UX Is for People

{ 📖 } – Strategy, Processes, Research and Benchmarking

What Is UX?

Try to google this question and you will find many definitions, which would probably leave you with even more questions. Here I give a definition that ISO 9241–210 suggests:

UX (User Experience) — person’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service.

UX is a large umbrella covering many fields, e.g. Information architecture, Usability engineering, Service design, UI design, Product design, User research.

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In practice, often companies hire UX specialists to create or improve digital products and systems.

Throughout my career as a UX designer I worked on:

  • e-Commerce websites
  • Native apps
  • Educational websites
  • Trading platforms
  • Fraud detection platforms

For me, UX is a combination of all the behaviours and attitudes people have while interacting with an interface.

UX depends on expected use, as well as actual use. In addition, the brand, price and others’ opinions will influence the experience.

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Read more about Ergonomics of human-system interaction on ISO.org.

For example, I trust Google’s brand and use Google Maps to navigate anywhere around the world even if it’s not working as well as local navigation maps e.g. 2Gis, Baidu Maps, Yandex Maps.

If we know:

  • Information about intended users
  • Their needs and goals
  • Their obstacles and environmental constraints
  • Actions they need to take to achieve their goals

We can deliver meaningful and delightful experiences that will succeed their expectations.

Here is an example:

  • Meet Joe, who lives in Manchester. He works as a content manager. That’s demographic.
  • Joe’s washing machine was broken yesterday. He wants to find a cheap replacement, so he doesn’t lose his deposit when he moves out from the flat. That’s his goal.
  • Joe doesn’t follow the latest trends about household electronics, and he doesn’t want to invest much time looking for a new washing machine. Those are obstacles.
  • He needs to have the washing machine replaced before he runs out of clean clothes. Those are his needs.

“The first requirement for exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother.” — Jakob Nielsen & Don Norman

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If still not convinced check out McKinsey’s report about the business value of design.

What’s the Difference Between UI and UX?

UX and UI are inseparable. Think about it as a front and back of the hand of Mike Tyson, they both form a firm fist that can hold a pigeon. In order to design a solid UX, you need to create a thoughtful UI.

UI (User interface) design is the process of making usable interfaces. It derives from Human-Computer Interaction. UI designers aim to design interfaces that are simple and easy to use.

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is a multidisciplinary field of science that studies how people interact with computers.

In 2019 I was lucky to meet Bruce Tognazzini who was the first HCI designer at Apple. He shared many insightful stories about his experience working at Apple in the 80s and 90s. I was surprised to hear that in many ways designers at that time faced similar issues as we do today.

Nowadays designers are spoiled with a variety of tools for any kind of task, e.g. Figma, Miro, Notion, Overflow, Useberry and many more. So there is no reason why we can’t do something better.

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Dylan shows me the latest features in Figma.

I met the co-founder of Figma Dylan Field at Bulb’s office where he gave a talk about the latest features in Figma. I feel excited and can’t wait to see what stuff other creative minds could bring using such tools.

Perhaps you could help doctors save lives, connect loved ones who live apart or help kids from deprived areas to get an education. You get to make a difference in people’s lives.

Business Needs

We are living in a capitalist world, where many products are built for profit. So understanding how businesses work and what business goals you are trying to achieve is important.

No matter how delightful and elegant your design, if it doesn’t meet business needs and objectives then it fails.

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More companies are transitioning their services into digital. Requirements of business, as well as user expectations, are constantly growing.

In a highly competitive market one needs to thoroughly understand their users and business:

  • Who is our user and what are their needs?
  • What problem do we solve for businesses?
  • How are we going to measure success?

Regarding measurements, you’ll see that metrics play an essential role in UX. If business owners are interested in high-level metrics that can help them understand how healthy their business is. In UX we look at more specific metrics and take a closer look at details.

UX Metrics

For example, your conversion rate is 10%. Is that bad or good? How can I improve a website knowing this? This information doesn’t give you much if you want to change something to improve the conversation.

What if we know that 5 out of 10 users see an error message when providing their delivery address, and around 40% of people don’t reach the payment step. Then we would know exactly what to fix and where.

Metrics are the signals that show whether your UX strategy is working. Using metrics is key to tracking changes over time, benchmarking against iterations of your own site or of competitors.

UX metrics examples:

  • Adoption rate
  • aNPS
  • Satisfaction score
  • Ease-of-use rating
  • qxScore
  • SUS
  • SUPR-Q
  • User happiness
  • Retention rate
  • Task success rate
  • And many more 🐝
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Read more on how to quantify the usability of any system on Usabilitygeek.com.

Here are some high-level examples that you can measure:

  • What do people think about our new website?
  • Are people satisfied with our services?

Or it can be more granular:

  • What is the average time people spend during checkout?
  • How easy it is to find an item on the website?

UX Strategy

To make sense of the complex and messy things we all come up with a strategy. The strategy means that we create categories and tackle one thing by one at a time to make most of it more efficiently.

Any business sets a strategy to achieve a competitive advantage in their chosen market. Michael Porter in his classic book lays out the two most common ways to achieve a competitive advantage through cost leadership and differentiation. Cost leadership means that the company can offer consumers the best prices.

Differentiation is what makes your product stand out. Think about it, why would consumers choose one product over another if both cost the same? Because it’s unique, it’s better, it brings delight and joy — this is where UX comes in handy. You can achieve differentiation through thoroughly planned UX.

Things you can get when doing UX strategy work:

  • Set a plan with boundaries
  • Define goals and objectives for User research and design
  • Formulate clear problem statement and user needs
  • Get a measurement plan
  • Map out the plan for UX benchmarking
  • And finally, calculate the ROI of UX

User Research

User research plays an essential part in UX, helping you understand users and assess how well you’re serving their needs. Also, it helps uncover opportunities to create something even better.

