If you’ve ever felt like a program or app just gets you, you’ve learned why UX research matters in custom software development. The biggest companies spend huge sums on years of research just to learn how and why people navigate software.
You know how Facebook, Instagram, and other apps are so hard to put down? It’s because their user experience design is immaculate, predicting what we like so we’ll stick around longer.
Not all custom software has to be this fancy, but it’s worth knowing some UX best practices before dropping thousands of dollars on a new program. The easier your app is to navigate, the more popular it will be.
So why does UX research matter in custom software development?
Good UX Keeps Programs Simple
UX stands for user experience, and it’s the heart and soul of software. Navigation, error messages, notifications—all of it is designed with the user’s time and delight in mind. The more natural software feels, the more users enjoy it.
Developing custom software costs thousands of dollars and months of work. When taking on such a massive project, it can be tempting to throw in a few extra features. What can it hurt?
Here’s the thing about software: there’s a lot of it. Chances are high that there’s a program out there similar to yours, but far better. By keeping things simple and precise, you won’t put your app in competition with bigger, more robust brands, and that gives it the strongest chance at success. Don’t add features that aren’t essential.
You can still learn a few things from these apps. During your research, you’ll learn where your software derails. For example, if it performs many unrelated functions, users have a hard time sticking with it. Complexity can kill great software, so keep yours limited in scope.
One helpful tool for simple layout design is the wireframe. These are black and white outlines that allow you to build a complete blueprint of your software while keeping it simple. Wireframes aren’t about looks as much as they help with structure and flow.
Once you’ve got the nuts and bolts of your software in place, you’ll have a better foundation with which to survey potential users. This leads to our next point…
Knowing Your Users
You have to know your ideal user. How old are they? Will they already understand this software? Is a login required? The more you know about who is using your software, the easier it is to put yourself in their shoes and walk through the app’s functions.
Use case examples are particularly helpful here. By walking yourself through opening the program and all the way to performing its main task, you’ll iron out a lot of kinks along the way.
If your software caters to older users, for example, it must be as easy to use as possible. Younger generations are more comfortable modifying options and customizing features, but that’s not the same for people who didn’t grow up with smartphones.
As mentioned above, refining your software’s purpose is key. The more you know what it does, the easier it is for all roads to lead to your ultimate goal. If that means making a purchase, keep a “buy now” button prominently featured everywhere. If it’s making reports, put a “make report” button in plain sight.
One UX best practice is to read about typical user needs. To build the best accounting software, you need to know what current programs lack and how that affects its user community. Read reviews, find online forums, and obtain any other research you can.
Can’t find the answers you’re looking for? Ask friends and family. Post your question online. Whatever you do, avoid the echo chamber of your own ideas. The better you know your users, the more lean your software can be. Doing so nets better software at a lower development cost.
Check Out Available Options
The best software in the world gets this way through extensive research and development. These companies fund their own psychological studies and A/B test which features users like best. While this is well outside the average person’s budget, studying their end results is helpful and—best of all—free.
Start by taking notes on your favorite software. Every single feature is put there on purpose, so the things you like about an app are the result of research and study. Do your best to incorporate those good ideas into your software.
Font colors, heading sizes, and layout are all crucial pieces of good UX design (which not only make life easier for users, but keep you ADA compliant).
Focus on the User
At the end of the day, UX research is about catering to users and making their lives easier—getting them to their end goal with as little friction as possible. It requires a kind of compassionate thinking.
Make sure all the important information shows up early. Find ways to trim the fat and limit chances for misinterpretation. If a link takes you somewhere else, it better be easy to go back.
All we humans want is to get through our tasks so we can relax. Good UX research involves making the user’s life better.
Need a good example of bad UX? Just visit any government services website. During the unemployment spike in 2020, millions of Americans found out just how tough it was to file for benefits. These websites are notoriously difficult to navigate, so much so that quite a few people simply gave up.
While applying for unemployment shouldn’t be all that complex, bad UX frustrates people so badly that it doesn’t matter.
With the right design, even complex programs can be easy to use. Take tax software, for example. 20 years ago, it was up to each person to spend days navigating the sticky webs of the IRS. Now, anyone can file their taxes during a lunch break.
Make life easy for your users. They’ll thank you by making your software more popular.
UX Research Is Ongoing
Software is constantly changing. It’s easy to get left in the dust, so make sure to keep researching current trends. A few years ago, making separate pages within a website was all the rage. Today, most companies choose a single, scrollable site.
Font styles change over time. While there’s no reason to rebrand every few years, an occasional facelift for your custom software will help keep it relevant.
It’s never a bad idea to ride the coattails of the software titans. Modeling your software after a program like Facebook will probably yield positive results. Why? Because most people know how to navigate these programs, making for a smoother transition to your software.
Keep up with UX trends. Learn what better brands are doing. Ensure your software stays sharp. All of this will contribute to a better experience for your users.
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