How to Conduct a UX Audit in 6 Steps If You Have No Design Skills

Users rarely convert, churn rate gets higher... But where is the problem? Does the app need major redesign or just some small fixing? In such a case, conducting a UX audit would allow you to get that answer quickly and in the most affordable manner. Discover how to spot all the major pain points in your app with a 5-day long UX audit.

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September 23, 2022

TL;DR

What is a UX audit?

UX audit is a process of reviewing an app to identify the areas of concern and collect valuable data points needed to improve the product’s performance. Since all the issues are prioritized, you get an actionable roadmap to improving your product quickly and efficiently.

How to do a UX audit?

A UX audit can be condensed into 6 steps. However, before you start the process, some data needs to be gathered.

Before you begin:

  • gather app’s statistics,
  • define audit goals,
  • gather the knowledge base (get some real observations about an app, watch user interviews or usability tests)
  • identify users and create personas.

UX audit process

This 6-step process is adjusted to people with little design-related knowledge, who would like to find out why their conversion dropped, churn rate raised, and/or their app started to receive a lot of bad reviews, using a time and money-efficient manner. Check how to conduct a UX audit in 6 steps:

Step 1: Analyze customer journeys and define user goals – how users navigate through your app? What are they trying to achieve? Write out in details each path users take in your app along with the goals the want to achieve.

Step 2: Choose our method of evaluation (we recommend Nielsen heuristics for starters).

Step 3: Analyze each screen in the app and look for potential pain points:

  • look for the places when users can commit an error,
  • revise the communications,
  • inspect the error messages,
  • check if it’s easy to recover from mistakes.

Pay attention to things like unclear next steps, strange icons, no ability to turn back to the previous step.

Step 4: Analyze the severity of the issues you’ve found and prioritize them from the ones that highly affect your conversion rate.

Step 5: Conduct user interviews – it’s good to check your assumptions with real users.

Step 6: Compile your findings into an actionable plan.

Next steps: Consult your findings with someone who's unbiased.

Below, we explain Nielsen heuristics in a more detailed manner and provide a checklist of things to pay attention at while performing a UX audit.

Introduction

If users are often dropping off your app or you see that they don’t complete actions, it’s time to take a closer look at:

  • the experience your app creates as a whole,
  • each screen and task individually, looking for possible pain points.

The quickest and most affordable way to do it is to conduct a UX audit.

A UX audit, along with heuristic evaluation, allows you for spotting these pain points easily. It can be done by professional designers, but you can also go through it on your own.

A UX audit can be conducted in 5 days. To make it easier for you to follow the process by yourself, we divided it into 6 small steps.

Time to track down the opportunities.

What is a UX audit?

A UX audit – or usability audit – is a process of reviewing an existing digital product to identify areas of concern in order to improve its User Experience. A UX audit helps to spot various pain points in the app. It can also help designers identify potential business value opportunities.

During an audit, you can collect valuable data points to improve the product's performance.

A UX audit gives you answers that can be quickly transformed into solutions. When a product is not performing as expected, it’s a good way to start the quest for reasons.

Inconsistencies and pain points in the app can be found in as little as 5 days. You get the answers on why your churn rate is high and get a list of issues – prioritized by their harmfulness, from the ones that highly affect conversion rate.

It’s an actionable improvement roadmap you can use right away to improve your product and raise the conversion rate.

Benefits from a UX audit

Bad design can be costly – you end up losing users and money. Companies that invest in UX have lower costs of customer acquisition and support – good design is friendly, simple, and intuitive. In this light, a UX audit constitutes a relatively inexpensive solution to a pricey problem.

After conducting an audit, you will also see a few other benefits:

  • you’ll discover your product from a user’s perspective and gain new knowledge about them,
  • you’ll learn how users behave and find out if your product is intuitive (and if they behave as you expected),
  • you’ll be able to make the further design (or redesign) decisions based on solid data, not assumptions,
  • UX audit will take your product in the right direction, which entails saving money on developing irrelevant features,
  • you’ll improve your product and get rid of the flaws, so user satisfaction rate will increase and churn rate will be reduced,
  • finally, you’ll boost user retention and conversion.

How to conduct a UX audit - UX audit process step by step

There is no versatile plan for a UX audit, and every company does it a little differently.

We’ve established the process for people with little design-related knowledge and divided it into seven steps, so you can follow it one step at a time.

