Tom Starley Consultancy

Imagine this…

You’ve spent the last 3 years of your life giving everything to your online product. Late nights in the office are common, your family and social life is taking a proverbial kicking but you tell yourself “it’s all for the greater good. One day it will be different…”

But you’re determined and you pull your venture forward, knowing at times the weight of chasing entrepreneurial success is heavy. Your business idea is solid and through sheer determination, unequivocal faith or just a lot of being in the right place at the right time your venture starts to take off! You gain traction and customers start to buy into your product, ethos and dream. What a moment! All the pain and hardship is forgotten and you’re king of your castle. You think, hey I’m onto something and this is working! But a voice creeps into the back of your head and says “but what next?”

You knuckle down with a rediscovered entrepreneurial spirit, a renewed determination to make your product the next big thing, you look a little closer and realise… Too small a percentage of users are converting to paying customers. Anxious you act! …You listen to your audience and add the new features they demand. Customers assure you that they need these new features more than air itself, but they just seems to compound the problem, add clutter and confusion. Your product seems to plateau… More than slightly perturbed you repeat the process and lovingly craft a new batch of game changing features, features that you know your customers will love! You wish upon a star that this WILL be the magical fix to your problems and eagerly await your adoring customer reviews to reinstate your confidence and guide your journey onwards.

And alas they never arrive. Paralysis sets in and the late nights are back. You stop and think there must be a better way.


You’re not alone.

You may fall into the above category, it’s more common among tech businesses than you might think – the grass is not always greener. Interestingly, more often than not there’s similarities: Your product idea is good! You’re on the way to establishing a voice in your niche. You have genuine interest and passion for your product. You are turning over revenue and your team is small but established and everyone’s devoted to the cause. This is all great news and suggests you’re onto something. But if you relate to the story above then UX (your user experience) may need to take a higher priority on your to-do list and fast.

Is it too late to introduce a UX strategy to my product?

No never. Will it guarantee product success? Equally no, it can’t save a bad idea or stop your competitors romping away. Would you be more product focused if UX was more of a consideration? Yes! Will you have a better grasp of your market? Hell yes! Would you have saved a lot of time and money? Yes definitely! Would you be converting and keeping more customers? Absolutely! Would you be turning over more revenue? If your idea is solid, I would bet on it! Are you more likely to establish the mythical market fit? Ding, ding ding – Correct!

Don’t panic though! You’ve already achieved sooooo much more than the vast majority of startups ever do – you’re selling your product and this is a huge achievement and massive advantage on the way to establishing a fit in the market for your business. You have something people want and with the right user experience you can maximise on the benefits this will bring. You’ve just taken a slightly longer route to get there, and that’s not a problem!

How do I know if I need help with my UX?

“If you don’t talk to your customers, how will you know how to talk to your customers?”

— Will Evans, Design Thinker in Residence @ NYU

When was the last time you spoke to a customer or observed them using your product? Are you building requested features but it isn’t increasing revenue? Are new features just adding clutter and causing confusion for your team and customers? Are users frustrated? Are you getting the same support queries time and time again? As our story highlights, are too small a percentage of users are converting to paying customers? You can’t pinpoint why conversion rate is poor and you feel stuck (it’s not a nice feeling is it). You hate wasting time and resources, you know there’s a better way… You’re reading this article and reaching out.

But actually what is UX?

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

— Steve Jobs

UX is the manifestation of customer, product and business working as one. That may sound a little zen but let me elaborate. User experience should be at the very heart of your business. It drives the questions needed to solve any and all problems between customer, product and business. UX is truly knowing your customer or more appropriately the people engaged with your product, not just their name and email address but on an emotional level enabling you to provide them with a focused niche product they not only love, but HAVE TO HAVE in their lives.

This ‘customer led approach’ is only a small part of a larger UX puzzle, but it will provide your business with a new found understanding and drive that gives you the power to plot your own path through to product success and hopefully a fit in the market. It breaks down internal barriers with staff, board members and investors and it can bring your team together in away yet unseen. It puts everyone on the same page and that understanding is invaluable for your team, customers and business.

“To be a great designer, you need to look a little deeper into how people think and act.”

— Paul Boag, Co-Founder of Headscape

 

So what does the UX role look like within a business and what are the benefits?

If we were to visualise a UX-er in the mind’s eye she would wear a t-shirt that read “WHY?” in bold lettering in a clear font. Not because she’s debating the existential point to life, but because she is always attempting to get to the bottom of why… Asking “why” is the user experience constant. Why does our product need this feature? Does this feature genuinely help our customers? Will our business be in a better position if were to add this feature? It’s this understanding, this uncovering of why, that drives not only her but the business she works with. It gives your designer the focus needed to design what’s right for your customer and your developer the confidence and scope needed to build successfully. As a founder you must give enough freedom and work with your UX-er to uncover why, always.

