Does This Make My App Look Fat?

By on November 19, 2018 8:00 am

Just exactly how many clothes do you own? How many really? There’s probably a few you wear all the time. Maybe some for special occasions. But let’s talk about the clothes you don’t wear. You know the ones. They just don’t fit right. Maybe they’re too small, maybe they’re too big (ok, good for you, we get it). Maybe corduroy just isn’t a “thing” anymore. The point is, you bought these clothes when they were just right, but now things have changed.

The UX in an enterprise web app is a lot like a wardrobe. When a product ships, it’s a perfect fit for the end user. And then, inevitably, things change. Complexity is added, new constraints change core functionality, performance decreases with scale, the list goes on. Sure, the UX will stretch a little here and there, but eventually things won’t fit.

This will put your users in a tight spot. When things change too much, they won’t hold onto that old pair of jeans waiting for a patch to fix them (see what I did there?). Instead, they start wearing those new cargo pants they found somewhere else that better suit their needs. I mean, who can say no to all of those pockets?!

So how do you anticipate this? How do you know when the UX in your product hasn’t scaled? When is it time to create a more tailor-made solution? Someone stop me!

Staying In Style

In general, there’s a few easy things you can do to make sure your app stays current and delivers the best UX experience.

See What Others are Wearing

The enterprise market is a lot different than the consumer market in terms of software. End users have limited choices for the applications they use. And even you, as a contributor to that landscape, are under those same limitations day to day. This makes it a little too easy to live within a bubble where you think your software is the perfect solution.

Why stay in that bubble? It’s a brave new world out there, filled with highly functional and beautiful web apps. Some of them may even be solving similar problems! Look at competitors. Look at enterprise apps in a different vertical market. Look at consumer apps. Look everywhere. There’s really no need to limit yourself.

When you do look around, here’s a few things to consider:

  • How do other products solve the same problems?
  • How does your UX approach compare to the competition?
  • How quickly can actions be performed in other products vs. your own?
  • Does your UX still follow current trends? Has it fallen behind?

Looking at software outside of your own wheelhouse will force you to measure your own product by different standards. Doing this frequently will help ensure that you are on par with current trends and your UX doesn’t become stagnant.

Hold a Fashion Show

A fashion designer wouldn’t just work off of a mannequin. Your software is no different. An important part of a solid UX is observing it in the wild. You can’t just click around on a dev environment and call it good. You need to see it being used by the end user and observe how it works for them. See how they respond to the entire experience.

User research and testing is becoming an important pillar of user experience design. Working by our own intuition is an excellent start, but it can lead to poor assumptions. By building a user feedback loop into your development cycle, you can be sure that the end goal will speak to their needs. You can get this feedback in a number of ways: product demos, empathy interviews, or by observing their current workflows.

New to conducting user research? Here’s a few tips to get you started:

  • Limit your scope. Decide on one or two specific things you want to learn from the end user. A focused approach will give you more poignant feedback and better data.
  • Prepare thoughtful questions to follow for each user. Don’t expect to wing it. Improvisation will lead to improvised feedback.
  • Include a good sample. Some users are easier to please than others. Some have more specific needs than others. Make sure your research includes a representative sample of users to ensure you aren’t missing edge cases.

If you’re interested in more information about user testing, check out Sprint by Jake Knapp. It’s a great read and shows you how to setup successful design sprints which end with getting real, actionable feedback from the end user.

Schedule More Fittings

You wouldn’t be fitted for a tux a year before your wedding and never again leading up to the big day. More likely, you’d plan multiple fittings where adjustments can be made along the way.

A mistake far too many enterprise teams fall into is not acknowledging design debt. Design debt?! Gasp! What is that? Design debt is similar to technical debt — along the software lifecycle, new design problems will arise and need to be addressed. This might mean previous design decisions need to be rethought. It might mean that older portions of the app need to be changed to adopt a new UX pattern. Whatever it includes, don’t kid yourself into thinking it won’t happen. Instead, here’s a few things you should do:

  • Keep design resources on retainer throughout your project
  • Plan regularly scheduled design “fittings” in your roadmap to address new issues
  • At a minimum, include designers frequently in your planning to act as UX consultants

Sometimes by simply keeping designers in the conversation you can side step design debt completely. A good designer can point out simple solutions to flex your existing UX without even needing to make a mockup.

What Not to Wear

These are all great pointers for how plan for a shifting UX when moving forward. But what if your app is already built? Has it fallen behind? Is there any way to know? Let’s talk specifics. What are some concrete ways to know that your UX is off course? What are those “these pants feel a bit tight” moments for your app? Are you still wearing oversized Hawaiian shirts?

At SitePen, we have a unique opportunity to work on projects in all stages of the enterprise software life cycle. As such, we see a lot of common indicators that it’s time for a UX makeover. Some problems are difficult to address while others just require creative problem solving.

So we’re dedicating the following posts in this blog series to the five biggest offenders. Whether you think your UX is solid or not, you might be surprised to see some of these warning signs in your own application. Ready? See you on the runway!

Need a UX Makeover?

Could your app use a little help? Maybe it just needs a few seams let out. We’d love to help. Our UX designers love solving hard problems and are ready to integrate with your team. Contact us to get started!