Preparations - before you begin the audit

Before starting the audit, you need to prepare a few things:

  • Gather app’s statistics – and needed data about users.
  • Define audit goals – you need to clearly understand what you want to get from the audit. What answers do you want to get? What do you want to check and improve? (E.g. find major user leak points, increase conversion rate, increase user satisfaction, reduce app churn rate).
  • Review business goals and KPIs – the ones that may be affected by an audit.
  • Gather the knowledge base by getting some real observations – watching the recorded experience sessions and conducting interviews.

For a bigger audit (e.g. with an external provider) you will also need to:

  • Determine who should be involved – a few people can be involved in an audit. If you do it by yourself, you may need help from your design team, marketing team, developers, PO, BA, or PdM. When doing an audit with the help of an external company, similar roles can be involved in the process besides a UX designer who has the main responsibility. People involved in the process should have a solid understanding of the product.
  • Set budget, resources, and timeline – everybody should be on the same page about what’s expected, what is the scope and milestones, and how much it may cost you.

When you do an audit by yourself, some of this information may not be available. It doesn’t mean the outcomes are not valid – it just means there are still some unknowns to confirm and double-check before redesigning anything or doing some major changes. But at least you’ll have a roadmap of potential troubling areas in the app, that may require fixing and focusing in the first place.

Setting up quantitative metrics

It’s an additional step during the preparations phase that can make an audit a lot easier and more profitable.

More and more businesses track the performance of their digital products, and if you don’t yet, that’s probably your point to start. This data is priceless while performing a usability audit.

Having metrics for your product provides indisputable data about users and success. In the future, it will help you track progress and even calculate ROI for UX improvements.

If enough information is gathered to establish trends in how the product is used over time, it brings light to why the product doesn’t bring expected results. You can find out if:

  • the product reaches different demographics than assumed,
  • users have different needs or goals,
  • users just get lost within the product navigation.

Step one: identifying users and defining user goals

You need to have a clear understanding of who your users are, and with that knowledge in mind, investigate your app looking for user goals.

Divide the process into 3 smaller steps:

  1. Identify users – you need to know who your app targets, what are their demographics, needs, and goals, and whether current users are also your organization's target users.
  2. Create personas – after gathering all the needed information about your app’s users, build personas to empathize easier and be able to get into your users' shoes.
  3. Define user goals – how a user will move through the app? What will be crucial for them? What steps will they perform?

Why is defining goals so important?

It gives you an overview and raises your awareness about the places where friction can appear. These spots can make users frustrated because that’s where they make mistakes or even entirely drop off using the app.

Step two: Heuristic evaluation

There are a lot of evaluation methods and with time it would be good to create your own, fitting your product and market. For starters, it will be sufficient to use Nielsen heuristics. They are simply the best practices of design and constitute a common basis for all digital products.

Heuristics are a starting point of each evaluation method but for many projects they are divided into more details or create a basis for a customized checklist.

Advantages of heuristics:

  • allowing to quickly catch mistakes,
  • giving an overview of an app and possible friction points,
  • allowing to label mistakes and their severity,
  • being accessible and understandable for the ones with less design knowledge.

Potential flaws:

  • they may be too general and omit some crucial aspects of the app, e.g characteristics for a specified group of users.

Generally, heuristics are the best choice if you:

  • care about the pace,
  • don’t have much design experience,
  • don’t have enough data and/or abilities to create your own checklist.

Heuristics will undoubtedly reveal all the major problems in your digital product if there are any.

Before you start with Nielsen heuristics

There are 10 Nielsen heuristics. During the audit, the interface’s compliance with these usability principles is judged and evaluated.

  1. Visibility of system status – it presupposes that a user should always be informed of what’s going on through appropriate feedback.
  2. Match between system and the real world - the language should be understandable to a user, imitating a real-world conversation. There’s no room for internal jargon.
  3. User control and freedom – users often perform actions by mistake. They need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted action.
  4. Consistency and standards – a digital product should act predictably and accordingly to platform and industry standards. Users shouldn’t have to wonder whether different words or actions mean the same thing.
  5. Error prevention – we should help users with avoiding errors, e.g. by presenting a confirmation option or eliminating error-prone conditions.
  6. Recognition rather than recall – all the options, actions, and elements should be visible to users. They shouldn’t have to remember information from one part of the interface to another. Information required to use the design (e.g. field labels or menu items) should be visible or easily retrievable when needed.
  7. Flexibility and efficiency of use – it’s good to allow the users to tailor frequent actions because shortcuts can speed up interactions for expert users. Different options can be enabled for more and less experienced users.
  8. Aesthetic and minimalist design – it’s important to include only relevant and needed information on a screen. Any extra unit of information will diminish the visibility of the relevant and important ones.
  9. Help users recognize, diagnose and recover from errors – we should avoid displaying error codes, and instead present error messages in plain language, precisely indicating the problem, and constructively suggesting a solution.
  10. Help and documentation – it may be necessary to provide documentation to help users understand how to complete their tasks.