In return a UX expert will:

  • Massively reduce product waste
  • Carve a product that people will truly love
  • Uncover what users really think and action the findings
  • Simplify your product without compromising on revenue
  • Increase conversion rate considerably
  • Remove user obstacles and pain points
  • Share knowledge on correct design patterns
  • Reduce marketing spend
  • Keep or make your users happy
  • Fill the gap between designer and developer
  • Give your business focus
  • Create prototypes, wireframes and validate new features
  • Provide real metrics that move the business forward

The list can go on and on and on… How much focus could that bring to your business? Here’s a great article by Andrew Kucheriavy on the possible return of UX.

My designer or developer says he can do UX.

That’s great, but can he? Does he have enough time to do all of the above alongside design or development? Are you giving him enough freedom to openly discuss and debate the above and are you giving him the green light? Equally, is he proving he’s up to the job, can you see results? Is he wearing a why t-shirt? (Incidentally if you want a why t-shirt, can’t imagine why you wouldn’t, go here) Or is he just too close the project to make the call? Are you too close to the project to make the call?

Unicorns are a rare, designers like to make stuff look perfect and usually slip in a few extra features as they go. Developers are often practical and usually keep their heads down and develop what is asked of them. This often leads to miscommunication, feature creep and possible internal problems when a new feature or iteration fails… UX is the glue between these roles, that glue that establishes “why are we doing this?” and a good UX-er has the customer knowledge and UX experience to provide actionable focus and go for it.

Aren’t UX and UI the same thing?

Woah there, I’m afraid not my friend! Although they are linked and can overlap, some UI designers can also specialize in UX (myself included.) UI or User Interface design is more focused on how your product looks, akin to graphic design. UX or User Experience is more focused on how the product needs to work for your audience. UI = more “do I need to use drop shadows in 2016 or not?” UX = more sit in a darkened room and rationalise “is this the best approach for this feature?”

But how do agile, scrum and lean fit into the UX equation?

Founders ask me this a lot and if you don’t know what agile or lean is don’t fret. Agile (or scrum) put simply are a set of guidelines that help you get more done, not unlike an advanced to-do list but they have little to do directly with UX, and more often than not, little to do with the end customer. (Scrum can work with lean but that’s a different kettle of fish and not one for today kids). Find out more about scrum here.

Lean or the lean methodology popularised by Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup which is not dissimilar to the customer 1st approach we mentioned above is a different story. Lean is a process that helps startups uncover and solve real problems, with minimal waste and risk, through early validation and constant iteration of a product. This is a large part of the modern day UX professional’s role and fits in with the “know your customer” ethos. A great UX professional isn’t just focused on the product but the larger picture that drives learning within the business.

So how do I incorporate UX into my business?

Good question! And if you’re ready to go for it, you’ve got a couple of options.

1. Learn up yourself:

It’s a long journey and you will have to fight with bias (Captain bias being a UX-ers arch nemesis) at every turn. Being so close to your product also makes it very hard to be objective, you’re most likely used to making internal decisions fast and without customer validation. But the biggest factor is will you have the time? Experience counts when it comes to user experience unsurprisingly… But don’t let that put you off, if you have the time go for it! Here’s a number of books I suggest that will get you up to speed:

2. Hire a full time UX-er:

This is a great option if you can afford the onboard time but be wary of lack of experience. The individual will be involved at the highest level and will need your trust when making key decisions surrounding your product. The very nature of the role, to constantly ask why takes some diplomacy which usually comes with experience. If you can find the fit, the experience, can interview candidates accordingly and can afford to pay them what will be quite a large some of moolah, this is a great option, as long as they are given the space and freedom to do their job. If not, you’ll have a despondent UX-er on your hands in a role they don’t wish to keep.

3. Full outsource:

I advise against this route. At every opportunity knowledge should be built into the business not out of it. This is especially the case with UX. How can UX be at the heart of your business if you outsource? Knowing comes from learning, keep your UX knowledge close for the best results.

4. Hire someone like me:

Ah the sales pitch I hear you say! A good UX consultant will aim to build learning into a business not out, I’m a big fan of this approach. We are objective focused, speak from solid experience and can spot product bias at 100 paces. We have the tools in our arsenal to uncover and fix key issues fast, reduce project waste and increase conversion rapidly. We also have the authority to question authority and to find out WHY for the sake of your product, when a junior may feel job security or retribution prevents them from doing so. We certainly aren’t the cheapest option but can provide the greatest return on investment.


Conclusion

UX is vitally important to product and business success as the markets become increasingly flooded with competitors fighting for attention. User experience has to drive your product, if it doesn’t you’re driving blind, on ice, in the dark, with a woolly hat over your face. Many companies still have an opportunity to adopt a UX strategy and will see great benefits from doing so, but it’s only a matter of time before a competitor see the benefits, jumps in and learns faster to reap the rewards. If your product has plateaued, conversions are low and revenue is down, UX might be the answer. Get on and do something about it now before you miss the opportunity.

Hi, I'm Tom! A UX/UI specialist and founder. I'm passionate about increasing conversion and revenue for growing online companies through expert UX/UI design and consultancy.

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