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How a UX Audit Can Revolutionize Both Your Digital Products & Your Business

How a UX Audit Can Revolutionize Both Your Digital Products & Your Business

  • Product Design /
  • Product Leadership /

Jonathon Hensley

Gauging your digital products’ user experience performance is essential to the survival of your business.

What is a UX audit?

We know that user experience (UX) is how a user interacts with, and experiences, a particular product, system, or service. Therefore the amount of time invested in research & optimization to create & refine the best possible digital product user experiences will become evident over time as users engage with them. Users may have great experiences, bland ones, or terrible experiences. The best way to understand the current status is to perform a UX audit. Such an audit involves analysis and review with key focus areas in mind. But before we get too far ahead, let’s understand why you would want to perform one.

Why perform a UX audit?

In 1965, Intel’s co-founder, Gordon Moore, predicted that silicon chip improvements would double processor speeds, and that overall processing performance would double every two years. Subsequently, customer expectations of digital products have grown exponentially over the past 50 years. This evolution of the digital landscape in our modern world provides instant access to virtually anything we can think of or need with a few simple screen taps or clicks.

This is a perspective worth pausing for and punctuating. The modern simplicity of today’s digital products is unfortunately not universal, but it is expected by your customers. Understandably, with this expectation, businesses that focus time to improve their user experience are going to outperform, outlast, and surpass their competition. It’s becoming increasingly imperative that businesses take the time to refine their customer experience or risk obsolescence. This is no longer a matter of debate, it is quite simply digital evolution at work.

This article will help you understand not only what focus areas are involved in a user experience (UX) audit, but why the areas of focus are so valuable in revolutionizing your digital products and subsequently, your business. Not every focus area is necessary for every project. We frequently work with clients that choose to mix and match from each area, creating a unique approach. If you’d like to explore these options and understand what fits your scenario best, connect with us. We’d be happy to consult with you on a case-by-case basis.

Before we dive right in, however, let’s take a step back and understand a few important details such as how to set goals for it, which in turn can help inform which areas to focus on.

How do I set goals for a UX audit?

As a digital product owner or manager, you very likely have quarterly or yearly company goals, drivers, or other initiatives in place that are already creating the perfect beacons for goal tracking. Taking things a step further, however, is the definition of a digital product vision. If your digital product doesn’t have a vision in place, it’s a fantastic opportunity to create mutual alignment between all teams that are involved in a digital product’s inception, evolution, and maintenance. As a bonus, it will factor in all business goals as well.

Three Key Areas of Focus for a UX Audit

Once you have goals established for your particular digital product, it becomes far easier to understand what is most important and relevant to focus on when it comes to the overall experience of your digital product. And while we call this user experience, think of it also as the customer experience, because as I mentioned earlier — everyone who uses a digital product should be considered a customer of yours, internally and externally. This brings us naturally to a great focus area to start understanding their needs better.

Here are the three areas of focus we’ll be touching upon in this article and what they contain specifically:

  1. Empathizing With Your Customers & Understanding Their Journey
    – Empathy Mapping
    – Journey Mapping
  2. Understanding the Impact Customers Have on Your Business and Ensuring Accountability for their Needs
    – Current Product or Prototype User Testing
    – Service Blueprinting
    – Design Principles
  3. Assessing Design Systems & Optimizing Them
    – Usability (Heuristic) & Accessibility Analysis
    – User Flows
    – Solution User Testing

UX Audit Focus Area One – Empathizing With Your Customers & Understanding Their Journey

The first time internal stakeholders place themselves in the shoes of the customer, it can often be a watershed moment for realizing what the user goes through on a day-to-day basis. Switching the lens from micro to macro can help significantly with visualizing the bigger picture of what matters to them most. We do this with our own clients by performing Empathy Mapping. This often leads to deeper dives with a more elaborate process called Journey Mapping

Empathy Mapping

Empathy mapping is typically performed with an audience of stakeholders. The exercise facilitates an understanding of their cumulative perception of their most important digital product audiences. Specifically, when it comes to tasks performed, pain points, feelings, influences, and their ultimate goal.

What makes empathy mapping easy to perform is that it is largely conversational. When you invest the time to reflect together as a diverse team on what these audiences are experiencing collectively, you gain valuable insights into the perceptions your business has about its customers. These insights are valuable when conducting user testing and assembling feedback directly from your customer. This is true for both your existing digital product and for solutions you may be developing. If the business perception of the customer matches what they’re saying directly, you’re on track. Conversely, this may become an incredible opportunity to pivot your trajectory and your focus. Connecting the dots to reveal all the patterns may entail more than just conversation alone. However, you will find the investment well worth your time when you consider that your audience always has an ultimate goal in mind. If achieving that goal is difficult, they may invoke their power to voice their discontent. In the worst-case scenario, they may convince decision-makers to abandon the product. 

Journey Mapping

Journey mapping is similar to certain aspects of the empathy mapping process, but the chief difference is organizing areas of interest in a horizontal stage view. Each stage represents a critical moment in time for your customer in their overall journey, such as “discovering your business” or “evaluating your services.” Each stage has individual and respective touchpoints, emotions, and actions that are important to understand and account for on a deeper level. While more time and energy are required for this exercise, you will find this is also well worth the effort spent. The discovery of any gaps that may exist in knowledge around the customer, as well as identifying areas of friction and opportunity are powerful. The deeper dive of journey mapping can illustrate and illuminate patterns that provide a more comprehensive understanding of the entire process your customer encounters.

It’s best to focus on one customer at a time when implementing this method, but you will add significantly more value by delving this deep. You will gain substantial insight and information that can help you pull these patterns together, enabling you to problem solve and create solutions.

