SMPL Q&A: 4 questions on compelling UX design with James Barnes

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SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview experts on all things relevant to branding, design and simplicity. In this Q&A, we speak with senior UX strategist James Barnes about the tenets of effective and compelling UX design in the consumer and B2B space.

What are the most important features of effective UX design?

It’s less about reducing UX to a set of specific outputs than it is ensuring that the finished product is solving the right challenges. Delivering an effective experience is about constantly validating hypotheses and evolving assumptions throughout the planning and design process. UX teams often get deployed because a business is sure they need a new website. However, that belief—“we need a new website”—already has in it so many assumptions that UX processes can and should challenge. What problem is the product trying to solve? Connecting with customers? With staff? Until you really examine the challenges you’re really trying to overcome, just throwing up a new website isn’t going to get you where you need to be.

What’s an example of a great user experience you’ve recently encountered?  

A lot of year end experiences from content platforms really impressed me. Spotify, Medium and Pocket are all services I use pretty heavily, but I wasn’t expecting the summaries each offered, telling me how much I’d read or listened to, with some surprising insights. (Did I know I’d listened to more than any other? I probably wouldn’t have guessed it’d fall in the top ten.) People talk about personalization a lot, and I’m often quick to question its value, if only because getting it wrong risks alienating the user, but when you’ve got the data to support it, this kind of personalization offers a great chance to forge a connection with your users.

And great experiences need not even rely on the latest technology. Not long ago, I (like seemingly most of New York) attended a rally opposing policies of the new Presidential administration. Before the rally turned into a march, one of the organizers took the microphone to ask those attending to text a word to a given number. In a few seconds, I found myself providing an email address via SMS, and registering to receive updates in the future. SMS doesn’t seem like an elegant tool at first glance, but at that moment, I was pretty impressed. Without any concern about specific operating systems, devices, or anything else, the organizers had bootstrapped their mailing list, and attendees had joined.

What are commonly overlooked opportunities in UX?

While the team designing a digital experience for a brand likely focuses most on their customers’ experience, they’d be wise to take a little time to consider the experience of their internal users, too. What will it take to maintain the product after it launches? Will the product make it easy—satisfying, even—for those internal users to accomplish their work?  When experiences are designed with these internal users as well as external users in mind, they’re much more likely to endure (and to effectively deliver on their initial promise).

What UX opportunities are B2B companies failing to capitalize on?

Recognizing that digital touch points don’t have to be a means to an end but can be an end in themselves. B2B companies often want their digital properties to take on a supporting role in their sales process—just let them generate a lead and then sales will take it from there—but by placing digital at the heart of the customer journey, they can significantly reduce the amount of effort a sales team might have to play. B2B companies also have to understand that nobody will hold them to a different standard for their digital experience than they will a consumer brand. Nearly everyone has computers and mobile devices now, so expectations for user experiences are higher across the board.

James Barnes is a senior UX strategist at Siegel+Gale. Follow him on Twitter: @j_m_barnes

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