If you’re building a tech-driven solution to a business problem, there’s no point in creating an experience without making the end users your primary focus. UX (User Experience) design gives us a set of tools to approach this with.
A good example of how internal projects can succeed – or fail – are company intranets. In theory they can solve all manner of business issues, from knowledge sharing to improved collaboration. But, these systems should be designed by interrogating the needs of the company’s real world users first – to establish what will be useful, relevant and important to the company in mind. If the flow if information doesn’t match a user’s expectation, doesn’t give effective feedback to the user, or the system isn’t regularly updated – these intranets simply aren’t used.
On a larger scale, in 2013, there was a well-publicised failure of the £10m NHS patient record system, which may not have been abandoned (or racked up such a huge bill) if collaboration and end-user input had been at its heart from the start.
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No matter the size of your business, an internal digital project must put the end-user first.
The importance of user-centred design
User-centred design, in this context, is about knowing and understanding your employees – but there’s so much more to it than that.
To get your digital solution right from the get-go – such as an enterprise app – you’ll need to know who they are, where they’ll use the app, the context they’ll use it in, what pain points they’ll be using it to address, and how they’ll use it – both now, and in the future.
And this is where service design comes in. Essentially, it’s a way of designing according to the needs of the end-user. In This Is Service Design Thinking, one of the very first textbooks on the discipline, authors Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider outline five key principles of service design, namely:
- User-centred: Putting people at the heart of the design
- Co-creative: Involving all stakeholders throughout the design process
- Sequencing: Splitting the process into separate processes, or key moments in the customer journey
- Evidencing: Visualising service elements and making them tangible to end-users – helping them to understand the entire service experience, and creating loyalty.
- Holistic: Taking into account the entire experience of the service.
Often, new apps or app technology will need to be designed to work in tandem with legacy systems – both IT systems and established processes – rather than replacing them. For that reason, a comprehensive audit of the people, technology and processes involved will need to happen before any design or development work takes place.
An app that isn’t designed with its end-users in mind is an app that’s unlikely to gather anything more positive than dust, a huge bill and a sense of wasted time. User-centred design is crucial to the success of an app project, but how do you ensure the design process is user-driven?
The stages of a user-centred app design process
Designing an enterprise app and designing an app for the general public are two very different beasts. In service design – which requires an in-depth understanding of complex business systems, environments, cultures and processes – involving the end-user from the very start is the best way to ensure they’re invested in the project, and that you get take-up across the business once it’s launched. Questionnaires, workshops, issues with existing systems can all feed into that initial brief.
There are four key areas where employee input is invaluable.
1. At the very start: discovery
Before the app brief is finished, it’s vital to conduct interviews or surveys among the app’s primary users in order to inform the brief.
A carefully crafted ‘discovery project’ which blends customer research (to challenge assumptions) and technical research (to explore existing software systems, third party software and APIs) will allow you to develop an understanding of your opportunities from the outset, and inform the brief further.
This phase is valuable and vital. It will inform the direction of the project. It’ll give you the chance to reflect on your own current processes, and it will afford the opportunity to ask new questions that may not have been visible up until that point – even those that are not linked to the app in question.
2. At the first iteration
Once the brief has been written, your employees should still be involved. Collaboration and user-led testing will ensure that any early issues are ironed out, preventing them from becoming bigger problems down the line. Select a few members of staff to trial the first iteration of the app and provide feedback – both on usability and on content.
3. With a larger scale launch
At Calvium, we’re huge advocates of innovation days where the value of a new digital solution can be showcased to all employees – especially within the engineering and enterprise sectors. Hosting an event for your end-users can be a great way to celebrate the new app, let people play with it and get people talking about it. Bringing everyone together for the sole purpose of showing off the app is a way both to get buy-in across the board and to showcase your company’s innovation chops.
Encourage colleagues to test out all of its features and functionality – essentially, to try and break it. And listen to feedback – whether it’s potential issues, missing features or areas for improvement. By acting on end-user feedback, you’ll show that you’re serious about designing something that truly has them at its heart.
4. On an ongoing basis
App fully designed and rolled out? It may seem like the end of the process, but there’s still work to do. The extent of that work will be determined by how its end-users are actually using it.
By incorporating functionality to provide feedback into the app itself, you’ll get an ongoing picture of its success: how it’s being used, whether any bugs emerge, whether anything could be added or designed differently for maximum success. With so much invested in your app’s development, you’ll want to keep it relevant, engaging and working as it should.
Ironing out issues immediately and keeping content fresh will show its users just how vital a tool your app is in your business armoury. If YOU don’t show just how invested you are in its success, why should they?
Quality user experience isn’t a nice-to-have when it comes to internal app projects. Without involving the end user from the very beginning of the project – and continuing to involve them through to its launch and beyond – it’s likely that your app won’t successfully do the job for which it’s intended.
At Calvium, we’ve a wealth of experience in service design, creating apps for engineering companies with their employees at their heart. Click here for some of our previous work.