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UX problems? Do a quick assessment.

Does this sound familiar? Employees hate an internal system they have to use, because they can’t get it to do what they need. Or more troubling, customers are complaining that your portal is too hard to use. They can’t find anything, the options they need aren’t there, actions take too long. And the worst news of all: they’re going to the competition.

Maybe you’ve been reacting to this sort of news by updating your systems. Adding new features, enhancing sections, redesigning parts here and there. Or maybe you’re ready to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch. It’s frustrating when all that work and financial investment just ends in more complaints. So what’s really going on here?

It may be time to take a step back and re-evaluate the user experience of your system. How do users move through tasks? What’s stopping them? What’s confusing them?

I usually recommend a basic UX assessment.

That sounds simple – and it can be. The UX Starter Report is a service I offer to clients who find it a cost-effective alternative to a full UX deep dive, and a great way to get from user complaints into tangible issues and actionable recommendations quickly.

But you can take a first pass yourself, as long as you can remember to stay in the head of your users. It’s important to approach this review from the point of view of an outsider. That means looking for industry jargon, internal company terms, tasks that rely on knowing internal business processes, etc.

What to look for

Start by clicking through and noting every button that doesn’t do what you expected, every link that was hard to find, every error message that seems more alarming than helpful.

You’ll want to look at aesthetics, for sure – is the interface ugly? That could be putting people off. More importantly, are page layouts confusing? Is there bright red text alarming users when nothing is actually wrong? Don’t just look for things that aren’t pretty: look for design elements that may be hindering use.

Then move on to navigation and information architecture. IA is the organization and hierarchy of content. Do you have too many headings? Too few? Is there content in a place that doesn’t make sense? What about the menu; is it easy to see? Is it obvious what links go where?

Speaking of content, how’s your writing? Everything should be clear. Long stretches of copy should be broken into paragraphs. Error messages and explanatory copy should be friendly and easy to understand. Is the tone consistent throughout? Do you have the right content for the audience?

Finally, look at functionality. Obviously, you want to make sure you have the right functionality. But also, does it work? That may sound like a silly question, but you may be surprised how many systems simply don’t work the way they’re supposed to! When you click a button, does the right thing happen? Does the system tell you that it happened? Was it fast enough, or did you have time to go grab coffee while you waited for the next screen to load?

For each category, make a list of all the things that look out of place, or that you found frustrating. (Hint: If this sounds like a heuristic review, that’s because it basically is, in an informal sense.)

Quick hits and longer-term fixes

After you have a thorough list of what’s wrong, you can start to lay out how to fix it. You may be surprised to find that some issues have pretty easy fixes! And having the initial list of problems will help highlight that low-hanging fruit. If you have a development team at the ready, you can even turn those quick fixes into user stories that can get worked on right away.

Then you can focus on the larger issues. Things like task flows that don’t… flow. Navigation that is too hard to figure out. Functional elements that simply don’t work right, or even features that are needed but totally missing. Those items will likely require larger initiatives to correct.

The difference is that with this assessment in hand, you’ll be much better positioned to implement targeted improvements that really address the problems your users are having. That means your next round of enhancements, or even your next total overhaul, has a much higher likelihood of success!

Before making large changes to a system, I do always recommend involving a UX professional, who can help by bringing a fresh perspective and years of experience and knowledge to pinpoint issues and recommend the improvements to fix them. But as a first step, this assessment is something you can do internally. It will help you get grounded in what’s really going on – so you can target the improvements you need to support your users.

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