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I've recently become product manager for a small team - our product is a business management software (HR, Estimating, Contracts, etc).

In a survey of our current user base, Usability improvement is the number one request we are hearing. "It's confusing and hard to use", "It looks very old" are the general comments from many users.

The application has been actively developed for 10+ years. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much focus on UX when building the application.

We want to put a focus on User Experience in the next year. There is no one on our team currently who is a UX expert.

Where should I start? Books to read, practices to employ, etc.

Also, we are hoping to hire a UX consultant.

How can we successfully find someone who will help us improve the UX of our application?

Thanks!

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  • Our applications are .NET and asp.NET. Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 17:13
  • Interesting question. There are some other posts that deal with this question so it would be good reading them as well.
    – Mayo
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 17:32
  • I did review a few - can you point me to any specific ones? Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 18:02

4 Answers 4

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I guess there are a few different things you want to find out, and I think for me UX is about asking the right questions rather than trying to find the solution, simply because you can find the right solution for the wrong problem and not end up better off than where you started from. So in order of priority:

  1. Find out what you know - you mentioned that usability improvement is your number 1 request. Do you know if this is representative of the majority of the users? Do you know what is confusing and hard to use? Do you know what the impact is for the user (e.g. does it create errors or take them more time?). Also, just keep in mind that the user interface aesthetics is an (almost) entirely different problem to interaction design and content design.
  2. Find out what you know you don't know - are there other sources of information that you might be aware of but haven't tapped into? For example, the marketing department probably do their own research as well, and the customer or technical support also have direct contact with users. The training or professional services team (if they exists) also deal with customers directly.
  3. Find out things that you don't know that you don't know - it is not always necessary to hire a UX consultant to solve your UX problem (sometimes they also add to the problem). If this has been something that your company has not focused on, all you need is someone with a fresh pair of eyes or a different perspective to start you on the right path. You should only grow your UX capabilities according to the UX maturity of the organisation, otherwise you'll find a lot of resistance and reluctance to progress because it is taking time and effort from people who might not be able to spare it. Also, UX should be a collaborative and consultative process, and not something that is dictated by an 'out of town' expert.

One of the things that companies are starting to do is hiring people with UX exposure/experience rather than pure UX roles. This is an approach that has benefit when UX people become siloed in an organization without the proper structure and resources to support their work.

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Where should I start?

By starting over. Any software that's been continuously updated for a decade+ is due for a complete UI rewrite.

How you do that is simply too broad of a question to answer with any specificity, but I'd start with things like:

  • hire a UX consultant
  • do a lot of user testing and, more importantly, user research
  • investigate UI trends and current best practices
  • focus both on what's wrong with the current UI as well as what users need in a UI completely independent of what you currently have
  • be sure to have solid UI developers on your team. These are not people that can drag-and-drop UI component onto the IDE, but rather people that can actually build custom UIs. (The best UI developers, IMHO, are natural UX people a well)
  • rethink the platform. Is it a desktop app now? Would it make more sense as a web app? Mobile app? Responsive web site?
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  • Thank you! What is the difference between user testing and user research? Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 18:02
  • Testing is usually in context of your particular product. You're testing your product with your sample audience. User research can be much broader and can include interviews, job shadowing, surveys, etc.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 18:40
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Establish a UX strategy

The application has been actively developed for 10+ years. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much focus on UX when building the application.

Shifting focus from a development led process to a UX led process is no easy undertaking particularly when your application has been actively developed for more than 10 years! So you need to take a more strategic approach in addressing these issues; This will work best if you have UX road map in place which focuses on resolving the most pressing matters in the short term and establishing UX best practices in medium and long term.


Short term

In the short term you need to focus on what needs to be done to ease user pain points and frustrations. So with that in mind, dedicate some time and effort to assess the situation carefully gathering user feedback via all available channels. This exercise should focus on identifying the the tracer bullet path where 80% of users spend 80% of their time.

enter image description here source: Take a Modular UI Design Approach for SaaS (video)

This allows you to focus on areas which matter the most to your users. Now, from a UX point of view, a short term solution is to use some form of usability guidelines against which you will need to assess your current app particularly along the tracer bullet path. This should get you started and also introduce some of the areas/concepts a UX consultant might focus on. Additionally, this might also highlight areas of technical debt that needs to be addressed due to legacy issues.


Medium and long term

If your organisation does make a hiring decision, a UX consultant would take it from here by embedding UX best practices and esnuring with the product owner that the product evolves in the right direction, examples of such activities include:

  • Better understanding of how to translate business requirements into viable and "future proofed" solutions.
  • Incorporating user feedback and usability testing into the development process.
  • Conducting competitor reviews and analysis to remain abreast of what is happening in your industry etc.

Book recommendations

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You've received a fairly decent collection of answers here but it's definitely worth adding just one more book:

Undercover User Experience Design by Cennydd Bowles and James Box

It's really an incredible introduction to UX. As well as great examples and strategic implementation options it is extremely focused on UX on a shoestring so is ideal for companies new or wary of the discipline.

I would also suggest (if you can find someone brave enough) that you find a full time UXer (albeit one with a broad remit) rather than a consultant or short term contractor. It will be worth every penny.

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