CIO

CIO Upfront: The User Experience guru

Caroline Jones of Aderant says her job is about striving to marry the complex demands of end users with business strategies. She explains why her field – user experience – is becoming a strategic imperative for organisations.

Caroline Jones of Aderant says her job is about striving to marry the complex demands of end users with business strategies. She explains why her field – User Experience – is becoming a strategic imperative for organisations.

Not all software products are created equal, and adoption rates can vary among different solutions. The key defining factor is User Experience, says Jones, who is Manager of Experience Design for legal software provider Aderant, based in Albany, Auckland.

Technology developed with an emphasis on User Experience (UX) will create high levels of adoption, increased innovation and the ability to create new cost-reduction opportunities, she says.

User experience is an all encompassing field, she explains. It covers all the different aspects relating to a person’s interaction with a company and its services, and involving them in the design process.

While the field has been around for quite some time in other countries, it is just really starting to mature in New Zealand, she says.

Jones joined Aderant, a global company, late last year, and has more than 15 years of experience in the design industry.

Before this, Jones was with the mobile division of Fiserve, where she set up and ran the User Experience team. The focus of the Auckland office was on mobile, so she and the team worked on apps for banking across the globe.

Aderant provides a comprehensive practice management suite for legal firms which incorporates everything from financial forecasting to billing and capturing people’s time.

This includes case management capabilities that allows a lawyer to capture and save all of the notes and documents that they gather relating to a Matter.

The users of Aderant software also include paralegals, and finance and administrative staff in legal firms.

In order for the business to receive the most value, a software organisation needs to involve the User Experience team early on in the process.

“When the first spark of an idea is first floated, user experience teams can come in and identify the type of research that can be conducted to surface the right types of insights, they can then coordinate with the product management team and the people that are working on the strategy.”

She differentiates UX with UI or user interface design. UI is where you focus on the screen, she states. “That is great and you can work through designing a very usable experience. But if you have not done the earlier stage research, you may have missed the mark when it comes to designing a really useful experience.

William Davis, director of engineering and head of the New Zealand operations for Aderant, says the growth of the entire app and mobile phone markets have “really shifted” people’s thinking on user experience.

There's limited visual space on phones and the whole concept of touch has changed the dimensions people are working with, he states.“Probably, more than anything, the apps that succeed in the marketplace are those that are attractive and easy to use."

“A lot of software vendors are playing the feature parity game,” adds Jones. “When you get to that point, user experience is one of the ways you can differentiate yourself from your competitor.”

Next: From Web design to UX

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From Web design to UX

“I came through more traditional Web design background,” says Jones, who has a diploma in website design.

Her previous roles included Internet experience manager and e-channel analyst.

As a Web designer, she worked with a lot of stakeholders, and one of the areas they were interested in was ROI. “What do we do to tweak the experience to get more conversions?

“We spent lot of time working with Google analytics. The data would give us numbers on how many people visited and how long they stayed on this page. What the data never told us was why, and understanding why was the context that we needed in order to be able to assess if the data was positive or negative. It was at this point that I realised that we needed to be actually speaking to our end users and having real conversations with them."

“That was a huge moment for me,” she says. “I started doing a little bit of research and discovered this field of user centred design.”

A lot of software vendors are playing the feature parity game.When you get to that point, user experience is one of the ways you can differentiate yourself from your competitor.

She then completed a paper around human computer interaction at the University of Auckland.

“I started transitioning my career from Web design to user experience,” she says.

Key differentiator

Jones says User Experience is becoming a strategic imperative for organisations as well.

When companies are selecting their software providers, it can be difficult to determine if a software vendor has created a product that will be highly adopted in your company.

She says this is why it is good to focus on the vendor’s understanding of UX and how it was applied in the product development.

She says organisations can ask key questions when meeting with the UX team of their potential vendor.

First is whether the vendor has a people centric and evidence based approach that puts the user “front and centre”.

An effective UX team will follow a people-centric design approach, using insights gained from direct research to guide design decisions, she states.

“Ask about the team’s research objectives and look to understand the insights gleaned around the context of users’ goals, wants and needs," she advises. "Look for evidence of a rationalised and data-driven design approach that puts the user front and centre.”

Another area to consider is whether the vendor has a multichannel focus. When a user interacts with software across different channels, their expectation is that those channels will work together seamlessly, she explains.

Any one channel should feel like a connected piece of a larger, unified whole, she states. In order for user's expectations to be met with multi-channel experiences, it is essential for UX teams to understand how the various channels relate to one another, the varying contexts-of-use of those channels, as well as the user’s interaction and mind-set changes as they move from one channel to another.

