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New Year, New You: A Guided Meditation on UX Optimization

By Tony Morelli | February 3, 2016

A great user experience is the product of skillfully balancing the utility of intuitive user interactions with a polished interface. How does one achieve such zen? Imagine you’ve just released an MVP for a B2C web application, which is accompanied by a marketing site for inbound customer acquisition and other e-commerce. User feedback in the application is overwhelmingly positive, but customer conversion on the e-comm site is lacking. Key stakeholders are pushing for an overhaul of the e-comm site. As the UX lead for the project, you are tasked with finding an alternative but lasting solution that stays within budget. What the hell are you supposed to do? Take a deep breath, find your center, and let’s take a journey toward optimization.

Beyond Google Analytics
In recent years, the landscape of affordable user research and analytics tools has grown significantly. With the inclusion of lightweight scripts and tags, product owners can empower their decision making with behavioral data-based insights rather than assumptions and educated guesses. Tools such as HotJar and CrazyEgg can create heat maps for user interactions, scrolling, and targeted clicks. Others like MouseFlow, Inspectlet, and UsabilityTools can create recordings that track mouse movement and other parameters, so you can pinpoint how your users interact with your site or application. With a combination of the aforementioned tools, gaining insight into user behavior and troubleshooting the user experience is attainable for all budgets.

Ongoing User Research
With the tools in place, the nuisance of collecting and sorting data is no longer a blocker for user research. Optimization is a perpetual process. A work in progress. User research can take many forms, but the premise is to take the data you can collect and analyze it for patterns. Look through enough numbers or view enough heat maps and behavioral recordings, and patterns are sure to emerge. Once your application or site is released into the wild, and you are actively collecting behavioral data from users, the next step is to look for insights and evolve user journeys and personas. What was once a group of assumptions based on predictions from the designer and past customers, etc. is now a concrete data set that can be analyzed and edited for accuracy. Now that is a breath of fresh air.

The Power of A/B Testing
A/B Testing (often referred to as split testing) is comparing two versions of a web page to see which one performs better. It’s one of the most powerful tools in the UX designer’s arsenal, and with the free Google Content Experiments within Google Analytics (GA), is now easier than ever to execute. A/B testing with GA utilizes a test script that is implemented on each page you would like to test. From there the design and dev team can create variations of the page in question, targeting changes in design, interactions, and/or content. When ready, the test is controlled via the GA admin, and GA handles splitting and directing incoming traffic to the proper pages. The test runs for a period of time, and GA determines a winner from the chosen tested metrics. This is the ideal way to make incremental changes to any site or web application. Creating a design backlog of potential tests ensures continuous optimization through the life of a design.

The road to an enlightened user experience may be challenging. However, with the proper tools and methodology (and a bit of mindfulness), the path to UX Nirvana is a clear and repeatable process. May you find peace and content users in your journey. Namaste.

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