The author of a book is never the same person who edits it. This is because the author becomes closer to that finished product than anyone else; therefore, they are likely to overlook mistakes while editing. For the same reason, they may have a somewhat emotional attachment to that finished product, where a constructive outside view is needed to bring it into perspective.
All of these same issues can be applied to the development of a digital platform. And, perhaps most important, we know that users can differ tremendously in terms of mindset, behavior, digital capabilities, and so on. This means that there is a likely chance that the audience of your digital platform is going to differ tremendously from the person designing it.
User Experience Research (UXR) sounds complex–and it is. But the gist of it is pretty simple: It’s a method of research where end users are tapped for feedback on the development or alteration of websites, apps, or other digital products and services. There is a reason it's called USER Experience Research—because the development of a digital product or service should be, first and foremost, user-driven. You may be saying, “Well, duh.”
However, we’ve learned that, in some cases, companies simply have a “usability testing” process in place where testing the function of a digital website, product, or service is solely done within their internal organization. In other words, the people designing the digital platform are the ones testing it. As you may be able to point out, there are a few bias issues with this approach.
To give an example, we had a project for a client in the manufacturing industry who was designing a whole new website to launch their newly-positioned brand. Part of this new positioning was a platform of innovation, so they had every intention of reflecting such on their new site. Luckily, before getting too far ahead in the development process, we worked with them on conducting user experience research with several of their key audience segments to test two potential concepts.
One of those concepts was a fairly traditional website design, while the other was a very modern design known as a parallax site, which is a scrolling technique where background images move along the screen slower than foreground images to create an illusion of depth in a 2D scene. Because this vision to become a company known for innovation was a main focus, they were very excited about the potential for having a parallax scrolling website design to reflect their moving into this new direction.
What we learned, however, was that their audiences had not yet moved into the comfort zone for utilizing this innovation in the digital space. Even though it aligned well with innovation in products and services in their specific industry, innovation in the use of a website was much more likely to be well-received through communications on the site rather than function. Therefore, it was our recommendation to reflect innovation through website copy and presentation (images, colors, fonts, etc.) rather than function.
This is a perfect example of why UXR is so vital to the development process of a digital platform. Something that makes conceptual sense on paper—innovative design to match innovative brand—needs to be tested with end users to find out if the theory aligns with the practice. It may seem an obvious need, but it is too often glossed over in the development of a digital platform.