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Webinar | Beyond wireframing: an introduction to UX design

Author: Alice Hodges

As part of Bristol Technology Festival 2023, our founder Harry explores the ins and outs of UX design, and why a user-centric approach is absolutely crucial.

In this webinar he explains why UX design is so much more than just wireframing, and how it should be seen as a process rather than a solution. Harry also uncovers how a clear UX-led strategy can lead to a long term competitive advantage.


Webinar transcript

Today I am going to be talking about UX design, and particularly about the misconceptions around what UX design is, why I think it’s way more than just wireframing, and particularly how it can add a lot of long-term value to organisations and businesses.

Before we kick off, just so you know who I am, I’m Harry, and I run an agency called Unfold here in Bristol. We are a UX-led technology agency, and we believe that Tech has the power to be incredibly transformative and valuable, making products as easy to use as possible and as valuable as they can be. We do that across websites, web applications, and more. I’m very excited to be talking about UX as part of Bristol Tech Festival. So, let’s get started.

Today, I want you to take away three main ideas from this talk. If you remember nothing else, remember these three things. First, UX design is much more than just wireframing. Second, UX design is a process, not necessarily a solution, which is a common misconception. And last but certainly not least, we’ll discuss why UX design adds long-term value to organisations and businesses, and how UX can be a longer-term competitive advantage for your organisation.

So, UX idea number one: much more than just wireframing. When we discuss UX design, especially in conversations with our clients, it bothers me when founders or business leaders treat UX as something that happens at some point during the design of a website or a product. Often, people associate UX with activities like wireframing, working in tools like Figma, creating web designs, or even sketching in a notebook to figure out what a digital product will look like. While these activities are indeed part of UX design, today, I want to emphasise that UX is more of a mindset that should encompass a broader view of the organisation.

Let’s begin with Don Norman, the man responsible for coining the term “user experience.” He was the first person to hold the job title “user experience designer” when he joined Apple in 1994. Apple already had a well-established design team focused on interface design, usability, and other aspects commonly associated with UX. However, Don wanted to broaden the discipline’s scope. He aimed to create a design approach that considered the entire user journey, from discovering the brand and product to purchasing, using, and even end-of-life experiences.

Don’s concept of user experience sought to offer a holistic view of the discipline. To illustrate this, consider that Apple was the first company to ship iPods with a full battery charge. At the time, most MP3 players required users to wait for hours before they could enjoy their music. Don, as a UX designer, recognised an opportunity to enhance the experience by eliminating this inconvenience, thus exemplifying the essence of user experience design. So, when we discuss UX today, it’s vital to remember that it’s about much more than just specific screens or website pages; it’s about advocating for a broader perspective.

This broader perspective includes considering UX in areas such as customer support, onboarding, brand perception, durability, and more. The list is not exhaustive, but it illustrates the concept of thinking about the customer more holistically. It all makes sense, and we must consider the customer experience in its entirety.

The challenge is to convince the rest of the organisation to adopt this customer-centric approach. One common question I receive is how to get the rest of the organisation to think more about being customer-centric rather than just individual efforts. I have two pieces of advice to offer:

First, make customers’ pain points as clear as possible to everyone in the business. People are more likely to react to things when they can see them clearly in front of them. You can achieve this by conducting customer interviews, focus groups, and similar activities. During these, collect snippets, whether it’s through recordings or quotes, and build them into themes that you can present to the organisation in an easily digestible format. This will ensure that the entire organisation understands the problems customers face when using your website or web app.

Second, integrate customers into your daily routines. The best companies we work with conduct user testing on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, irrespective of the project they’re working on. Every two weeks, they recruit three customers to visit the office, where they show them what they’re working on and gather immediate feedback. This shift in mindset from conducting user testing for specific projects to becoming a truly customer-centric organisation helps think beyond immediate product concerns.

So, that’s idea number one. Idea number two: UX design is a process, not a solution. This is something I’m passionate about, and it’s a common misconception. People often ask about best practices or whether they should mimic companies like Amazon, which invest heavily in AB testing and UX design. However, my response is that the approach to UX design should be seen as a process, not a prescription. The aim is to create a process that excels at uncovering customer insights and generating unique ideas based on those insights, leading to a customer solution that may differ from what others are doing due to better insight.

This process involves five steps:

  • Understanding: This step involves speaking directly to customers and combining qualitative research with quantitative data (e.g., Google Analytics) to understand the problem and gather insight.
  • Ideation: This is about generating a large quantity of ideas, focusing on quantity over quality initially. The goal is to create numerous ideas, not to prescribe a solution.
  • Wireframing: At this stage, you start refining ideas through wireframing. You don’t select just one solution; you pick a few that seem most feasible based on insights and stakeholder input.
  • User Testing: You conduct user testing with these potential solutions to identify which one resonates most with customers.
  • Design: In this phase, you add colour, brand elements, and character to the initial wireframes. This step is akin to defining the look and feel, which enhances the usability and character of the product.

The design and user interface phase adds life to the product, incorporating brand elements and ensuring it aligns with user needs.

The process is not strictly linear, and there’s often a need to revisit previous steps and adapt based on the feedback received. This adaptability is crucial throughout the process.

