Don't Settle for Grandma's User Experience!

By Sungy Yi on 31 08 2011

Something to Consider

User experience can go out of date.  As part of an overall system, UX contains many "culturally contextual" analogies tailored to then current users and technologies.  There are many examples: cd players to mp3 players, Mac OSX Tiger to Leopard, Facebook 2005 to Facebook 2011.  Were these changes beneficial?

Is it old?

Knowledge is power. Adopting a new interface just because it is new or novel could be more damaging than keeping an old interface around.  Although some interfaces are older, often users have already adjusted and formed relationships to certain work flows and experiences.  So, if age is not the best reason for updating an experience, what is?  Many key signs for making changes will come from the values of the end users themselves.  Applying the knowledge based on the needs and values of users ensures experiences stay relevant and desirable.

Do you know your users?  The best indicators of an outdated experience are tests against a user's values and goals.  Start by asking some internal questions such as:

1. Have the user's needs changed so that interactions should change?

2. Are there better, more natural ways of doing things to help users attain their values and goals?

3. What other kinds of technologies has the user adopted to accomplish their goals?

4. Do users enjoy using the interface?

5. Does it work with standard/current work flows, conventions, and environments?

Asking these sort of questions will direct efforts in what to look for when collecting data.  Objective analysis should reveal significant benchmarks on how the old experience holds up against a user's expectations and needs.

Make it Better

Grandmothers still knit.  Actually, many people take up knitting despite newer, more efficient ways to produce cloth.  Old can be valued as alternative instead of being outdated, obsolete or useless.  Obsolete happens when there are enough obstacles to encourage abandonment or deter adoption.

If through research, the user experience shows signs of wear and tear, then weighing the costs and benefits of changing it might be a good idea.  On a side note, depending on the scope, changes can involve more than understanding UX, as there are implications for business strategy, marketing, design, and development.  When the decision is made to move forward, change in a measured way through planned testing and acceptance criteria.

Do It!

Implementation should always begin with planning what success looks like and ways to test success.  For example, to test the effectiveness of updating icons or modifying a layout, measure user reactions.  Create benchmarks against the old experience to compare how the new experience will fare.  Find out what changes are sticking by using methods like A|B Testing and Guerilla Testing.  These are some easy and effective ways to gauge reactions. Testing is the best way to know if things are really better, because sometimes people might not want to adopt, despite the easy to understand layout and more helpful icons.  Research to find out why and adjust.

Am I doing it right?

As new changes are sent into the wild, communicating with users is vital to successful adaptation.  Communicate the improvements and discuss features and benefits.  Provide users easy ways to access information, get help, and become advocates.

Accounting for user experience needs should be steady, so solicit feedback regularly. Direct feedback by developing easy to use feedback, whether it be through email, forums, service desks, etc. Validate feedback by communicating that opinions are valued; you can develop loyalty and trust. Internally, develop a system for processing feedback, from collecting it to archiving it, so that people can easily access, acclimate and digest the information. As an added bonus, data is a great resource for future innovations. Communication also ensures that the user experience continues to stay fresh. People might even look forward to future changes.


In closing, don’t push anyone, including Grandma, to use an outdated user experience.  Your offspring may be cursed forever!  I kid, but seriously, developing habits to better understand your users, will help add value to the overall effort and ensure a better position towards success for a long time to come.

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