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UX in Software Development: Guide for Tech and Business Leaders

Learn how thoughtful User Experience impacts software development and how it can shape the success of your application.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • Why User Experience is important from a business point of view?

  • How UX affects ROI?

  • What's the role of UX design in the app development process?

  • How to discover your users' needs with UX research?

  • How to create a successful UX strategy for a web application?

  • How structuring information in your app supports conversion?

  • Is it worth hiring an in-house designer or should you look for UX agency?

  • and more..

Introduction

How intuitive is your application? Is it easy to find information there? Is it pleasant to interact with? What’s the experience?

And are your answers based on assumptions or research and testing?

If you see a user leek at some point, or your application just doesn’t bring the results you’ve aimed for, there’s a high chance that the problem lies in user experience.

Learn about UX in software development by exploring UX features.
Image source. User Experience honeycomb idea: Peter Morville.

User experience is not just a buzzword. It’s:

  • how a person feels while using your app,
  • how easily they can find information,
  • how easily they can achieve their goal,
  • how smooth is their journey through your app.

It’s a way to meet your users’ needs after learning what they are exactly.

The experience your users have with your application has a direct impact on their satisfaction, and by that, on your success. If something spoils it, they will go off to the competition. 

But what to take into consideration to provide users with that kind of experience? Let’s explore that step by step.

TL;DR or key take-aways

  • User Experience impacts your users’ satisfaction which has a direct impact on your app’s success.
  • Thoughtful User Experience means clear paths in your app, as well as the effortless way of finding information and achieving goals.
  • Without UX designers, your application most likely won’t be focused on users and their needs. And you want to reach them in the right way, because they are your potential customers.
  • Establishing a UX strategy based on UX research helps to consider users’ needs, business vision, and technical capabilities before setting up the requirements.
  • Information Architecture design helps you to avoid information overload and set clear paths.
  • User flows and wireframes help your development team with establishing features for your app.
  • Usability testing is a super-power of UX, it allows you to spot any problems before investing in development.
  • If you have a product and want to quickly assess changes needed, a UX audit will be helpful. It will also help you decide whether to look for help outside or hire an in-house designer.

Now, let’s dive into each of these topics.

How to understand User Experience?

It’s so vital we need to emphasize that: User Experience means much more than just making a website or an application look good

It’s all about the process of designing your digital product in a way that users find it useful, intuitive, and pleasant to interact with. It is about ensuring that they find value in it and can find what they look for effortlessly.

Plus, you need to remember that visually appealing (layout, colors) does not equal good experience. Your application may look excellent but if the navigation is terrible, search is missing, and users aren’t able to find information there, the overall performance won’t be good. 

Also, UX design doesn’t rely on assumptions and that’s what makes it so powerful. It relies on research and extensive testing. It’s not a guessing game. For you, that means your application will fit your users’ needs and business requirements.

UX impact on business

User experience offers consistency, makes things easier for users, and allows you to build a product that meets their needs. In the meantime, it is always created to meet your business goals. UX designers’ job is to learn as much as possible about the business context and your objectives.UX helps you to build brand recognition and make an excellent first impression. Making your application memorable in a good way is a key point to establish trust and loyalty. A user-friendly design and intuitive interface are important steps to beating the competition.

How UX affects ROI?

In their report from 2016, “The Six Steps For Justifying Better UX”, Forrester tried to evaluate and justify the value of 1 dollar spent on UX design. The outcome was quite impressive: Forrester claims that every dollar spent on UX design returns $100.

According to Forrester, companies who invest in UX, see a lower cost of customer acquisition, lower support cost, increased customer retention, and increased market share.

The fact is, that when your application is intuitive, user-friendly, easy to navigate, and provides a flawless checkout process, you support the whole customer satisfaction-conversion-retention journey, increasing sales and revenue.

User Experience in the app development process

The importance of UX in software development

If there were no UX designers engaged in the process, developers would produce excellent software, but most probably overlook users’ requirements and won’t be able to take care of the overall experience. UX designers keep the whole development team focused on users’ needs and make the team understand users’ goals, requirements, and pain points.

Integrating UX design into software development

In the software development process, UX design focuses on the end-users and their actual needs. For that, UX designers conduct research and gather requirements, which construct the basis for the future product. That way, to ensure the usefulness and functionality of the products, the development team needs UX designers collaborating and communicating effectively with developers.

How do designers work with developers?

Usually, it’s the designers who start the whole process with user research and requirements preparation. Both sides cooperate from the very beginning of the process. Designers’ work allows developers to make informed decisions so it’s best when designers work one sprint ahead of developers.

UX designers cooperate with developers by providing them user-focused designs, wireframes, and prototypes to work with, as well as help to set requirements and expectations for the product. That way, it’s easier for developers to understand the direction of the development, estimate the capacity, and divide the project into phases.

The good news is, you can take care of User Experience at various stages of the development process. So, no matter at which stage you are right now, a UX designer can enter the project and conduct a UX audit to spot the weak points.

Discovering users’ needs with UX research

UX research is the foundation of effective UX design. Its goal is to discover and understand the needs, motivations, problems, goals, and expectations of users. It directly affects product vision, as well as functionalities and features the team will choose to include in the application. 

