BY: JACK COLE
Great design is defined by the experience it creates for a user. It is the feeling they get when they are interacting with or thinking about a product or service. But users are individuals, with different thoughts, feelings, and experiences that affect their perceptions and influence their interactions.
When we use Expert Reviews, we are able to more closely understand the fundamental components of a particular product, platform or service. By evaluating experiences holistically, we can begin to uncover usability strengths as well as problems. A problem by definition is a complication, something unwelcome or harmful that needs to be overcome. But in practice, problems are opportunities. They allow us the room to reframe a design and innovate, delivering a better experience to the end user.
In life, there are straight forward rules we all follow. These rules of thumb are developed based on past experiences and interactions and are both personal and universal in nature. For example, we all know that touching a hot stove will result in a burn, a lesson passed down by each family to the next generation early in life, and so on. But our views on safety may shift as we age based on personal experiences, leading some to leave their front doors unlocked while others flip the deadbolt. These heuristics are tools that help us make quick decisions, building off of what we have learned previously, and being shaped during each interaction we have moving forward.
In design, we do the same, following a series of Usability Heuristics that allow us to inspect and uncover usability problems/opportunities. By measuring them against universally established usability principles we can judge whether each component “follows the rules”. Expert Reviews go a step further, using the personal expertise of a user experience (UX) designer to review and reflect off their past experiences and more thoroughly expand on a usability inspection.
At any point in the design cycle, an Expert Review can be conducted and be of value. It can serve different purposes from kicking off a research project to aid in Discovery and establish goals and objectives, to conditioning an internal team to stay sharp and validate their product’s usability over time against their own design and competitors.
What to Look For
Imagine for a moment that you are buying a new car. Cars in a broad sense are arguably the same. They get you from point A to point B using a type of energy, driving roughly the same speed (legally, anyway), and have safety standards they adhere to so you can get there safely. But depending on your personal needs, cars have a vast array of options that can lead to a choice that is highly customized to fit your lifestyle. Everything from the number of seats, quality of textiles, horsepower, and type of fuel can be met distinctly to deliver you with the best experience.
So can design.
For a particular product or service, it’s important to think about the user in the same way. What needs should a product meet in order to fit the lifestyle of the intended user and provide them with the best overall experience?
To get started, there must be a determination of a baseline, established through asking a series of questions:
- Who is the product or service intended for?
- What are the goals and objectives of the product or service in relation to the defined user?
- Why are these objectives valuable?
- Where are experiences that deliver that value?
- How is that value currently being experienced by users?
Answering these simple questions will ensure a clear understanding of the user, and the intentions of the interaction between user and product, allowing for a more comprehensive and focused review.
Delivering this information to clients should be thoughtful and not only include the issues or confusion in the design but also a comprehensive understanding of what was rated highly
Take a Test Drive
Now that you have determined what kind of car you want, it’s time to go to the dealership and take it out for a test drive. In theory, the black leather seats were a great idea, but sitting on them in the blazing sun has made them unbearable. You don’t have a garage, so the sun will be a daily issue. Maybe cloth is the way to go? But the navigation and stereo system is something you didn’t realize was available in this model. It delivers such clear audio and works so seamlessly with your mobile device and Bluetooth that is has now moved to a priority necessity on your list.
Just like taking a drive and testing features against your needs, a UX expert will validate, or invalidate, the user experience as it relates to the protocol established when determining the prerequisites of the design. By going through a series of usability heuristics, and predetermining a scale to measure against, we can then analyze distinct aspects of the design. We examine through two lenses that help us use heuristics to determine the overall status of the UI of a design, as well as the UX.
We begin by looking through a usability lens to review the following — visual design, flow, engagement, and logic.
- Visual design covers the overall visual appeal and style, as well as the distinct choices that were made to get there, like color, images and font.
- Flow asks us to consider the composition of the design and layout, making sure there is clarity in the messaging and that the interactions are intuitive.
- Engagement aims to analyze the way the interaction gets a user’s attention — and keeps it.
- Logic determines if the design makes sense, with information organized in a rational way.
These reviews provide us with a well-rounded understanding of how well the basic UI design is working. Once we’ve made that determination we can then assess the overall UX.
To do so we look through our experiential lens reviewing the remaining categories — helpful, value, informational and repeatable.
- Helpful will determine how the experience leads users to the desired outcome of the client, and how well the users’ needs were anticipated throughout this process.
- Value is seen as the worth placed on the time, effort and/or money spent by the user.
- Informational can be broken down into three measures that include mutual, transactional, and one-way. Mutual information creates a conversational experience, while transactional provides actionable requests and confirmation, leaving one-way interactions through content dissemination.
- Repeatable measures the user experience against how memorable, pleasant and habitual the design is.
Deliver the Goods
Delivering this information to clients should be thoughtful and not only include the issues or confusion in the design but also a comprehensive understanding of what was rated highly. The report should be transparent, providing feedback that aims to move teams forward and pinpoints opportunities for growth and innovation that challenge the status quo.
By proving recommendations and illustrating potential viability, we can provide stakeholders and internal teams with a vision for their desired experience that couldn’t be conceptualized without the implementation of the Expert Review. And by providing clear next steps and examples of previous successful execution of concepts and best practices, we can provide a pathway for stakeholders to move forward.
Remember, your car needs to get you from point A to point B, but it needs to do so much more than that. By taking a test drive you will uncover features that are important to you and others you don’t want, but you will never be able to fully anticipate how the design will suit your needs and lifestyle in the long run. That’s why Expert Reviews don’t take the place of discovery research, prototyping and testing. They are a valuable component to set the foundation for and upkeep of a design, and a tool that is used to familiarize ourselves with an experience, build an understanding and empathy towards users and begin to consider the potential for what’s next. That’s how we take a design from just okay to great.