In an ideal world, all projects would have enough time for proper early research, where the workflow, process, and users would be defined and analyzed. In reality, though, we are ruled by fluid goals, which are influenced by deadlines and budgets. In my almost five years’ experience working on internal applications (before becoming a Sparkbox apprentice), I became well aware of the existence of this tough reality. Things need to be done by a certain time, and often the desire for a flawless website and user experience is relinquished when your users are employees. From ugly forms and oddly placed inputs to workflow disruptions, I've seen them all—and I've been forced to code them all. By no means am I proud in admitting that, but whether it was due to budget constraints or direction changes, in those positions where I was asked to compromise the UX, my client was an employer who paid the end user, and their priority was to ensure that the required change made it into the system no matter if it had flaws.
However, short-term gains of having a feature can be outweighed by the long-term losses in employee productivity and satisfaction. Promoting a good user experience is something developers can do, even when it’s not considered a goal. I have some simple tips that will elevate your work and make your users much happier.
Why Should an Employer Care About UX?
UX can be directly linked to an employee’s productivity. Many studies highlight the relationship between the Big Five personality traits and a person’s productivity. Conscientiousness, which is the Big Five trait associated with being organized and efficient, is believed to be the most predictive personality trait of job performance. On the other hand, neuroticism is the trait associated with someone’s confidence and anxiety. High neuroticism is said to be the only one of the five personality traits to have a negative effect on performance. That being said, someone who is organized and confident will be more productive than someone who is careless and nervous. Based on what we know today about UX, the products we use and interact with affect how we feel. An employer’s goal should be to provide his/her employees with an experience that will produce high levels of conscientiousness and low levels of neuroticism, thereby resulting in high levels of productivity and job performance.
What Can You Do As a Developer?
When expecting input from a user, workflow is critical. The application shouldn’t require your user to learn how to interact with it. Meaning, the flow and expectations of a user should be as intuitive as possible. If the flow leaves the end user confused or unsure of what is wanted, the design needs to be evaluated because this can create low conscientiousness and high neuroticism—slow productivity. There are simple things that you can do when developing a form that can make a world of difference in a user’s experience. One way to help a user is to only present the appropriate fields they need to complete a process and implement real-time validation to tell the user when he or she has missed a required field. The use of input types is a simple way to do data validation on the fly. We all make mistakes; so strive to make an intelligent application that can anticipate possible input and interaction errors to help users through a complicated process.
Another way I like to make the experience better is to keep users “in the loop.” Do not let them stumble onto a new feature and expect them to figure it out. That will often create an undesired level of stress. Your users will be your most valuable resource when assessing a process—they know what works and what doesn’t; after all, they use it everyday and often have developed their own technique for handling a system’s annoyances. Get feedback from them.
Start a Mini Revolution
I’ve covered a few simple things you can implement in your development above that can have a real, positive impact on a user’s productivity, performance, and experience. The next time you’re asked to “just make it happen,” take a minute to think how you could include some improvements for users while still meeting the businesses’ needs. Even if it may not be explicitly said as a priority in a request you’re tasked to fulfill, it should always be a consideration in your development process. Bonus: When you make those improvements, be sure to share why you did so with the people requesting changes. Who knows, maybe you’ll start a mini revolution and show the value of all users in the process.