Data collected during research needs to be objective, so as no to base app development on assumptions. It identifies not only the users themselves but also their behavior and the way they will interact with the product. That helps the whole team to understand the target audience as well as shapes the features and functionalities.

Establishing an effective UX strategy for a web application

The next step is UX strategy: the big picture, a game plan. The strategy aligns business requirements, user needs, and technical capabilities.

Explore the topic of UX in software development by learning more about UX strategy elements.
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A solid UX strategy involves research, planning, testing, and validating ideas. The outcome: validated assumptions and prioritized features. So that no time and money is wasted on developing features people won’t need. When the strategy is done before the development begins, we can make sure that we’re not basing our product on assumptions.

Designing Information Architecture to help users find what they need

Information Architecture (IA) defines the structure of a website or application, and the relationship between all the areas. It combines users and their needs, business goals, and content. As a result, we receive content that is organized and easy to follow.

IA design consists in classifying the content to be understandable, clear, and intuitive, and organizing it so that users find what they need effortlessly. 

Why is that important? If users won’t be able to find what they look for on your website or web application quickly, they will most likely drop off and escape to competition. We don’t want users to be lost. IA provides them with what they need, fast, and keeps them focused on the path. 

By giving users what they want timely and clearly, we increase the chance of a conversion.

Creating user flows and wireframes to visualize your future app

UX designers use many tools throughout the design process, and two of the most useful ones seem to be wireframes and user flows. They both help development teams in establishing features and the scope of the project.

User flows

User flows are a visual representation of how users will move through the app or website

By creating user flows UX designers determine how many app screens (or pages) are needed by a user to achieve a goal, and how to arrange them. It gives developers a view of how a user will interact with your app and progress through it. 

How is it done exactly? By creating a diagram to order the screens or pages in a way that fits users’ needs.

Explore the topic of UX in software development by learning how user flows work.
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Wireframes

Wireframes help to explore variations and establish ways to design a single screen or page. That’s a place to decide on images, buttons, and text (what to include and where should it go). UX designers often create many variations of the same screen to brainstorm on the best possible solution.

To create wireframes, we need user flows. Wireframes are created when the number of screens for a particular goal completion is already established.

Explore the topic of UX in software development by learning how wireframes work.
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Next steps: prototyping and user testing. As it was said in the beginning of this chapter, there’s no room for assumptions here. Wireframes need to be tested with real users, so the team can gather insights into users’ actions.

Usability testing: the power of UX design

The power of User Experience design lies in testing with real users from our target audience. That’s what usability testing means. It’s all about gathering a group of real users to interact with our app or website and observe their behavior and reactions. It’s a necessary step to make sure your product will be intuitive and meaningful, you can’t afford to skip it.

Usability testing is a stage when you check if users have any problems with interacting with your application, and spotting how they exactly do it. It helps to find usability issues and bugs. Finally, you check if users can complete desired actions effortlessly.

Usability testing is a way of validating your prototype early in the development process. It prevents you from spending money on something that won’t work. Then, it’s time for high-quality designs and the development process.

How to start and where to look for help?

Start with UX audit

If you’re wondering whether you need to rebuild your application upside down to take care of UX, don’t worry. If you already have an app and it doesn’t perform well, to start, all you need is a UX audit. It will point out the weak spots in your app. Maybe problems lie in information architecture or navigation and slight changes will boost the performance.

No matter where you are right now, a UX audit will help you to assess the scope of work needed or to prepare your product from the scratch. After that, it will be easier to choose between various hiring options.

Where to look for help?

Depending on your demand, you have a few paths to choose from:

  • hiring an in-house UX designer,
  • hiring a UX design agency,
  • hiring a freelance designer,
  • hiring a software development company that provides UX designers’ support.

In-house designer

Hiring an in-house UX designer may take some time because it’s fairly hard to find talents.

It may not be the best decision if you can’t guarantee a steady workload. However, if you have high demand, an in-house designer will be able to understand your product and business in the best way. Hiring costs will pay off in time.

UX design agency

In the case of a UX design agency, you’ll also need to devote some time to the research, since you need the one that understands your niche. However, in that case, you’ll have more control over the budget

Freelancer

A freelance designer will most probably be the cheapest option. You can find someone with particular skills, experienced in your niche.

However, if you need a broad set of skills, you may need to hire a few freelancers. It comes up with explaining your needs and vision to each one. Plus, communication between freelancers may be hard to manage.

In the case of a broad set of skills needed, an agency or a software house may be a better choice. 

Software house

Finally, if you also need help with development, there are software houses that can provide you a UX designer assigned to your project. It may be best to delegate both areas to one company to ensure consistency and avoid communication issues.

When it’s decision time

Focus on the workload and your needs, think how much time you have. Plus, with many companies, you can always start with a UX audit or workshops to assess your actual needs with no strings attached. It will give you hints and direction.

Next steps

You’ll be able to dive more deeply into the topic of User Experience in software development by exploring further chapters of this handbook. Subscribe if you want to be notified when a new chapter arrives (among others, there’s detailed content on UX research and UX strategy for web applications coming!).

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