Don’t worry – in the next step, we explain what to pay attention to while analyzing each screen to find non-compliance with each one of the heuristics.

Step three: analysis and gathering data

The easiest way to do the analysis is to study each screen looking for non-compliance with each heuristic, or any confusion or bug at all.

How to do that?

Carefully click through each path a user can take in your app. Get into your user’s shoes. Look at each screen and each step a user takes.

You can take a screenshot of each view and note all the things that seem confusing or wrong. Check each screen from the perspective of Nielsen heuristics. If you find confusion that’s not written there, it’s also a valuable observation – write it down.

Confront each error and confusion you’ve found with the list of heuristics. It’s not that one error violates only one heuristic, it can violate more. Confronting each error with the list of heuristics and noting each of them is violated in a particular case will help you to create an action plan later on.

So… what to look for exactly? - checklist

  • Look for the places where a user can accidentally make a mistake. It can happen, for example, when tapping the wrong button entails serious consequences like deleting something. Do you prevent these mistakes sufficiently?
  • Look for situations when your app doesn’t act predictably. For example: a user expects that swiping right entails returning to a previous screen. Not following this standard causes confusion.
  • Revise text, messages, and all communications. Look for the moments when the statements aren’t clear and understandable.
  • Inspect all the error messages and be cautious for the ones written in jargon or that display only error codes.
  • Look for any irrelevant information on the screen – something that seems unnecessary, drives confusion, or doesn’t add anything new.
  • Check the language your product is written in – is it plain, conversational, or are there any confusing messages?
  • Look if it’s easy to recover from mistakes.
  • Does your app act predictably and according to platform and industry standards? Pay attention to usual gestures and behaviors.

Pay attention to things like:

  • unclear next step,
  • changed color on an action button (different than on the previous screens),
  • strange icon,
  • lack of clear information about an error,
  • no ability to turn back to the previous step.

Bugs that should alert you:

  • problems with logging in,
  • problems with choosing a proper language,
  • inconsistencies in the design. Examples: when various tabs don’t differ users can be confused about where they are and can easily make a mistake or you grey out some options in a wrong way (it shows users that an option is unavailable so used in any other way it causes confusion).

Step four: hierarchy of errors

To be able to prioritize your next steps after a UX audit, you need to analyze the severity of issues you’ve found.

We propose dividing errors into 3 categories:

  1. Critical issues – these issues have the highest influence on users and conversion rates. They are critical and have the highest priority since they prevent users from completing a task and most likely make them leave the app.
  2. Serious errors – they can block users but often after looking carefully a user can find a workaround. However, these are the issues that also can have an impact on conversion.
  3. Minor errors – they can be frustrating but they don’t affect conversion. Some of the users may not even notice them, especially when these errors concern aesthetic inconsistencies, like various icon styles.

Specifying the severity of errors allows you to prioritize the amendments and get started with the ones that decrease conversion rate.

Step five: usability testing and user interviews

When we have potential critical places in the app already targeted by heuristic evaluation, it’s good to have it confirmed with the users. It could be unmoderated usability testing or interviews, anything to double-check the severity of problems.

It’s a good practice to combine moderated testing with interviews, because it gives the most insight and allows you to spot issues you would not think about.

Step six: compiling the findings into actionable points

Once the data from all the resources have been gathered, it should be analyzed and compiled into a report. This document will cover where users run into difficulties, which problems are the most important to solve, and which heuristics they violate.

A report serves as an action plan you can then deliver to your team (or an external provider). Also, the report itself constitutes a good ground to plan usability testing.

Next steps

It wouldn't be a good idea to pass your findings directly to your development team. Remember, that you can be a little biased. After conducting a UX audit, it's recommended to consult your findings with an external designer or a designer from your company who isn't involved in work on this particular product (it could create bias).

