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UX is more important than you might think

“I just want to order some tacos. The checkout button is greyed out. I can’t click on it. What am I supposed to do now? I enter my credit card info, the page refreshes, and I lose all my information.” Tanya thinks to herself, with her hungry family in the next room, “I’ll try again, maybe it will work this time,” as her frustration rises.

Have you ever had an experience like this? You have a goal in mind. You need to do something, but the technology that is supposed to make your life easier is making it anything but more frustrating. “This is 2021, and surely I know enough about technology to order some food and checkout. I just want some tacos!”

Whether it is a website or mobile app, software should be intuitive, useful, and insightful. It should anticipate users’ motivations and present the right information accordingly, providing a clear and concise path for the user to get what they need.

Diagram showing the key aspects of UX: delightful, accessible, useful, inclusive, intuitive, insightful

This concept is often overlooked in software development, especially in the corporate world. In the SaaS space, users can easily switch to other options. If something is too complicated, or users just don’t like it, users can find another option to take its place. “The website I’m using to order tacos has poor a UX? No problem, I’ll get my tacos somewhere else.” The value of UX is clear; users lost are sales lost. But in the corporate world, the options are somewhat limited.

Consider this: Last year, Citibank accidentally wired $900 million to a group of lenders. What was intended as a small interest payment became a full repayment of the loan. What was the root cause of this error? One checkbox.

The court proceedings on this accident describe the following:

“The ruling described how Citi’s ‘six eyes’ security safeguard, which requires three people to approve a transaction before it is executed, broke down after a contractor checked the wrong box on a digital payment form.”

 

A screenshot of the UI in question. Battleship grey and plain text boxes.
A screenshot of the UI in question

And the error occurred after three experienced people reviewed the transaction! This is a high-profile, high-impact example of a poor user experience resulting in serious consequences – and a reminder that a good user experience can have a positive impact on employee morale as well. Compare the battleship grey user interface above with a well-designed, clean, and accessible user interface. Which one would you prefer to work with each day?

In addition to user preferences and clear choices to accomplishing a goal, user experience is also about inclusion. In other words, is the tool designed for everybody? An application or website may have a fantastic design with subtle color changes that communicate information to users, but what about those who are visually impaired? Is the same information conveyed in a way that can be seen by all users? Does video content have closed captions for those with hearing loss? Do images have alt-text for the visually impaired individuals who use screen readers? Does it use colors with sufficient contrast for those with color blindness? In recent years, many companies have found themselves in legal trouble because of ADA compliance when it comes to their website and applications. An ADA-compliant application considers barriers that those with disabilities might encounter and is designed to accommodate different needs.

A good user experience also delights users. A process that is frustrating when it doesn’t go well, alternatively can provide a sense of pride or satisfaction when a user completes a task or achieves a goal. It provides relevant information, anticipating a given user’s journey and connecting the dots accordingly, and meeting their needs. If a user is searching for paint colors, an app might display color options on the walls of their house in real-time via a phone. Maybe it also shows similar colors, or colors that contrast but coordinate; a “long press” lets me customize an option. Sweet. The wait animation draws a tiny pepper icon. That’s adorable. Small details can show users that you care about their experience and by extension, care about them.

User experience is a crucial part of any modern application. It isn’t enough to provide software that works, it needs to help users accomplish their goals without hindering that process. All the while including all users in that positive experience, no matter their situation.

Steve Duitsman is the Director of Solutions at SafeNet Consulting. A true Software Development leader, Steve believes the best way to achieve business outcomes is by creating & empowering high-performing teams through valuing agile principles, delivering value, excellent user experiences, CI/CD, test automation, and encouraging a growth-mindset culture of learning and collaboration.

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