Now, let’s address Angela’s question. She mentions that, in her experience, at the wireframing stage, a project might be too advanced to make essential changes, such as legal requirements. She suggests that early engagement, especially in the ideation stage, is key, as long as the concept is sufficiently clear. What are your thoughts on that?

This is an excellent question. Having a structured process for user experience design is crucial because many parties, including legal, operations, and various stakeholders, must provide input. The goal is to align all these parties around both their needs and the user’s needs. If there is misalignment between these elements, it needs to be addressed early in the process. As we move further into the process, changing design decisions becomes more costly and challenging, and this cost increases exponentially after the product is live. IBM data indicates that it can be four to five times more expensive to make changes in development compared to noticing them during the design phase. If you attempt changes post-launch, the cost can be several times higher.

So, early involvement of stakeholders and considering regulatory and operational requirements during the ideation phase is essential. This approach ensures that everyone is on the same page about user needs and business requirements, and it helps avoid costly changes later in the process.

Now, onto idea number three: User experience (UX) strategy leads to long-term competitive advantage. I’m going to illustrate this with the example of one of our clients, Muddy Trowel, a gardening eCommerce company based in London.

Muddy Trowel began its journey in April 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As garden centres closed and people stayed home, they realised an opportunity to serve customers wanting to do gardening. They were initially successful but understood that for long-term survival, they needed to differentiate themselves. They decided to use user experience as a mindset and strategy for their entire business.

This approach delivered a three-stage competitive advantage:

  • Short-term: Muddy Trowel improved how they positioned their products by changing their messaging to focus on delivering joy, impact, and colour. They hadn’t altered the products themselves but changed how they talked about them.
  • Medium-term: They began curating plant kits that suited their customers’ needs. Instead of selling individual items, they grouped compatible plants together in kits, simplifying the shopping process.
  • Long-term: MuddyTrowel launched a garden design service, making garden design accessible for customers who wanted beautiful gardens without extensive gardening knowledge. This high-value service addressed a market gap.

By continually aligning their product offerings with customer insights, Muddy Trowel transformed their business from a short-term opportunistic venture into a long-term player in the gardening e-commerce space. This demonstrates how a UX-led strategy can result in a long-term competitive advantage.

Using technology around preferences, they created a bespoke planting list for someone’s garden based on factors like soil type and sun conditions. They aimed to make gardening as easy as possible for their customers, and this service resonated well.

This process not only generated a new revenue stream but also significantly increased their average basket size compared to regular eCommerce customers. Tripling the basket size is a remarkable achievement, given that eCommerce platforms usually aim for 5-10% increases.

In conclusion, the commitment to understanding users allowed Muddy Trowel to transform from a short-term business into a long-term player in the gardening eCommerce space. This demonstrates how a user experience (UX) strategy can lead to a long-term competitive advantage.


Q&A

Richard asks, “What are some of the key tools that people are using for UX ideation? Myro, whiteboards, pen and paper.”

Great question. All of the above, I would say. We’re really big fans of pen and paper in the first instance. There’s nothing like committing ideas to paper to just let go of the perfectionism element of it. Because when you start to work on something like Figma or Myro, for example, you start to get a little bit attached to how it looks, and even if that’s at a subconscious level, it can start to make you more attached to an idea because you’ve put work into it and not because it’s a good solution to the problem. We like to spend a lot of time sketching, we do like Sticky Notes, get them up on the wall, and just work through things. A big fan also of Fig Jam, which is like Miro, like a virtual whiteboard. We do run workshops from that if it has to be remote because just the way the world works now, often people aren’t based in the same place, and it can be very difficult. But they’re great tools to run ideation workshops on and take people through those exercises. So definitely recommend that. 

We have another question from Angela. “Who would you say are the key teams and roles, for example, for a client such as this Muddy TR example?”

So, great question. Who are the key teams and roles? Muddy Trowel was a startup, so in that instance, they’re actually quite a small team, about 10 people at the moment. Which can be an advantage in this setting because it’s all about us being as close to the customer as possible. I think the point I made a bit earlier about getting leadership buy-in for this is incredibly important because we’re not just talking about design here. We’re talking about the whole organisation’s strategy towards its products and services. So you’re going to need buy-in from a Founder or CEO if it’s a startup, or leadership if it’s a larger organisation. But in terms of the team that’s delivering that, everyone should be involved with UX. But you’re certainly going to want someone who is championing that. So that could be a product manager, it could be a UX designer. Certainly, in our situation when we’re working with Muddy Trowel, they had a growth lead who was responsible for looking after the website and the technology. And then we, as an agency, brought the experience of user experience design and product strategy. Between us, we were doing the user interviews, talking to customers, and figuring stuff out. And then collating those insights together. So, yeah, it’s wide-ranging, but I hope that gives you a flavour.


Our next event

We’re running another event in Bristol at the Engine Shed on November the 7th. It’s a panel discussion, and we’ve got three amazing panellists joining us to talk all about inclusion in innovation and exploring how we can make the products and services that we create as organisations more inclusive, and make sure that they are accessible to everyone? It promises to be a really fascinating evening of conversation, pizza and beer as well, so please do come along!

Well, thank you so much for joining today. I hope that was helpful. Please reach out if there are any further questions that come out of today and I hope to see you at the Engine Shed on November the 7th. If not, have a brilliant Friday, a brilliant weekend, and we’ll see you soon. Thanks so much. Cheers.

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