That way, your next steps after gathering the findings, are:

  • conduct some usability tests and user interviews to confirm your suspicion,
  • consult your findings with an external designer or your designer who is unrelated to a product.

<span class="colorbox1" fs-test-element="box1"><p>If you need someone to consult your discoveries, our designers are ready to help. Just let us know.</p></span>

What to expect after a UX audit?

Made by a professional

When conducted by a professional UX designer, a UX audit should give you a comprehensive review of your product and information on which areas it does or doesn’t perform well. Major areas that are covered by the audit are:

  • conversion metrics and user analytics,
  • business objectives,
  • sales data,
  • compliance with UX and accessibility standards,
  • consistent look and feel.

A professional UX audit is a detailed document with actionable recommendations. Each problem a designer spotts in your app is carefully analyzed, explained, and there’s a recommended solution with an explanation. All the pain points are prioritized from the ones that seriously decrease your conversion rate. Designers also highlight what’s good in your app, so you could make the reference. A professional UX audit is an action plan you can use right away.

<span class="colorbox1" fs-test-element="box1"><p>You receive a document that covers where users run into difficulties and recommendations what may be done about that. Those actionable improvements help to meet business and user objectives.</p></span>

A UX audit made by a professional in its minimal form takes 5 days. It can take up to a month in case of more in-depth research with usability testing included.

Made by yourself

Your UX audit won’t be as thorough, but it doesn’t mean it won’t bring you value. Following the steps described in this article, you can spot problem areas within a few days.

After carefully analyzing the checklist of errors to look for, you will be able to spot pain points in your app.

A UX audit made by yourself is a quick way to go.

Note: it’s worth remembering that audits shouldn’t be done by the team working on a project. They are familiar with it already and may be biased. So it's not recommended to consult your findings with the team that works on this particular project. Simultaneously, remember that the assumptions should be consulted with some designer.

Outcomes of a UX audit - summary

  • patching all the places that cause user leaks,
  • enhancing user experience and your product’s key metrics,
  • tackling design debt and giving a more consistent experience to users,
  • removing frustrating flows and inconsistent navigation,
  • increasing user satisfaction and loyalty,
  • improving a conversion rate,
  • reducing app churn rate,
  • making your app more competitive on the market,
  • planning the whole roadmap of improvements for your product.

Which option to choose?

When you:

  • want to analyze your app briefly and spot major pain points,
  • want to do a UX audit as an exercise,
  • don’t have funds for a professional audit right now,
  • need to do an audit right away (no time for looking for a designer to do it).

<span class="colorbox1" fs-test-element="box1"><p>Do an audit by yourself – after empathizing with users and focusing on their journey through your app you will undoubtedly spot major pain points.</p></span>

When you:

  • need a more thorough analysis but you don’t have enough design-related knowledge,
  • spotted major issues with your app or a serious ROI drop,
  • could use someone to conduct an audit and propose solutions/make improvements right away.

<span class="colorbox1" fs-test-element="box1"><p>A better option will be to use the services of a professional UX designer or a company that provides UX audit services (if you need, along with designers to hire and make improvements in your app).</p></span>

Is it your time for a usability audit?

During the lifecycle of your product there are some good moments to find some time for an audit:

When you spot some problems

Potential red flags:

  • conversion rate drops,
  • your app gathered some negative reviews recently and there’s no clear reason for that,
  • users leaving your app and/or dropping off in the middle of an action.

When you redesign the existing app

The product has been on the market for some time, it doesn’t bring expected results or suddenly stopped bringing revenue. An audit will help you catch problem areas, prioritize them, and plan for future improvements.

When a new designer/design team is taking over the existing product

New designers don’t know the product yet and haven’t spent hours working on it, so they are also not biased. You should take advantage of that. A fresh eye can catch the errors others missed just because they are too familiar with the product.

Once a year

It’s just a rule of thumb to do a holistic review once in a while, and check if everything fits together well. Maybe there’s been some changes in style and you missed those? Or you added a new feature that tweaked the flow and now it’s confusing for the users? Maybe a major release is coming, your developers are focused on bug fixes and designers have some spare time?

Taking care of UX makes a difference

A good user experience audit is a vital part of any business's success. It’s important to conduct it once in a while to review the flow and consistency of a digital product. It can help identify areas of concern and improve the way that your product is serving its users.

UX audit is the quickest, budget-friendly tool to prevent user leaks in uncertain times. If you need a hand with conducting it, check our offer.

Olga Gierszal
github
Editor

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