Think of the meetings on your calendar — how many of those are about solving a specific problem. One? Two? Ten?
As a user experience (UX) writer, my meetings are about using words to solve online problems. The problems are often created by underlying system issues, working with third-party vendors, or complicated legacy processes that are too big to tackle without significant resources. On special projects, the problems can be brand new — like designing a new process or flow.
During meetings, I take note of all the factors at play and what the desired outcome is. I was taught the most important rule of writing (online and in print) is to “know your audience.” You can’t connect with a customer or move them to act without knowing them. Whatever your website, application, or experience is — it has to be tailored to a specific type of customer. If it isn’t, you may be creating problems and the meetings around them.
What I wasn’t taught, however, was how exactly to get to know my audience. My best efforts included Google, my poorly formed assumptions, and the anecdotes of others. It wasn’t until my first UX training course that I learned UX research methodologies to uncover the mysteries of the elusive customer. It’s improved the way I solve problems online and elsewhere, and it could help you, too.
Why teams should take UX training courses together
My first UX training course was around six years ago when I was on a Marketing team that managed 20+ websites. Our team had grown, and our manager wanted us to be working with the same best practices in mind.
Abdul Suleiman, now the CEO of UX 4Sight, was our instructor. For days he captivated us with classes about how to strategically approach the project discovery phase, user-centered design, and validate with the right user research methods. We had textbooks, workbooks, videos, hands-on exercises, and group discussions for people of all learning styles. After training ended, everyone on the team took the UX certification exam and passed.
It became a lot easier for me to communicate with designers and developers. I now knew about the Gestalt principles and the laws of proximity, similarity, and so on. When I needed content to be grouped together or displayed as similar but not the same, I could express it.
Whenever I or a colleague prepared a survey, we could review it for signs of bias and leading questions. And when it came to huge projects like redoing our intranet, everyone could step into various user research roles to lead testing, take notes, and analyze data. We worked faster, smarter, and with the intention of making things better for our customers.
After getting my UX certification, one of my first digital projects to lead was the redesign of a charitable foundation’s website. Picture it: yellow background (yellow!), old-school left navigation, and long, dense paragraphs of instructions on how to apply for a grant that was repeated on multiple pages.
When I spoke with the foundation’s director about how difficult it was for users to find what they were looking for, (such as to see if the foundation-funded their type of program), his response was essentially: users should work for the money the foundation might award them.
Sometimes your team will encounter people who aren’t concerned with your users’ experience. And they’re going to need the confidence and expertise to push back. His real frustration was that despite the information being on the website, he still received lots of questions that added to his own sense of work and effort. His solution was to keep adding information everywhere in the hopes people would read it.
Because of the UX training that the designer and I had, we knew that we were facing a usability problem. We confidently proposed a new site architecture, information chunks, and headlines that made instructions easier to skim for relevant content, while still keeping the director’s desired voice. After many discussions and meetings, he accepted our changes. Like Maya Angelou said — when you know better, do better.
What happens when teams don’t have UX training
When teams have UX training, they become user advocates. Without UX training, teams may care about the user experience a great deal — but they aren’t equipped to quickly address design problems. That means UX enhancements are often postponed in favor of MVP concepts, deadlines, or other priorities.
Maybe teams put design tickets in their backlogs to update later, but over time UX debt accrues in the same way technical debt does. It becomes a bigger and bigger problem to solve, and we end up with problems like a massive intranet where every department has control of their page and no one can seem to find anything or web pages with links to every imaginable resource and no clear call to action.
Recently I worked with an IT development team on updating an application that asked employers to report a years’ worth of payroll and answer dozens of questions. It’s a tedious but required task. Customers were “failing” the reporting by answering questions incorrectly or not understanding what was expected of them. Fixing these failed reports was a costly process for the company.
During a meeting, I learned that several of the questions no longer served a business purpose. They remained in the application for years because developers had no reason to ask why they were there. Their training was to write complicated code, not to consider the cognitive load of customers or parse when to give customers choices and when to do the hard work for them behind the scenes.
How UX training and UX research courses will change your team
When designing intuitive user experiences that earn customer loyalty, you have to be really good at putting yourself in the customers’ shoes. You have to see the product for the first time, in the same way your customer would. And that is a practiced skill!
Imagine you’re on vacation, walking into a restaurant for the very first time. You have no idea what to expect. Do you seat yourself? Is it a sit-down, a buffet, or do you order at the counter? What’s on the menu? As soon as you walk in, you’re looking for clues to tell you where to go.
Similarly, new users are also looking for guidance. Too often we assume our users know how our “restaurant” works, but sometimes they show up and can’t even tell what we’re serving.
Usability training will help your team make sure that your clues are visible and friendly so your customers get where they need to be. UX research training will make sure you’re serving what the customer wants.
Maybe this scenario is familiar to you: You contracted with a vendor to launch a new library of materials and content for your customers. It’s different from your previous library, and your customers don’t know how to use it and are calling for help. You need to ask the vendor to make changes — how do you know what to ask for?
While user experience as a discipline is deeply concerned with how customers feel, it’s data driven. UX training will show you how to collect the right data, in the right way, so you can recommend something that works for your customers.
The “how” is so important. There are a lot of ways to unintentionally influence data and get insights that don’t really represent your customers as a whole. With UX research training, your team can learn how to:
- Create a UX research plan.
- Choose the UX research methodologies that are appropriate for your project.
- Ask probing UX research questions to uncover customers’ needs and goals.
- Maintain the integrity of your data and ensure it’s applicable.
- Analyze and synthesize data sets.
- Apply what you learn to design and create a kinder, more intuitive experience.
Why your team should continue UX training, even after certification
Getting certified is just the start of becoming a great UX practitioner. When I was a student of Abdul’s, I learned a lot about persuasive websites, usability heuristics, and how to test out ideas. But as the internet grows and changes, so do the mental models (expectations) of our customers and the tools available to us.
Take card sorting, for example. A simple exercise to understand how people might group things together. In the simplest form, you just need some note cards, pens, and willing participants. But have you tried doing it online with a tool like Optimal Workshop? The data is counted, mapped, and represented visually — no more spreadsheets!
Training will help you stay up to date on how to improve your processes and use the best techniques. It will also help you stay on top of design trends (remember when flat design was the thing?) and spot the cool from the unusable.
I mentioned anecdotes earlier. Teams that aren’t customer-facing typically rely on those who are to relay problems back to them. This transfer of information is critical, but it can also be flawed.
I had a conversation with a customer-facing person who insisted that an industry-specific phrase was understood by all of their customers, regardless of industry, and would be appropriate as a navigation label.
I wasn’t convinced, and luckily I had just attended a talk by a content strategist at Google. She’d offered great tips on how to make the case for language, including using Google’s search trends. (They actually used trends data to name “Google Pay” after seeing people were already searching for that term before the product was on the market.)
According to five years of data, the industry-specific phrase was used much less frequently than a generic alternative. Continued UX training will inspire your team to think of problems differently than their peers, and show them new ways to refute assumptions.
My training as a writer has always made me focus on the recipient of my work (an audience or user). But as a UX practitioner, I’ve learned, and am continuing to learn, exactly how to understand and meet their needs.
Whether you’re in Marketing, IT, PR, HR it doesn’t matter — UX training will help you better understand your audience, too. When you make an effort to know better UX, you do better UX. And you solve more problems than you create.
Award-winning writer that looks for the data, writes for the customer, and will help build brand loyalty. Specializes in usability and breaking down complex ideas into plain language. Can easily pivot between B2B, B2C, and B2E goals with personality and measurable results.