User research can be Behavioural and Attitudinal. Behavioural research is when you observe actions that a person takes. Attitudinal research is when you ask people about their opinions.

Examples of Behavioural research:

  • Ethnographical
  • Usability
  • Analytics
  • A/B and MVT tests
  • Eye-tracking
  • Tree testing

Examples of Attitudinal research:

  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Preference tests
  • Contextual inquiry

Attitudinal research tends to gather qualitative insights into the user’s thoughts, feelings, needs, attitudes and motivations.

Behavioural research methods, on the other hand, aim to measure what users actually do, providing quantitative data about how users actually interact with your website.

Also one needs to consider that some research techniques like usability testing can provide a mix of qualitative and quantitative insights. But it depends on the goal of the research.

Let’s say if you want to learn why something is a problem then you would rather focus on the qualitative data, but if you need to know how often a problem occurs then you would look into the quantitative side.

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Each dimension provides a way to distinguish among studies in terms of the questions they answer and the purposes they are most suited for. Read more about when to use which UX Research methods on NNgroup.com.

Often people say one thing and end up acting differently. For example, when I was trading on eBay, I ran a sentiment analysis to understand what items I should sell. Findings showed me that many people were saying that they need good quality cheap smartphones, so I bought many Chinese phones. However, the most popular items sold in my eBay store were electric massagers. What people say and do is not necessarily the same.


Usability is an extent to which the system or product is easy to use. Usability is about effectiveness, efficiency and the overall satisfaction of the user.

To evaluate the Usability of your website you can run tests. Usability testing can be Formative or Summative, Remote or In-person, Moderated or Unmoderated.

Formative you do when designing a new product. It involves finding and fixing problems as part of the iterative design process. To run Formative usability tests you generally will need 5–10 participants. The exception would be content-creation software where you will need 20–30 participants.

Summative usability testing is usually performed later in the product development process when a product is fully developed. You can conduct a summative usability test on an existing website or when you finish designing the new website and it has been published online. Also, you can run a Summative usability test on your competitors. It’s typically measured by things like task time, task completion rate, error rate and satisfaction score.

The summative test requires a much higher number of participants, generally from 40 or higher, so that you can achieve statistical significance. It’s usually used for UX benchmarking.

The moderated test is when a test is facilitated by a person (moderator) who observes a participant and asks questions usually applying master-apprentice and think-aloud techniques. This happens usually in-person in the set environment, e.g. in the lab. Also, it can be done remotely that helps to reduce the cost of testing.

The unmoderated test is when a participant performs tasks without any guidance alone and they complete tasks on their own time. Usually, it happens remotely in their own place. Each of these methods has its own cons and pros.

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Things to consider when running usability testing:

  • Rationale and objectives of the test
  • Screening when recruiting participants
  • Non-disclosure agreement and Consent form
  • Test scenario
  • Tasks for the test
  • A questionnaire that you can use either before or after the test
  • Documenting study will help when presenting back results or when you want to come back to it later.

UX benchmarking

Imagine you want to redesign the website that sells online courses. How would you know that the new website is going to be better than existing? What to improve to be better than your competitors? How much money will you get in return from the redesign? UX benchmarking can help answer all of these questions.

There are two types of UX benchmarking: Stand-alone and Comparative. Nothing wrong starting from stand-alone and moving to comparative.

Also, there are two methods of UX benchmarking. It can be Task-based or Retrospective. Each of them has its own pros and cons that need to be considered.

It’s worth remembering that you will need a big sample, e.g. 100 participants so you can get statistical differences when analysing results.

UX benchmarking might be quite expensive and to reduce costs one can run it remotely and automate some parts e.g., automatically detect and characterise usability problems or facilitating group testing.

UX processes

In practice, UX specialists use different design processes that help them solve problems in a more structured way. The most popular ones are Design Sprint, Lean UX, Design Thinking, Double Diamond, HCD (UCD).

All of them share similar human-centred design principles:

  1. Focus on the people
  2. Solve the underlying problem, not the symptoms
  3. Everything is part of a system: Design for the system
  4. Prototype ideas, test, and refine them, over and over again

I won’t go into details explaining the differences and steps of each process. There are dedicated books and courses for each. I’d recommend trying out not just one but many and see which fits best your company needs. For me establishing a UX process is always a trial and error process that requires a lot of effort and patience. What works best for one doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work for another.

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Some books about user-centred processes.

UX Is Everyone’s Responsibility

UX design is the team game. Good design happens when different domain experts come together to collaborate on solving a business and user problem.

“If the user is having a problem, it’s our problem.” — Steve Jobs

I believe that today a UX designer has to have a broad array of skills and the most important of all is the ability to learn fast and communicate effectively.

Communication is not just presenting yourself in the best light or successfully facilitating meetings, but also the ability to listen, receive feedback and to have an open mind.

All professions have their own secret superpowers. Designers’ superpower is the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. A good designer is someone who is able to empathise and understand the problems of those for whom they shape the experience.

UX is a complex thing and sometimes people struggle to understand it. Our success is derived from our ability to convey the importance of user-centred design to non-designers and non-researchers in a simple way. Without evangelising UX, managers in your organisation will keep asking you to push pixels on the screen, instead of focusing on solving underlying problems for users.

My colleague Richard Nabarro once said to me: ‘UX design is the real design’. I couldn’t agree more, because UX is for people.

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Anuar Bolatov Avatar

Anuar Bolatov / Lead UX Designer @ Kaplan

Lead UX designer based in Manchester, United Kingdom.