Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Questions to ask for any UX project

A question was asked recently on the IA Institute mailing list which read:
"...they asked if I can give them the top 20 recommendations of things to consider or do for every web site they approach. I am struggling to figure out where to even start as I tend to approach each project differently with some general guidelines in mind but I am not sure how to pass on or teach that to the team."

Here's the list I proposed in response, and I think it's a good list of questions a UX team should consider for any project they undertake. Although it wasn't what the OP had in mind, my list seems to have hit the money as far as other UX professionals are concerned.

  1. What is the purpose of the site as far as the business/organization is concerned? Sales? Marketing? Service channel? Entertainment?
  2. Who will use the site?
  3. What will those people be trying to do on the site?
  4. For each of those things, how do they think about those tasks?
  5. Where are those people likely to be when attempting to do these things (home, work, on a bus or at a cafe) and what will they likely have access to (computer, laptop, mobile etc)
  6. Is the organization the only one offering these services/tasks? If not, how will you differentiate yourself from the competition?
  7. If you are the only organization offering it, what will you do really well to make it difficult for someone else to do the same thing?
  8. What are the things 'behind the scenes' that need to take place in order for the site to do what it needs to do?
  9. For each of those things, is the organization up to the challenge?
  10. When these people use the site, what perception do you want people to take away?
  11. In considering that perception, how will you design the visual elements, the content, the interaction, the customer service, the functionality, and performance to make that perception a reality?
  12. What site structure will best support the tasks your visitors need to undertake? And how will they move from one task to another?
  13. If people arrive at your site somewhere other than the home page, how will you provide them context and communicate both intent and possibilities?
  14. How will people find your site? And how do the activities you undertake to encourage them tie in with your other design consideration?
  15. How will people engage with your company? Will you engage with them openly in environments like twitter, or in one-way mechanisms like email or enquiry forms?
  16. What search functionality will you provide to help people find things on your site?
  17. Including your search, what will you measure, analyse and track to help you determine the success or failure of your site?

Now, the list was thrown together and doesn't really have the structure I'd normally prefer, but then UX strategy tends to be an exercise in integrating capabilities and strategies from across an organization and melding these together into a coherent approach to delivering something meaningful to your audience.

Point 1 addresses high-level organizational goals. What's the "big picture" purpose of the site.
The answer to this question should seem fairly obvious when you hear it, but it's important to ask it, have the client think about it, and provide a response. The purpose of the site should also directly contribute to one of the organization's overall goals. If it doesn't, then why go to the effort?

Points 2 & 3 ask for information about the intended audience for the site/service. The answer can come from your Marketing team, or the Brand Manager, or Product Manager, or eCommerce Manager etc etc. The point is: you should have a clear idea of who the site is being targeted towards and why they'd use it - before you begin.

Answering points 4 & 5 usually requires some research. How much research depends on how well you know and understand the audience groups identified in 2.

Points 6 & 7 deal with competitive positioning and competitive advantage. These are business concepts that should have formed part of the thinking behind the original site concept, but sometimes an organization will come up with an idea without surveying the landscape for possible competitors.

Points 8 & 9 deal with organizational capabilities, infrastructure, resources, people, processes. Some people think of these as competencies, but that's a notion we'll have to tackle some other time. The questions here ask whether or not the organization can execute the intent of the original concept.

Points 10 & 11 relate to your organization's brand value and the core of the user experience you want to deliver. What is the essence of your organization? How would you like people (customers, staff, the public-at-large) to think of you?

Point 12 is a broad-swipe question relating to the information architecture for the site.

Point 14 needs your marketing & communications people to think about how they're going to go about attracting people *from your target audiences* to the site.

And then Point 13 ties those two activities together to ask how you're going to accommodate those people when they arrive at your site, but not necessarily where you expected them.

Point 15 refers to your customer service offering, but also refers to issues around ongoing issue identification & resolution; product/service design for future iterations; alternative marketing & communications channels; and how you draw that arbitrary & imaginary line that delineates "them" and "us". To what extent will you include existing customers in the design of future products? To what extent will you incorporate customer input into the choice & design of componentry or functionality?

Point 16 is fairly self-explanatory, and is related to both 12 & 14.

And finally, 17 should identify any key success indicators; data needed for ongoing assessment & improvement programs; and data needed to learn more about your audiences.

So, our UX strategy touches on and incorporates elements of operations and strategy from Marketing, Brand Management, Corporate, IT, Service, Product Management, Engineering, Logistics and Communications. Essentially everything: because *everything* is what affects your customer's experience with your organization.

I wasn't the only one to respond to the original question...here are some of the follow-on comments related to the list I offered above...

Daniel Szuc, Apogee HK:
"Quick Suggestion : http://www.usability.gov/pdfs/guidelines.html

Note -- you can follow all/some the guidelines (as listed above) and sadly still end up with a product that may not have value to both business and/or target users.

So this is where Steve's list becomes important as it allows the business to ask some of the more "strategic" questions up front to determine the who, what and why, understand value proposition, before moving into the design, IA and writing the content. Its the beginnings of a due diligence :)
Stephen Collins, AcidLabs (edited slightly):
Steve's list is ... absolutely what you should be showing people in terms of their building an understanding of UX strategy. While IA/UX does have aspects that can be codified, you're much better off approaching the whole question the way Steve has, addressing user types, needs and tasks as well as business positioning and differentiation.

Really good UX ... is often more about business and customer strategy applied to the web, rather than menus, navigation and the like. Those things are obvious outcomes, but the drivers should be very much business outcome and people focussed, rather than, for example, expressing the org chart in the web site structure (a mistake I have seen too often)."
And I should thank Stephen for providing the suggestion to transfer the original discussion-list response into this blog post.

If you're interested in hearing me talk about UX strategy in a bit more detail come along to this year's Oz-IA conference in September. Although the schedule is yet to be confirmed, we can always find a corner to chat in!


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you posted this. It is such a good list and I was wondering how I could reference it in IA workshop notes ;)

Anonymous said...

Very nice--the questions are fantastic for people to consider.

There are always more, but these should server--at the very, very least--as the springboard into deeper, probing questions.

(now printing to reference later)

flashman said...

Thanks Doc, this is a decent list. I have bookmarked it to pull out again the next time a big project rolls around.

Patrick said...

I'd like to say for the record that I also gave you props for your wonderful big picture list :)

It's certainly the sort of things we want people to be thinking about, not how many clicks it takes to get to page X or the number of pixels below the fold their hero images go...

Steve 'Doc' Baty said...

Thanks to you all. I'm glad it's something you think has value.

Pat: I know you gave it a thumbs up too :) I was quoting Daniel & Stephen more for the additional comments on UX strategy rather than the praise :P

And, generally, in response to the original question, the idea of handing over a list of UX platitudes and aphorisms is more likely to result in a poorly considered design.