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UX Design, Research • 8 min read

How UX culture determines your products’ success and customer experience

Pieter Aarts | 12-09-2019

Imagine this - your entire agile team worked months on a complete redesign of a website and you are heading towards the final stage of product cycle. All features are in place, the development work is done and everyone involved seems to be satisfied. Then, a week after the go-live date, an analytics report pops out showing a massive drop in the sites’ conversion and a significant increase in support calls. You discover that people drop out too quickly, don’t go even halfway through the purchase funnel and those fantastic features that your stakeholders insisted on are never even used. By all accounts it appears to be a big fail. What just happened?

The obvious question here is where did it went wrong. But more specifically - did you at any point of redesign process involve your actual end users to test newly developed design concepts? Were your design decisions made based on research or your stakeholders’ wishes? If your end users weren’t part of the product development process then you may have missed some key insights.

Unfortunately, lack or absence of UX research is quite common in many organizations to date. Only 55 percent of companies are currently conducting any online user experience testing, according to Skyhook. This not only hurts the customer experience, but can also lead to loss of revenue or even bankruptcy in some cases. So, how does bad UX actually happens? These two prime examples demonstrate that even the biggest companies can fall for this trap.

Walmart’s relying on self-reported data

In 2008 Walmart surveyed its customers to learn if they’d like to shop in less cluttered stores. Their customers responded: yes, we would definitely like that. Walmart then spent millions on redesign getting that clean design look. Meanwhile, customers kept on giving positive feedback about the change. Despite the reassurances that kept on coming from surveys, Walmart’s sales plunged, and they lost $1.85 billion dollars. Admittedly, Walmart collected some user feedback through surveys but never backed up assumptions with an actual observational study e.g. interviews or user testing. More so, it turned out their study questions were also leading, which prompted participants to answer the question in a particular way.

This example proves that relying on self-reported data alone should be avoided. People often misinterpret their true intentions and needs when they are challenged with questions. They simply don’t know how they’ll behave if they are presented with a certain change, so they make a lot of false assumptions. It’s crucial to also use other more reliable methods for understanding user needs and preferences. Additionally, radical changes never do bring the desired results. Opting for ongoing optimization for site redesign is always better as you will simply learn what works best through iterative testing without putting business at risks.

Fiat Chrysler’s confusing signals

In 2016, Fiat Chrysler had to recall more than 1.1 million cars due to its confusing gear shift. Drivers couldn’t figure out gear shift signals that were communicated to drivers by indicator lights, not gear-selector position. Drivers mistakenly believed they had placed their cars in a park position before exiting. Confusion in reading systems’ signals resulted in 41 injuries amongst drivers.

This example supports the overall thesis that testing should be happening at every point in the process as a primary part of an iterative design cycle. In this specific instance, the automaker failed to follow up on testing gear with users in their natural environment, which resulted not only in revenue losses but actually put drivers’ lives in danger.

UX requires organization and customer focus

Both the Walmart and Fiat Chrysler examples highlight how crucial UX research is. Yet, a lot companies keep on ignoring it altogether releasing products that are destined to flop, despite all the hard work. How so? Vice President Kara Pernice of the Nielsen Norman Group rightfully sees organizational politics, immaturity, lack of UX skill and development processes which ignore UX as the key reasons. All of which call for a big shift in culture towards UX. However, some organizations often cite budget and time limitations as a main impediment towards embracing UX fully.

Granted, not all companies are capable of pulling complex, full-fledged usability tests due to budget limitations. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t opt for discount usability methods. Simple user testing with five participants, a round of iterative paper prototyping or a simple expert review allow for cheap testing that helps to uncover design issues early on. Even informal and quick guerrilla testing that is set to validate or invalidate design assumptions is better than no testing at all.

The whole purpose of testing is to yield solid user feedback before developers write a single line of code. User feedback lets development stay on track and be more effective and efficient. It also helps to stay focused on features that are crucial to users. Furthermore, it allows avoiding developing and deploying features that were not ‘approved’ by users through testing saving stakeholders budgets from costly reworks and rewrites that are otherwise inevitable. UX actually saves money.

UX makes the winning difference

Today, seamless user experience is the difference between winning and losing. That’s why Apple, Google, Nike, Airbnb, Amazon and other world-class companies invest heavily in their UX teams. In such companies, UX research findings advocate direction of the product development. Their business leaders are well aware that UX is what makes them so massively successful and sets them apart from the rest.

Would you like to know more about how you can enhance your UX design and improve your user experience? At Osudio, we have helped companies like Adidas to improve their UX design. 

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Pieter Aarts

UX Strategy Consultant