The CTO’s Guide to Modernizing a UX Design

6 minutes to read
September 2, 2021

Whether launching a brand new digital product or modernizing a legacy solution, the User Experience (UX) Design is what your customers will experience first and foremost. A UX Design can make or break the value of your product. A compelling design immediately taps into the emotion of your users, creating excitement and making the discovery and adoption intuitive. But a design ‘miss’ can erode so much of the investment and hard work that the team otherwise put into the product.

Most CTOs are familiar with UX Design techniques, but how do you ensure you have the right people and processes to ensure design success? 

Build The Right UX Design Team 

First, make sure you are working with a multi-disciplinary UX design team rather than a single designer. The team should include: 

  • Design Research. Design researchers specialize in uncovering user needs. They train for years to learn how to interview and observe users. Their findings almost always yield incredible insights that can be used to determine the exact point in the workflow where users are abandoning your e-commerce website or even help you uncover the next big innovation in your product line.
  • Interaction Design. Interaction designers are the masters of intuitive layouts, workflows and content prioritization. They work with product management and design researchers to obtain market and user research and translate it into a draft of what the product will look like, how it will behave, and how it ties back to the user’s goals—usually in the form of sketches called “wireframes”.
  • Visual Design. Visual designers are graphical experts specializing in tools like Photoshop and Illustrator to add the right visual “wow” to software. Good visual designers can provide users with an instant emotional connection to a product even before they start using it.

Each discipline is so different from the other that companies are best served with even part-time help from a specialist in each area rather than one full-time jack of all trades. This is where a digital transformation partner like Thinklogic can provide these skills at the right time.

Design a Solution to a Problem

Design does not come from a “creative” with divine inspiration. Design is a science and should be strongly based on discovering and empathizing with user needs. In fact, it’s not user needs so much as user problems

Great designers will talk directly with customers, and they will stay in what we call the “problem space” longer. What that means is to take time, when talking to real-world users, to think about and discuss the different facets of a problem, rather than trying to solve it as quickly as possible. Although the theory sounds obvious, the practice is remarkably hard. Both interviewers and interviewees naturally start brainstorming solutions right away. Instead, seek first to understand deeply. Each time a customer begins to express their opinions in the form of a solution (“Just add another feature that works like this…”), the designer’s job should be to ask why.

Designing a formal interview protocol in advance helps tremendously. These interview protocols often ask the same questions in different ways, to keep the user reflecting on the problem until you get to the root cause. This is also why organizations increasingly bring in outside help from UX research specialists. Professional designers experienced in interview techniques explore problems before solutions the same way a psychologist trains to interview patients. 

Validate Designs with the Right Techniques

Once you have interviewed users and produced a design concept, go back to users again to validate what you’ve sketched!  The secret is knowing when to use which validation technique:

Usability Testing

Usability testing is a formal method where a designer or researcher asks testing participants to complete typical tasks while they and other observers watch, listen and take notes. 

Usability Testing should be applied throughout the design process, at the concept and detailed design stages, as the insight gained at each iteration helps the designer zero-in on what makes the product easy for end users to learn and use, and informs other behavioral measures and preferences. Summative usability testing focused on benchmarking a specific aspect of the product - performance, responsiveness - often quantified with metrics. Formative usability testing gathers qualitative insight. 

It is very important to not confuse usability testing with focus groups. Focus groups are interactive sessions best held at the start of a project to gather general perceptions and preferences of users. This is very different from usability testing which is quiet and controlled process of evaluating how users perform on tasks and respond to different experiences. 

A/B Testing

Sometimes design questions end up in an internal debate between proposed solutions. The lead architect is convinced the features should look or function one way, and the product manager has a different theory. A situation like this can be a good candidate for A/B testing, a fast form of user research where you launch a few designs to different user groups, perform some testing, and compare the results. A/B testing measures which of several designs produces the most conversions, fewest clicks, fastest time, most intense emotional response, or whatever metric you decide to measure. Some online tools even use crowdsourcing to get A/B test results fast.

But you need to be aware of the drawbacks of A/B testing. First, you have to rely on your best guess as to the real reason why Design A performed better than Design B. You don’t get any feedback on whether or not the user “gets” the system. (This makes it hard to stay in the problem space.) Also, you can inadvertently commit yourself to a non-optimal solution. Incremental A/B testing finds the solution that, relative to other presented solutions, produced the best results. However, because you always test one solution against the others, you run the risk of getting stuck with the best you’ve got, not the best possible solution. 

SaaS Opens A New World of UX Rollout Strategies

Most modern software products are now provided through SaaS, this opens up a new world of incremental launch and adaptation. You no longer need to put all your eggs into one design basket and launch to all users simultaneously. SaaS allows you to segment your audience of users and launch new UX ideas gradually to certain segments first. For example:

  • You could use SaaS to soft-launch a new UX design to users who want to try the new experience on a voluntary basis, while keeping the majority on the current UX design they are used to
  • You could launch one possible user experience to a certain cohort of users, and a different design to a different cohort of users. If the two cohorts are reasonably similar in size and characteristics, this is like doing a real-world A/B test. Measure the results in terms of engagement, clicks, drop-off rates and decide for yourself how to proceed from there.
  • You could launch different user experiences tailored to different groups of users, for a more personalized experience. Once again, measure the engagement and results, and repeat! 

UX Design is a Science

Summing it up, UX Design is fundamental for any new digital product launch or legacy modernization initiative. Design should never be left up to the creativity of just 1 or a handful of designers and executives. To reliably deliver a great design, you need a multi-disciplinary UX team, including the right research, interaction design and visual design skills. And equally important, you need a repeatable process, using proven UX techniques at the right time. Above all, CTOs need to understand that UX Design done right is a rigorous scientific method, where creativity is just one ingredient in the end-to-end process of getting to great design. 

Consider a Digital Acceleration Team

Need specialized skills to refresh or overhaul a user experience design? Need a SWAT team to launch a new digital product, or carry out large-scale legacy modernization? Consider a digital acceleration partner like Thinklogic. Thinklogic’s Digital Acceleration and Response Team (DART) specializes in advising CTOs and product management leaders on their roadmaps, rapid design and prototyping to bring a business case to life, and carrying out large-scale implementations. Located in Los Angeles, with years of experience in enterprise verticals like manufacturing, commerce and banking, Thinklogic is your trusted partner for end-to-end digital transformation programs.

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