Companies with successful software products often know that their user interfaces could be
improved but hesitate to take action because major changes might upset their existing users. The risks associated with not updating a UI outweigh those associated with an update. But a successful redesign absolutely requires the right product management and UX techniques to evolve the product carefully and avoid a user revolt.
Consider Form and Function
Ninety percent of the value of an experience comes from how it works, not how it looks. Although UX pros recognize that visual appeal is just one part of the experience, even they sometimes spend disproportionate amounts of time on visual design, sacrificing other aspects of UX. A redesigned UI that looks pretty but fails to deliver new value will not only disappoint new users but will also alienate existing, previously satisfied users.
Redesign based on evidence
One of the most common mistakes companies make is to implement UI changes based on
what users say they want. Unfortunately, experience shows that what people say they will or won’t like doesn’t always match reality. A user’s suggestion on how to solve a UI problem may be unworkable, unreasonable, or both. To identify the real UI problems and solutions, careful UX research must take into account facts, not just opinions. Two fundamental techniques that should be used in any major UI update are focus groups and usability testing.
Focus Groups. Focus groups are a powerful exploratory technique that can provide rich information on the opinions and attitudes of the target audience regarding a new or existing product or idea. This information can provide direction to a development team in the early stages of their work so they can prepare for, and even get an early start on, development in key areas in parallel with the design effort.
Usability Testing. Usability testing is a technique to determine the effectiveness of a design by observing and assessing users as they walk through a predetermined series of tasks in the software. Researchers usually follow-up each usability test session by interviewing the user about the experience. Usability metrics—such as the time it takes to complete a task, the number of errors, the number of clicks, the success rate, etc.—are collected along with ease of use ratings.
Stop the Endless UI debates
Despite access to quality user research, many projects still get mired in unproductive debate about design and implementation issues. To avoid this, take the development and design team back to the first principles of the product. Often when a team debates whether to include a certain feature, the true, underlying questions are, "Who are our primary users and what would they value?" If the team has considered these questions already, the answers to feature decisions will be clear, allowing the team to breeze through those discussions.
Integrating Redesign Feedback: Interpret and Prioritize
Even the best products won't be perfect or universally loved; user complaints are a perennial and pervasive part of the design process. So, when evaluating user complaints about the UI, don’t react to them at face value or in a knee-jerk fashion that just closes the trouble ticket. Experienced product managers and UX designers will take the time to gather qualitative and quantitative data from a variety of users. This data and analysis allow teams to make sense of all the user reactions so that they can swiftly address issues that will most affect their product.
Jumping into a design update can be costly both during the design process and, worse if the updated product causes user backlash. It’s tempting to take the conservative approach and maintain things the way they are, hoping to avoid hurting customer goodwill with a bad UI decision. Proper product management and UX techniques can reliably produce UI updates that keep a product ahead of the curve without losing loyal users. It’s a discipline based on the fundamentals of good UX design: collecting, interpreting, and prioritizing user research.