There’s a tendency among today’s software developers to create software with generic user profiles in mind instead of real people. Unfortunately, user profiles don’t capture the nuance of human experience, so even the best-laid plans tend to fall apart when the finished software is placed in front of actual human beings. It’s time for that to change.
The Problem With User Profiles
People are nuanced creatures with minds that work very differently from machines. They possess impressive information-processing and communication skills, but unlike machines, people are social learners who often go off on unexpected tracks. The challenge this poses for software developers is that computers just aren’t “smart” enough to determine when people are going to take unexpected steps that put the software off the rails.
Even the best user profile won’t capture the nuance of different human experiences. It assumes that every individual user will understand not just how to input information, but also why it’s necessary. Actual people don’t have uniform experiences using new software programs. What seems obvious to one person could lead another equally intelligent and equally relevant software user off-track completely.
Understanding Written Language Doesn’t Always Come Naturally
Because humans are social creatures, they have developed a reliance on verbal communication. Understanding written language doesn’t come anywhere near as naturally to people as learning how to talk. It takes intentional effort and formal education to teach a child how to read, even if that same child had no problem developing basic verbal communication skills by him- or herself. Software programs that rely exclusively on written language to convey information or prompt interactions often fall short as a result.
Usability Tests Ignore Motivation
Basic software usability tests focus more on the ease of completing a task than it does on understanding whether the person using it actually wants to complete it. Even if a piece of software is technically usable, it won’t do any good if no one wants to use it.
Differing Skill Levels
There are plenty of incredibly intelligent people who fit a software developer’s user profile to a T but just aren’t good with computers. Conventional software design does not account for them. As a result, even companies with highly automated communication systems wind up fielding tons of unnecessary calls about how to use seemingly simple programs.
How User Experience Design (UXD) Can Help
There’s a simple solution to the problems posed by static user profiles: create software programs with the diversity of human experience in mind. That seems like a lofty goal, but it’s exactly what user experience design (UXD) seeks to accomplish. At netstride, we always put people first and at the center of the problem or opportunity. The result is custom software that not only works properly, but also is beautiful and intuitive.
Creating an Understanding of Motivations
Instead of focusing exclusively on whether the software is technically usable, UXD focuses first on whether the person using the software will be motivated to take action. This aspect of software design starts with contextual inquiries to develop an understanding of people’s real-world motivations. It’s only once the designer has a good idea of how people are motivated to act in real-world environments that usability testing can provide valuable information about potential areas for user friction.
Developing Solutions for Users of All Skill Levels
Since not everyone has extensive experience with specialized software programs, the principles of UXD emphasize identifying potential problems through observation of actual human interactions. From there, it’s possible to create more dynamic experiences. If, for example, a customer is obviously familiar with the software’s basic protocols and does not seem to be having trouble understanding the workflow, he or she can be routed down a fast track to accomplishing the end goal.
The same workflow might be disrupted for a second customer who gets stuck where the first person excelled. A good software program designed with dynamic user experiences in mind will also have alternatives in place for offering assistance and/or clarifying motivations.
UXD emphasizes recognizing diverse human experiences, which means ensuring full accessibility to break down barriers to equal access. Currently, most software programs rely primarily or exclusively on written cues, which can be very exclusionary. Incorporating more audio cues and finding ways to use other inputs like touch and body language to communicate could offer software designers a means of moving forward with more accessible programs.
The Bottom Line
Even the best-designed software won’t do any good if no one wants to use it, and market research can only go so far when it focuses exclusively on coming up with static user profiles. UXD takes a more dynamic approach that respects the diversity of human experience and motivations.