In the digital age, user experience (UX) has become the most important face of your brand. The strength of brand loyalty begins with ease of use, particularly the UX. UX is so important that MIT recently sponsored a summit and gave out awards for the best UX. Venture capitalists too are realizing the value of UX, more than ever, backing startups that are co-founded by designers.
“Now, more than ever before, there’s an electric bustle amidst the startup scene, where design is considered critical, often playing an instrumental role in driving success. However, it is not just startups that are reaping the rewards. Small and large, new and old, companies around the globe are attaching themselves to the importance of user experience, becoming agile, moving design, as styling, to design, as strategy, and cultivating user-centered ways of operating,” wrote Jamie Skella, a former UX director turned consultant.
Design is delivering value through competitive advantage, increased productivity, and, ultimately, profitability. Both, startups and established companies, are finding ways to get feedback from users right off the bat and keep getting that feedback as the product develops.
Everyone knows designing for users is vital to making any company successful. Financial advisors and business owners can lose focus on why paying attention to client experiences with products and services can go a long way toward building brand loyalty.
“Too many startups, in their haste to rush products out to market, sacrifice UX for the sake of design efficiency,” wrote Jay Samit, executive chairman of Realty Mogul. “It does not matter how good your product solution is if users do not enjoy or understand how to use it. For example, Expedia and Travelocity were industry leaders in booking online travel. Each had a clean user interface to what was essentially a consumer-facing database. Then, Hipmunk, with its sleek graphical user interface, came in as a late entrant and stole market share by designing a UX that was pleasingly simple. Hipmunk enabled travelers to see visually which flights with connections were quickest without doing any math or calculating desperate time zones. (Hipmunk also added the ability for users to sort flights by ‘agony’ which made the process fun and responsive.)”
Design is more than making things look pretty. It is about “designing” products with the end user in mind by integrating functionality with form to create a competitive advantage. A well-defined approach to user research can influence product strategy. Take a look at Pinterest, Snapchat, Uber, and Airbnb as examples.
To fully integrate the user experience into your firm, your UX team needs to be an integral part of the creation process – from the first idea to its implementation. According to UX strategist and architect Frank Guo, a big part of the challenge in exercising strategic influence lies in an organization’s existing product development process. “Typically, when a business engages a UX team to take on a design project, the product strategy is already in place, and product management gives the UX team a set of business requirements they’ve derived from the business strategy and asks User Experience to turn them into designs. A user researcher then evaluates the usability and visual appeal of their design and suggests design improvements.
“However, this protocol does not address the following business questions: Does this product support users’ needs and drive business results? How should we prioritize the business requirements our design must meet? How does the web fit into the larger business context? “
“While all of these are important strategic questions that ultimately determine product direction, most organizations have no process in place that would let the UX professionals on a product team have much say here. However, just like everything else in the world, there are two sides to the story. While many executives and product managers might view us as tactical, but not strategic partners, it’s also true that many of us are content to stay within the realm of UI design and usability and lack the will or the skills to influence product strategy,” said Guo.
Guo says that through his personal experiences doing web research and conversations with fellow UX professionals, many UX researchers and analysts want to utilize user research insights to influence not just the design, but also the business strategy (strategy as it relates to specific products that we work on, or in other words, product strategy) behind the design requirements.
“We constantly struggle with how to achieve this. On one hand, top management often makes decisions about business strategies without taking users’ needs and feedback into consideration and, thus, fails to address user experience, a key driver of a company’s profitability. User research can fill this gap and help guide business decisions. On the other hand, despite our best efforts, user experience, as a profession, still has a long way to go before we’ll consistently be able to deliver strategic influence,” Guo said.
How can financial advisors create user experience? Having launched dozens of websites and apps used by millions, Samit shares what he considers the three most important attributes in UX:
The interface must communicate the values of the product, not just its features. Why is your product different? How does it make my life easier? Digital products are, for the most part, services that empower consumers to achieve something they could not do before. Every screen must reflect your value proposition.
Your UX must make the experience fun and rewarding. Consumers have very short attention spans and are looking for any excuse to click away and move on with their lives. Google Now, which uses an Android phone’s location to anticipate the consumer’s needs, recommends dishes when you enter a restaurant, tells you train schedules when you arrive at a station, or the weather when your plane lands in another city. As counterintuitive as it may sound, Google Now figured out how to take the search out of searching for information.
UX design must reflect the brand image. Ever notice all the women in a Kellogg’s Special K commercial wear only red? Alternatively, that the FedEx logo has a secret arrow in it? Once you know your company’s attributes, make sure it is reflected in every aspect of the design experience. While many companies created wearable technology to track your exercise progress, Nike+ Fuelband focused on how users feel as they either achieve or miss their goals. If the Nike brand is about celebrating athletic achievement, then the Fuelband should cheer you on and reward you. Nike used the same technology as the competition, but their UX is beyond compare.
By leveraging each consumer interaction to improve your UX, companies can channel their data into insights for great UX. Design is how you make your first impression with your consumers. Make sure it is a lasting one.
Summit Brokerage Services is a member of Cetera Financial Group, RCS Capital Corporation’s (NYSE: RCAP) retail investment advice platform.
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