paid more attention to the consumers’ problems and done proper UX research before Unilever did, it may have been a leading force on the market now.

When Saving Gets Expensive

If the specific users’ needs are to be fulfilled, the assumptions won’t suffice.These examples are only few out of million cases proving that UX research and UX design are crucial for a product to be successful on each stage of its development. If the specific users’ needs are to be fulfilled with the product, the assumptions won’t suffice. Who the users are, what are their skills and interests, how culture and geographical location influence their lifestyle, what problems do they face and what motivates their decisions – all these questions have to be answered and taken into serious consideration. Yes, it costs a lot of time and money but the failure or lost opportunity certainly cost more. So if you plan on saving on UX, remember about IBM’s claim that every dollar invested in improving user experience returns from 10 to 100 dollars later.

Author: Anna Kulawik