Knowing your audience
There’s a lie that many people will try to sell you, especially when you’re trying to hire a digital agency: “we know people”
The business development executive you’re speaking to will try to sell you the narrative that through extensive years of experience, the design team he works with has come to know the patters and foibles of human interaction with digital systems.
The reality seems bleak. No one knows people. No one can preempt that 57% of your users will abandon their cart because of a small cue being handed to them through the layout. Your favourite agency can’t design the perfect store that will launch your fledgling brand into stardom and build a loyal customer base upon the start of operations.This is because people are at their core unpredictable beings that are nigh on impossible to preempt. This is a defining factor of user experience, and the singular clause which separates user experience designers from, well, pixel pushers.
The discovery phase
The often talked about phase that is discarded by most people as an extravagant use of budget is actually the one most essential periods of time that will elevate your product from a mediocre online presence to a significant contender on the marketplace. The discovery phase is not only meant for your designer to get to know you, but also to get to know your customer base, allowing them to create a better performing product.
This user orientation can happen through a number of different ways. The good news is that if you already have an existing website and had the foresight to connect a tool such as Google Analytics, you already have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. Google analytics can provide both basic information such as time on site and bounce rates, as well as more in depth information that would provide useful in narrowing the scope of any new project to that which is truly important.
One example is the Technology and Mobile tabs. This is frequently our starting point on projects we undertake, and allows us to model the approach and format of any design work undertaken based on the devices and browsers users access a website from. Mobile first is a frequently talked about myth, but that’s just what it is. Different businesses appeal to different people, and if your customers access your website through desktop devices, taking a mobile first approach is not only useless but damaging to your business. Of course, the opposite is also true.
You can also see click trails and user heatmaps to visually understand which elements your users are truly focusing on. Click trails and heat maps work as if you’re looking at a website through a pair of heat vision goggles. Areas that have little human activity happening over them are colder, and appear either in a blue or transparent hue, while a red hue denotes areas that are currently hot and have large amounts of activity. As a side note, this is also be a particularly indicator for understanding the effectiveness of a campaign artwork that has been recently rolled out.
While this type of raw data gathering and analysis can be a very good way of starting off your discovery phase, there is an obvious downside – It can only be carried out if you have an existing web presence that has been around for a relatively long time. If this isn’t the case, your discovery phase will have to be kicked off though face to face interviews with a cross section of your customer base. This will allow designers to build User Personas, or model users with traits based on data collected throughout these interviews. These Personas allow us to contextualise the remainder of any particular project we’re working on and provide a good foundation upon which to place user flows and site maps.
Observing your customers
My personal favourite method of data collection is user testing. This always allows us to collect massive amounts of useful data while just running a couple of sessions. In fact, a general rule of thumb we use is to never run more than 5 tests at a time. Keeping in mind that changes in your business/social environment (such as the emergence of new competitors or a change in political climate) could very well impact your users’ interaction with a digital product, actioning the insight you get from user testing in a timely manner is essential. Running more than 5 tests is a waste of time and money since it will pretty much always give us more insight than can be reasonably actioned at any given time.
The first step for running a set of testing sessions is to understand what the main goal your users need to achieve is and set up scenarios and tasks based on this. When we ran sessions for Eat Sleep Recover, a US based company offering lifestyle plans, the sessions were based around the ultimate goal of upgrading to a paid plan. However, we knew that no one would upgrade without exploring what the free version of the plan has to offer, so the first tasks set up were based on seeing what roadblocks people encounter while undertaking exploratory tasks (for example figuring out what they’re eating for lunch based on their suggested meal plan). It was only at the culmination of the testing session that we observed their journey while upgrading to a paid plan.
One important factor to consider is whether you have a panel of testers at your fingertips or not. Possible testers could range from existing customers of your business, to team members, to family members (of course always ensure that these fit into your target personas). If there are no suitable potential testers available, we sometimes use tools which provide user testing respondents form their own extensive panel based on any demographics and traits you specify.
Living in the blue ocean
An important part of providing value to your users is making sure that your product is positioned correctly and you’re designing within the right context. A large part of this is knowing who your direct competitors are. This can sound simplistic, however doing this correctly in order to get a comprehensive view of who you’re up against is a time consuming matter. My two tools for this were introduced to me by Jaime Levy at a workshop I attended early in 2018 – Crunchbase and an incredibly boring looking excel sheet that’s actually really useful.
This excel sheet is your starting point and is used as a template for the information you need to gather. This information isn’t limited to only understanding with the product offering is and looking at social network presence (and people carrying out competitor analyses tend to limit themselves to this), but going in depth and understanding their business model through research tackling points like funding rounds, revenue streams, monthly traffic/downloads and personalisation features. Of course finding this information might not sound so simple, and this is where Crunchbase, a tool for uncovering nuggets of information that aren’t widely available about competitors or potential competitors, comes in.
Carrying out this thorough analysis will help you understand whether you’re entering the so called red ocean; a marketplace where a large number of companies are already fighting for similar user groups. A red ocean will make it difficult for you to stand out and provide value, since your users might already be provided with a similar type of value from more established competitors. This could be a cue to decide to differentiate your product strategy and opt for a blue ocean; a clean slate where competitors aren’t already tearing each other apart.
Aim for the sky
And we’ve come full circle. The one thing to keep in mind is that no one ever gets it right the first time round. There’s going to be mistakes made, even if you carried out all the research and testing required, because there’s always other new, unpredictable humans you need to cater to. This is why you need a solid conversion rate optimisation strategy; a plan to use your initial offering as a baseline and consistently iterate and improve upon it based on real observations.
Once you come up with a hypothesis for something that will allow your site to convert better, you’ll need to create a variation that you’ll be testing against your current version in order to make sure that it does in fact perform better (otherwise you might be actually taking a step back rather than optimising your performance).
If this sounds pretty heavy, that’s because it is. It can be tough to execute all this all correctly and launch a human centric product without the proper resources at hand. But don’t worry, that’s why ANCHOVY. is here. Get in touch with us to have a chat about your needs, goals, and aspirations for your products and we’ll guide you forward step by step.