UX Audit Focus Area Two – Understanding the Impact Customers Have on Your Business and Ensuring Accountability for their Needs

The next facet of a UX audit focuses on direct customer feedback about your digital products and business, visualizing the impact customer actions have on your day-to-day operations. And further, establishing accountability around how the needs of the users are being met. The tools we use here are current product or prototype user testing, which help build data & intelligence to understand exactly what is causing friction in the users’ own words. Service blueprinting follows the testing stage in an audit. Service blueprinting helps clarify which aspects of your business need to change, or adapt in order to support your customers; what they come to you for, and what they expect of you. Finally, establishing greater customer accountability through design principles helps create and maintain alignment between both current, and future digital products.

Current Product or Prototype User Testing

When you want to know how your current digital product or prototype is performing, you must ask your customers directly. Based on their experience, they will provide perceptions of your product, the performance, and how both affect your business. They will be honest and direct, and sometimes brutally so. But you need to hear what they have to say, because without them you don’t have a business.

Emerge conducts two forms of user testing — moderated and unmoderated. We’ve written an article to help you understand the difference between moderated and unmoderated testing, outlining which is best suited for your particular needs. Both types of testing will provide you with a greater wealth of valuable information about what your customers are thinking. Their opinions will directly affect your business, as again, your digital products are a reflection of your business, and how you conduct it.

Service Blueprinting

Creating a service blueprint will facilitate an even deeper understanding of the actual impact your customers have on your business from an operational perspective. Much like journey mapping, service blueprinting details the actions your customers take, but that is just the beginning. Service blueprints are used to visualize and understand how your business supports customers during their entire experience; from start to finish, including touch-points, front-end (visible), back-end (invisible) processes and tools, and accounts for the steps customers take before and after their interaction with you.

Design Principles

Every business has a set of core values that represent brand beliefs, and the relationship a business or organization has between employees and customers. Design principles are similar in that they create accountability for how design decisions are made in a timeless way, rather than being reliant on current trends & fads.

UX Audit Focus Area Three – Assessing Design Systems & Optimizing Them

This focus area is more tactically based than strategic. When you have enough understanding of your customers’ needs and your business’ operational capabilities to fulfill them, you are likely ready to analyze and prioritize your existing design systems. And, look for ways to optimize and refine them. In this discussion of focus area, usability (heuristic) & accessibility analysis is applied to identify problem areas in an existing digital product or prototype from a user interface and user experience perspective using detailed notations and/or annotations. Next is user flows, to address and highlight the optimal routes users should take to get to their ultimate destination, and finally, solution user testing to get authentic feedback from customers around what they think of your proposed solution.

Usability (Heuristic) & Accessibility Analysis

This process involves a detailed & comprehensive blow-by-blow review of a current (in the wild or prototyped) digital product interface to assess its respective compliance with nationally and internationally recognized usability principles and patterns (the heuristics). This analysis also evaluates compliance with accessibility standards for those with physical impairments and a need for assistive devices.

Usability (heuristic) and accessibility analysis will yield results that allow your team to understand specifically which aspects of the design system are working or failing. The compiled annotations will provide details that can determine what can be done to improve or resolve the issue at hand. An example of a usability (heuristic) challenge might be that the principle of “Visibility of System Status” is not being respected within your digital product environment. According to this principle, “The design should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within a reasonable amount of time.” If users click something without a response or an action being initiated, you have a problem that needs to be resolved.

With accessibility issues, an example may be contrast values between colors that are too subtle. For example, you may have a white background with light grey text. If a certain contrast level is not visible, certain audiences may not be able to see your content. This also presents a pressing issue to resolve.

User Flows

From a tactical standpoint, user flows help visualize and cultivate an understanding of the individual steps audiences should optimally follow as they proceed toward their respective ultimate goal. This is concurrent with annotating areas of opportunity and friction with the actual steps audiences are currently taking. This often takes the form of a flowchart. The annotations provide supplemental information and detail to help project teams understand what will best help resolve the issues that have been revealed.

Solution User Testing

Once you’ve created a solution from your insights and revelations, you’ll want to get direct feedback from prospective or current customers to understand their perceptions. Ultimately, you need to know if the solution is effective and useful for them. If it’s neither, you need to re-evaluate your offering, reconfiguring what needs to be done, or create another solution. This is a hard cost expense which is a turn-off for many clients because some may prefer to use MVPs (minimum viable products that are released in the wild) as a way to gather user input. But relying on MVPs as the only source of user input and feedback is a substantial risk to take for your business and brand. If it fails, it can do so spectacularly. Why risk it?

Establishing a Continuum of Optimization & Improvement

Now that you’ve had a chance to read up on what differentiates these focus areas, it’s important to realize and remember that with digital products you have an ongoing responsibility to ensure the user and customer experience is the most optimal it can be. Consumer expectation, market trends, and the competitive landscape are all driving factors for evolution and change. Therefore, we recommend thinking progressively and proactively about adding continuous auditing to your digital product roadmap to ensure you maximize your efforts and effectiveness in addressing user and customer needs over time.

So What’s Right for my Project or Digital Product?

If you’re scouring the web looking for examples of UX audits searching for a sound sense of what is involved, and what can be used for your circumstances, we hope this article has been insightful and helpful. Emerge’s philosophy is that customers are the driving force behind digital product evolution. We believe in making the world a better place one digital product at a time. We enjoy bringing experiences to life; experiences that matter. We always welcome the opportunity to educate, inspire, and co-create with amazing people. After all, that’s one of our core values!

If you need more information, or would like to get a more focused opinion on what suits your project or digital product best, reach out to us. We’d love to discuss options further with you and your team.

Forward. Digital. Thinking.

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