For the best UX Unite Designers & Developers

December 17, 2018

Tony Zipparro

It wasn’t so long ago that software applications were almost solely focused on one, narrowly-defined end result: Functionality. Developers measured the success of their software by whether it achieved this end goal, with little more than a passing interest in the way users interacted with it or the quality of their experience as they did. Oh how things have changed.

As software development has evolved, form has become just as important as function for a variety of reasons. Most important among these is the increasing value placed upon the esoteric ideal of positive User Experience (UX), a term that has come to encompass any perceptions, emotions and attitudes your technology inspires in its users.

User experience has become a far-reaching concept that includes everything from sales and packaging to customer support and even the way your company presents itself on social media, but for software companies, the biggest influence of UX is still the software’s User Interface (UI). A well-designed UI is the primary lens through which your user base experiences your software, which makes it the critical component in ensuring positive UX.

Marketing and your UI

When the UI is really good, it becomes a powerful marketing tool. Vendors promote their ease of use as a way to differentiate themselves from competitors. They cite training time, user frustration, and other concerns as a means to sell their software to efficiency-conscious customers.

Beyond these rational and functional concerns, little things ranging from the color pallette, fonts, icons, and even the ratios of content to blank space can impact User Experience.

The bias for a pleasing UI is so universal that mediocre technology can often win out in competitive sales situations against more capable software that looks difficult, dated or oddly-designed. Put simply, a poor UI can make good software look bad.

Efficiency and your UI

There is also a trend toward greater awareness of the micro-efficiency of software. Efficiency studies attribute massive costs to small inefficiencies when they are shared across entire organizations of end users.

UI inefficiencies range from slow screen loads to poor ergonomics to even one extra mouse click, and they all add up. When a few extra seconds for load time and half a second for an extra mouse click are multiplied by millions of repetitions across an organization, the costs in lost productivity alone can be enormous.

Who is writing your software?

Optimizing User Experience is one of many challenges that face vendors who want to differentiate themselves from competing solutions. But focusing on UX is often a challenge for tech-heavy development teams.

Teams made up only of developers tend to focus on the technical aspects of software development and are less interested in design, UX, and other concerns they discount as purely aesthetic. The result is often software that feels awkward, inefficient or difficult to use.

Another challenge is when dev teams divide and conquer a project and end up force-fitting components together without an overall plan to create a consistent look and feel. You’ve probably seen one of these Frankenstein’s monsters before where different screens in a single piece of software look, feel and behave totally differently. And that’s a great way to undermine User Experience.

Designers – The glue that makes it work

We suggest that a simple and proven way to improve UX for a new piece of software is to think about design and aesthetic concerns from the earliest stages of development. And the best way to do this is to include dedicated design pros as an integral part of your development teams.

When designers participate throughout a software project, your dev team is forced to take UX into account with every decision they make during development. With user experience part of the design process, good design gets “Baked In” to your code and integrated in ways that would be impossible to do later. Little decisions along the way are influenced with an eye to design that helps maximize usability, produce visual clarity, and result in a pleasing experience for users.

When they’re embedded into your development teams, designers can influence more than simple selections like shapes, colors, fonts and designs. They also facilitate the very conversations and collaboration that help produce optimal results. Teams of coders may simply not think to talk about their design choices, leaving a vacuum of planning and thought that only gets filled as necessary. The very presence of designers on your dev team reinforces the importance of UX to the whole team and facilitates a far-reaching dialog about design choices.

When and how many?

The most-critical time to have designers on your dev team is at the start of any project, but design influences are valuable throughout the entire development process.

Some developers advocate teams of 1 designer for every 2 developers and scale this across their Agile teams as a matter of policy.

The end goal

By bringing design talent into your development teams, you facilitate better working relationships, more communication, and an increased focus on crucial competitive issues like ease of use, efficiency, and the intuitiveness of your user interface. The time to use designers isn’t after your code is written but while it is being written, when you are best able to make pleasing and profitable design a native part of your software applications.

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