The power of internal champions

Jones also has pointers for companies embarking on pilot programs for software deployment.

Most software pilot programs involve a small group of end-users who trial the proposed software for a brief period.

A lot of time when a pilot is put in place, organisations push out software to pilot users, and just leave them, she states. They then come back several months later and conduct a straightforward survey.

However, in order to get the most out of your pilot, you need to find out from the software vendor if their UX team can partner with your organisation to assist with this phase of evaluation and refinements, she says .

When an organisation is rolling out new software, there can be nothing more powerful than having internal champions for that product who understand it, she says.

Moreover, if those champions were actively involved in the product’s design, this will increase internal excitement and adoption rates throughout the company.

“The user experience team can come in and observe the users, identify the ‘pain points’ and help make recommendations and design those customisations in a way that won't degrade the existing designs.”

Next: Avoiding the pitfalls of User Experience: Top tips from Caroline Jones

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Avoiding the pitfalls of user experience

Technology developed with an emphasis on User Experience (UX) will create high levels of adoption, increased innovation and the ability to create new cost-reduction opportunities.

However, if poorly implemented, technology with poor UX could be a very expensive mistake, says Caroline Jones, manager of experience design, Aderant.

She shares with CIO New Zealand her guide to the areas to watch out for when implementing software:

Stakeholder bias

‘First and foremost, remember that you are not your user.

In many cases, decision-makers have very different mindsets and behaviours from those that they are making software decisions for.

Making software selections based on your own preferences and opinions is risky business, she states. Some people are visual, some people are more numbers-oriented—and there are one million and four shades of grey in between.

If the aim is to implement a tool that is widely adopted and utilised, involve representatives of the end user in the software evaluation process often, and early.’

Feature bloat

‘Remember the Simpson's episode where Homer Simpson's half-brother Herb let him design a car that was targeted at the average American? In case you missed it, Simpson decided that he didn't like any of the designs, and with Herb's approval proceeded to design his dream car that included every bell and whistle imaginable to man - including two bubble domes, three horns that play La Cucaracha, shag carpeting and optional child muzzles - all at a huge cost to Herb's company. The result was, of course, so incredibly ugly and expensive that it put Herb's car company out of business.

The lesson here is that sometimes more is not better and that one person’s ideas and opinions are just that: ideas and opinions. Take care that you are not trying to cater to every outlier behaviour, especially if this is at the expense of your primary use cases. Keep it simple.’

Take care that you are not trying to cater to every outlier behaviour, especially if this is at the expense of your primary use cases.

Misplaced focus

‘Trying to solve something that wasn't a problem in the first place happens more than one would think. It is not uncommon for organisations to upgrade their software platforms simply because a newer version of the platform exists, offering newer and snazzier features than the previous version. However, it is common for UX teams to uncover large existing issues that are being neglected. As they carry out their observational research activities, UX teams observe a user’s daily frustrations, common workarounds and inefficient workflows. Engaging with a UX team is key to receiving value for your investment dollar, as they can help identify where software enhancements will provide the most benefit to those who use it on a daily basis.’

Art critiques

‘Receiving input on designs from potential users as products evolve is essential to the development process. Seeking feedback early on allows the UX team to ensure that the designs remain grounded in the goals, needs and wants of the user, as well as uncovering any potential issues.

The “show and tell” approach to feedback typically involves presenting the proposed designs to a group, walking through the proposed functionality and then asking for their opinions and feedback on the designs. This is similar to asking a person to share their response to a piece of fine art - and about as helpful. However, there are some pretty stark differences between a piece of fine art and a piece of software.

Unfortunately, software usage is an interactive experience, which in most instances is task-based and time-bound, usually done alone and without direct guidance. While “show and tell” feedback sessions are common, they can be less effective and efficient than other methods. User testing, however, provides a way to elicit task-based, non-biased feedback that allow for the right changes to be made to the designs.’

No change management plan

‘When it comes to adopting new behaviours, the old adage “old habits die hard” rings true. Change is rarely easy and learning any new behaviour requires effort on the user's behalf. And let's face it, learning something new always requires more effort than learning nothing new.

Relying on a superior experience alone to compel people to change their behaviours is, in many instances, simply not enough. So to help people get over the line, consider mapping out the new behaviours against the old behaviours, then consider which steps need to occur between in order to facilitate the transition. Consider the varying motivations of employees and which triggers might be appropriate for different individuals.

Break the change management down into the smallest steps possible, then target one very small and easily-accomplished step at a time. Perhaps you could run an email-based competition that offers an incentive for certain behaviours. How about an inter-department competition with a team dinner as a prize? What can you do to keep reinforcing the new behaviour?’

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