Article No :576 | November 4, 2010 | by Alexander Negash
In today’s fast-moving business market, a new product can fail as quickly as it was launched if, by the time it reaches the market, it’s either less useful and engaging, or isn’t innovative enough. At the core of the problem is the inability for companies to break away from more traditional approaches to product design and development process. This often means they design complex features that are dependent on a single big launch, but consequentially companies can’t predict and design for future changes in user behavior trends.
Today, social technologies have made it less challenging for UX teams to involve users in the full project lifecycle, from initial phase of co-ideation, to ongoing iterations and testing during the design and development phases. In an environment where there is an ongoing relationship with the user that encourages flow of fresh ideas and feelings, changes in user behavior become more predictable compared to an environment where there’s a very limited day-to-day relationship with the user.
Involving users in the product development cycle is of course not a new concept; it has been practiced by user-centered design (UCD) teams for a long time. The difference today is that social technologies enable ongoing user interaction with the product in real time, allowing product designers to vet ideas with users, and learn from users’ concerns and firsthand experiences.
Social technologies offer opportunities for UX teams to lead the way in creating revolutionary concepts for product design and development as well as new and innovative ways of involving users in the product lifecycle.
The Next Frontier for UX Teams?
Today’s users are empowered by technology as never before; technology has significantly changed the way users consume media, do business, and share information. Users are not anymore passive consumers of brands and user experiences—they’re beginning to take ownership of them.
Technology has also changed the way product developers perceive the value of user insights. Product development teams are now getting a better understanding of the need to incorporate user feedbacks in the development cycles. They’re getting increasingly involved either as active participants in or as observers of user research, participatory design, or even iterative user testing sessions conducted over crowd-sourced platforms. They’re observing more closely how users express their feelings, desires, and needs about the product in a compelling way.
In a very real sense, access to real-time user information by product teams is helping create empathy towards users as never before and this in turn is encouraging teams to fully engage in their work with the belief that it will enhance and enrich users’ experiences.
All this is very helpful if UX teams lead the process of identifying user audiences, collecting data, and extracting insights from the data. The enthusiasm of product teams for social technology platforms and the associated research methods and tools should not lead them to believe they don’t need the help of UX team. Rather, it should pave ways for a more efficient collaboration with UX teams who not only see the value of actionable user insights but who also are experts in capturing and communicating the most relevant qualities of target audiences related to products and business strategies.
In the past, UX teams have had difficulty getting product teams to allow them to incorporate insights into the development process. But today, social technologies can allow UX teams to quickly and iteratively inject fresh ideas throughout the development cycle, enabling them to move faster to match the more agile product development cycles.
UX teams can have real impact on overall product strategy, but they must quickly adapt the new challenges and opportunities inherent in changing user behavior trends and evolving technologies in order to help provide a complete, consistent, and shared understanding of the user. They need to embrace the new technologies through which users are interacting with their brand, but still keep their focus on understanding user behaviors, and not necessarily the technology itself.
Users behave differently on social media platforms; they use these platforms in a radically different way than more traditional forums. They see social platforms as more integral parts of their lives. If UX teams learn to adopt these technologies in their work they will allow them to get insights about users in ways never would have been possible using traditional methods.
In most cases, UX teams will need to collaborate with other departments that already have access to, and an established process for disseminating, user insights from social media platforms.
Generating Insights From Social Media Platforms
Depending on where in the project cycle they are, UX teams have the appropriate platforms and technologies at their disposal. Online community sites can be used to start ambitious user research projects in which ethnographic methodologies are applied to learn about users. Similarly, social platforms can be used to identify the most loyal audience groups, for co-ideation and iterative design process. Ideally, to take full advantage of the opportunities that social technologies offer, the involvement of users in the product design and development cycles should be ongoing.
Despite the near-limitless opportunities social technologies can offer and the breakneck pace at which their capabilities are evolving, there are some challenges that can limit teams from using them effectively. Determining whether social technologies are being used by the target users or are even accessible to them is the first step in using social technologies as part of a product’s development. Similarly, the limits and maturity of an organization’s capability of understanding the value of insights found through social technologies is also an issue.
It can be an uphill battle for UX teams to inject these insights into the product development cycle when they’re need to move at the pace that’s required by the product team or when the product team is not bought in into the value of the insights for the user experience. To face down these challenges, UX teams need to evangelize the value of user insights to enhance the user experience and the business’ success.
UX teams need to think beyond traditional user research methods and adopt new social technologies to take advantage of the opportunities that are provided by the technology in terms of understanding user behavior and leveraging them for user participation in the project cycles. In addition, these technologies allow researchers to be more agile and to iterate design ideas based on real user feedback.
In todays digital market the cost of not knowing your users better and not involving them in the product design and development process can be very high. Users are generous in providing positive feedback, but they also are ready to criticize the brand and product if they deem it appropriate.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own and not those of the American Cancer Society.