There’s a trap many project teams fall into when we’re designing advanced employee applications – and that’s making them as simple and intuitive for us to use as possible. After all, it’s only natural for us to deconstruct what we perceive as complexity and streamline processes.
But simplicity is a subjective phenomenon, and ‘as simple for us to use’ might not be optimal for the end-user. Unless we’re part of the intended audience, we don’t count when it comes to assessing how usable our solutions are.
This might sound harsh. As designers, we use basic principles that apply to any project, such as a logical page structure with clear signposting that prioritises key tasks, consistent navigation, labelling systems, and so on. Surely these best practices will guide us along the correct path?
Not necessarily. When designing applications, we need to realise our audience performs tasks and collaborates in ways that are often very specific to their profession or role within their organisation.
As a result, they will often have very different criteria for what constitutes a ‘usable’ application than design teams do.
Optimised solutions for the target audience
For example, if we have ‘simplified’ industry-specific terminology that previously had a very clear and precise meaning to users – it’s likely they’ll find this more confusing, not less.
And if our solution divides a task into multiple ‘easy to understand’ steps, we may have just doubled the time it takes to complete, making the user less efficient.
How can we make sure our solutions are intuitive and effective for the target audience to use?
- Before even thinking of a solution, we need to gain adequate user context through either conducting primary research (that is, conducting studies ourselves) or using secondary research (where someone else has published their own research) so we know why, when, and where users do what they do.
- Think in ways the user does and empathise with the tasks they perform. If they use industry-specific terminology, use those terms ourselves in stakeholder discussions, in designs, and definitely when talking with users.
- Test with actual users – this will not only refine our designs, but further build on our understanding of how users perform their tasks. Testing throughout the design evolution will ensure there’s no nasty (and expensive) surprises at the end.
So, the next time a colleague praises your design, just remind yourself that it’s the target audience’s opinion alone that truly matters.
Steve Loader is a principal user experience designer for NTT DATA UK, with particular focus on employee experiences and complex user needs. With an enduring passion for all things digital, Steve has designed solutions for Financial Services, Healthcare, Telecoms, Oil and Gas, and Technology providers over the last 30 years.