We have seen it before. You’ve got a bold idea for a great digital product. Who do you need? Probably a product designer first, who will craft the product and make it look great. Then, a developer, of course, or a team of them to cover your front-end and back-end needs and to implement designs. And a Project Manager, your key to meeting the deadlines and everything being great.
But do you need a UX designer? A person that will not create the final look of your product? They do not develop code, they do not come up with the final interface designs, and wireframes are something you can easily sketch yourself on paper or in Balsamiq: a button here, a video player there… Everything you need!
Then, at some point, your brand new shiny product launches to the market and you wait for the first user to subscribe. And you wait… And wait… Unfortunately, though, they don’t register, and you start wondering not ‘when’ but ‘if’ your product will reach the break-even point.
What went wrong?
I have participated in a number of discussions like this in the past. Someone wanted to learn from the failures and avoid making mistakes in the future. It usually comes down to an analysis of what went wrong, but not why it did.
All the problems mentioned above might result in a situation when an investment made in producing something that – business-wise – does not perform as expected. And there may be a plethora of reasons why it happened: either the market is already crowded with competitors, or the niche you targeted was not the most profitable one, or maybe the promotion went wrong. The product might also be too complicated or too abstract for people to use it – or at least to make the first decision to start using it. Then, maybe there was some overinvestment in technology – or the other way around, maybe it was not used to its limits.
For example, the app could be just too slow for you because someone decided to add a nice animation whenever you tap a button, or maybe some dependencies in the code made the application run slower.. ‘Well, it’s not my fault’ – a developer may say – ‘I did what I could. It’s not my fault the data source is so slow.’
Another example: some UI elements that users expect might not be in place. ‘I could have added a button here, of course, but it is in the menu because it looks cleaner like this.’ – you would hear the UI designer add. ‘And the client liked it. In fact, it was their own idea.’
And finally, business-related assumptions that are not adjusted to market needs might be the reason for failure. ‘If we get $9,99 from just 10 000 users per month, we will be happy! And come on, $9,99 is what everyone WOULD to pay for it, it’s a bargain!’ This kind of assumption is very risky – both when you enter the market with a new kind of service (people will first need to understand what it is) and when you create a service that will compete with already existing solutions (and you will need to convince users to switching).
At the same time, users’ needs and scenarios vary. The user might be one of those people who has 20+ apps downloaded from the app store that they do not use, or a person who does not download them at all, or someone who has their perfect solution for every case. But in all cases, it means the same for the business: if they won’t choose this app as a daily driver they won’t pay for it.
They would consider using this app, though, and even paying for it, should it fit their needs better.
And had that missing option. Or something – well, you know – something unique.
And worked faster too.
And was cheaper… well, if it had ALL of the above.
In other words: if the app were completely different, they would be happy to pay for using it.
Why did it go wrong?
You could say technology and design are not in your hands. But since you get what you choose and pay for, it makes selecting the technologies you want to use a strictly business decision with a strategic impact on your product. The decision will depend on who the product is for, and it will impact the choice of the features you will be able to develop. Thus, the decision will also influence the final balance between the cost and the profit.
So, after all, how successful the product is usually comes down to the final, business-level decisions – your decisions. This seems to be confirmed by publicly available data, for example, this CBInsights report:
So… is it about user experience?
I’m sorry, but it’s not. It’s all about business. Even the Digital Product is not the ultimate goal. The goal is giving momentum to the business – your business – and a Digital Product is a tool to achieve this goal.
What is the role of a UX guy here? Well, the actual answer to the question is: it depends. Perhaps, in some cases it may seem minimal, especially when it comes to visual design only, or refactoring some code. Or if you have little or no influence on the dependencies (for example: there may be parts of integrated solutions you cannot change). But you would be surprised in how many cases your business would benefit from a UX designer.
The reason that is indicated most often in the CBI report is that there is no need for the Product at all. While the numbers may change from year to year, lack of need is what causes most new products fail on the market. In many cases, though, this problem could be resolved with the help of a UX specialist:
First, UX specialists can help you to understand the market and users:
Market research & competition analysis: you don’t operate in the vacuum. There are other products and companies around you that might be competition to you. You should get to know them so that you can specify what your unique selling point is, what your weak points are and where you’ve got the competitive advantage.
User research: user research helps you understand user behaviour, and users’ needs and motivations during their journey with your digital product. It leverages different kind of techniques, such as: observations, tasks and feedback analysis. Insights collected from user research will help you shape a product that people will want to pay for.
“But I know my market and users!” Okay, but bear in mind the fact that 42% of startups that have failed based on the report claimed the same.
Secondly, UX specialists will help you realise where your product fails:
Expert reviews: these methods prove to be very useful in many situations. They are easy, quick, cheap, and, above everything else, they can help you fix your website’s problems. There are four main types of expert evaluations: heuristic evaluation, conversion-oriented evaluation, content audit, and UX review.
Ongoing data analysis (e.g. from Google Analytics or Hotjar): your decisions should always be based on data. The analytical information you get from tools such as GA or Hotjar often makes it possible to detect performance bottlenecks, find the features that do not matter, and learn which areas are worth investing in.
And lastly, UX specialists will point you to the most reasonable direction for you to satisfy your users’ needs and convince them to pay for your product:
Lean UX experiments: this term refers to various guerilla approaches or the Build, Measure, Learn cycle that applies testing and experimentation to products, services, or entire organizations. Lean UX experiments will let you iterate faster, develop better products, and serve customers more efficiently.
Optimising design and development pipeline by only designing for the needs of those people who would drive the income.
By hiring a UX specialist, you will avoid failed investments in developing features that your users will not want to pay for and shift your efforts to developing only features that make sense for them. Which means that, at the same time, you will limit the costs and increase profitability. Cool, isn’t it?
A UX designer is an important member of the crew. S/he might not be the captain, but, s/he will definitely be a navigator here, doing his/her best to set the right direction so that you can reach the point on the horizon you want to reach. This often means using the right product strategies and tactics, and making your value proposition different from your competition and planning the development according to the lean product development approach.
And the final destination is your successful digital product.