Musings on the Northern User Experience Conference

The golden rule for every businessman is this: “Put yourself in your customer’s place.”
- Orison Swett Marden

Over the years, the word research has gained a bad reputation. Many businesses and entrepreneurs hear the word mentioned and instantly come back with a list of better things they could do with their precious time and money.

Say, for instance, that you’ve been having issues with a certain way of doing something. You go on to develop a new method that resolves these issues and launch it to the public. Sounds like a brilliant money making scheme! But was anyone else experiencing the same problems as you? How do you really know what you’ve created is exactly what is needed if you haven’t asked the people who could end up using it?

The same principle applies to websites. In order to make a website user-friendly, you first need to know what’s friendly for its target market. Conducting research will help you learn why users make certain choices and how they behave in their environment. It helps you gain a better understanding of your audience and determine how your product or service fits into their lives.

As the online world continues to grow, so does the value of a good website - and by good I mean a site that is aware of its users’ needs and has taken these into account throughout its development. This movement towards research was certainly noticeable at the recent Northern User Experience Conference (#NUX4) in Manchester, which was sold out for the first time in the event’s history.

The underlying message behind the various talks was that better products and websites can be developed through the use of effective research. For some of you reading this post, User Research might be a completely new concept that you haven’t really ever considered, others might be UX pros; either way, here are a few things that I think everyone can reflect on…

Fall in love with problems before falling in love with solutions

Now on the face of it, that statement doesn’t seem terribly optimistic, but if you think about it, unless your idea solves a real problem, success is highly unlikely. Tomer Sharon’s talk focussed on the importance of having an idea that solves a real problem and then developing that idea using and implementing feedback from real people. Abandoning assumptions and observing real life will enable you to create something far more relevant for your audience than if you go it alone.

Pre-empt common problems

Unfortunately the working world is not always plain sailing and the same issues will often occur time and time again, affecting your working relationship with the client and having a real cost on the project. For instance, with UX being a relatively new phenomenon, as an agency we need to help clients understand the added value this research will bring to their project.

Evangia Grinblo gave some great advice on how to resolve some of these common blockers. By categorising the different ‘kinds’ of issue you might face and creating a knowledge base for dealing with these types of problems, you’ll be in a far better position to resolve them earlier on when you next face them; paving the way for a happier, more productive relationship, that both parties will gain from.

Don't leave anyone out

Categorising users is sometimes necessary, but if you’re exposing that in your product or website, you’ll alienate people that feel like they don’t fit. Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s talk focussed on being inclusive and catering for all your users, and not just writing off certain people because they don’t fit your idea of a ‘common user’. These people are normally the most important as they’re highlighting that there’s something wrong with your solution that needs addressing.

So to sum up: always question what you’re creating, make sure you’re doing the right thing in the right way, welcome feedback and criticism - it’ll help you in the long run - and don’t leave anyone out. It’s worth the extra effort… I promise.