User experience design (UXD) is not a new concept – far from it. But we believe that it’s still largely the elephant in the room within the digital learning community at a point where our customers need it more than ever. The design of learning solutions has historically been driven by a variety of things, all jostling for pole position as the main priority. Technical solutions, frameworks, tools, so-called ‘best practice’, trends or simply what our customers say they want.
Who are the end users?
At LEO Learning, we have learned the importance of UX design through our own experience, and that the success of a digital learning application, product or service can depend on it. It is not just about visual design, technology or even the user, and doesn’t have to be expensive either. It’s about applying and sticking to a set of principles that keep the user in focus throughout the design of a project, thus creating a great learner experience (LX).
“The human brain’s capacity doesn’t change from one year to the next, so the insights from studying human behaviour have a very long shelf life. What was difficult for users twenty years ago continues to be difficult today.” – Jakob Nielsen
It’s highly unlikely that anyone involved in developing the application is also going to be the end user. Our customer, their brand or marketing people, learning designers, developers, project managers, graphic designers – none of these people are likely to also be the end user. This is an important point, because these are the people who can sometimes steer the design of an application.
Knowing who our ‘actual’ users are is crucial to the effectiveness and therefore the success of our products. The most successful results are achieved when the user is involved in every step of the design process, perhaps through direct feedback, user testing, observation or informed evaluation based on information previously collected. We need answers to these questions and more:
- Who are the end users?
- What do they need to achieve?
- What motivates them?
- How do we want our users to feel?
- What will they say to their colleagues about what they did or saw?
- How will this be different from other applications and why will anyone bother to engage with it?
- What are its objectives and what is the most effective way of meeting them – both of the application itself and of the business?
Only when we know the answers to these questions can we progress toward the design – how is the information organised, how does it look, feel and behave – and the visual treatment of graphic elements and UI – how it will function, signposting, tone of voice, imagery, branding. At this point it’s all about staying true to the intended experience. This all may seem like common sense, but that’s often what UX design amounts to.
It’s the UX designer’s job to keep the user in focus because sometimes they get lost amid the learning objectives, design theory, client branding, stakeholder feedback and a whole host of other things. As a UX practitioner it’s important to cut through all this and see the learner as a person, and put that person at the centre of the design.
Better products, cheaper to fix
By involving users within the design process, you learn what doesn’t work when it’s most cost effective to fix it. An amendment to a wireframe or prototype is many times cheaper than a technical fix once a product is launched. A user-centred approach will result in products with a lower risk of failure. A process that deliberately involves end users as well as one that understands the commercial objectives will always result in a product that works better for its intended purpose.
Research to resolve
A user-centred approach provides a solid and robust research-led approach to design. Design decisions, after all, should be based on evidence, not opinions. This opens the door for our customers to decide which route to follow, circumventing time-consuming client-side decision making processes and politics. Often, when you encounter opposing views that can delay a project, the involvement of users can be a great way to help resolve conflicts, make decisions and get the project moving again.
Ease of use is expected
In our user research, we often hear customers using terms such as ‘usability’ and even ‘good experience’ when describing what qualities they seek from products. This is often a result of products being advertised as being easy to use, and as such, it’s a quality that customers are looking for in products that they buy.
UX projects at LEO Learning typically consist of three main phases: a research phase, a design phase and a further research phase, designed to test and validate the designs.
- The research phase is where we immerse ourselves in the project to get the background we need to make design decisions later in the project. During this phase we will try to learn as much about our customer’s business, objectives and users as possible.
- The design phase is where we work out how what we are designing will work and how it will fit together. This phase will define its scope, its features and functionality and how it behaves.
- The validation phase is where we identify whether what we came up with in the design phase actually works with its intended audience. This phase is typically followed by further rounds of design and testing to solve the problems you inevitably find when you test with users.
Using a research, design and validation framework helps to structure the project. We often start working out the approach we would ideally like to take and then calculate how long we would need to do that work and then adjust the methods, tools and techniques to fit the constraints of the project.
In this industry we’ve reached a level of technological maturity where ‘functional’ design simply isn’t good enough. It’s time to adopt a smarter, more progressive and effective way of working. Through the application of UX thinking throughout the design process we are in a better position to engage and understand the user. The respect and value we can provide to them will mean the difference between good and great learning experiences.
To find out more about why UX matters, why not read LEO Learning’s insight, ‘Is white space a ‘waste of space’?‘, in which we explore the importance of the user when we’re designing effective learning.