User experience in days of COVID-19

Pandemic also changed our interaction with technology and brought a new user experience. Design studio SHERPA explains the change with that experience

As a result of COVID-19 pandemic, we started living digitally and it will gain more traction in the coming days. Such digitalization will raise the importance of user experience (UX) as our habits change with the high level use of smartphones, laptops, PCs and other gadgets. “..after the initial shock, companies accelerated their efforts to invest in digitalization of their services to have self-service solutions for their users, who now are reluctant to get hands-on, like visiting a branch or shopping for groceries. This shift in thinking paved the way for a deeper understanding of UX from a business perspective,” said Oğuz Tan, Business Development Manager at SHERPA Experience Design Studio. I had a chance to talk him and here’s what he told me.

Why UX is important, especially in days of COVID-19?

  It’s a good question, considering what we’ve been going through globally. Let’s start with a brief explanation of user experience, and then focus on why companies should take UX more serious than ever before.

 In short, UX basically focuses on the interaction between users and a system. Whether the system is a mobile app or a home appliance or an ATM, if you need users to take any action in your system and formulate a bilateral relationship between those two parties, then we must talk about UX. Today, as practitioners, we spend most of our time working on websites and mobile apps since they become the primary mediums for communication in general, but the experience between users and systems goes back to the not-so-cutting-edge systems like remote controllers or analogue control panels.

Starting from the 1990s, UX, or more broadly design, has gradually gained popularity among developers and designers as a theme and climbed up to the point where it’s considered as one of the main blocks in any company formation. Spurred by the advent of touchscreens, as digital channels become the primary way of building a relationship with customers and the main channel for services, companies started to invest in how users behave digitally and what are the pain points users are having while interacting with their products.

As for the impact of the ongoing pandemic, we quickly noticed two emerging themes having a direct impact on companies’ roadmaps.

First, after the initial shock, companies accelerated their efforts to invest in digitalization of their services to have self-service solutions for their users, who now are reluctant to get hands-on, like visiting a branch or shopping for groceries. This shift in thinking paved the way for a deeper understanding of UX from a business perspective.

Secondly, many digital products that have been built for the specific needs of their target audiences had to meet the needs of new customers, who initially had not been included in the design & development processes. This change caught product owners and companies off guard and led them to invest time and resources in exploring how these new segments use their services, which means taking a user-centric approach that prioritizes the users’ experience.

In other words, the pandemic has seemingly affected both sides of the equation fundamentally and irreversibly, underlining the importance of UX once again.

How did COVID-19 affect your business? Can you mention some specifics?

At SHERPA, luckily we had workflows and processes that allow us to work together from a distance if needed. As a remote UX team, we already had been working with clients from different time zones, and when the WFH became the necessity, we kind of welcomed it without almost changing anything in our day-to-day operations. Besides, most of the tools we use for collaboration and design are in fact cloud-based SaaS products, which granted us the flexibility to stay officeless, to be honest.

But, even though we were partially immune to the new reality, we tried to employ several tactics to keep spirits high and not lose touch with our clients. Virtual coffee rooms, weekly online gatherings become the new reality fairly easily while we ceased hosting or attending any physical meetings.

From a business perspective, some industries were hit hard by the pandemic and delayed their plans to launch new services if not had to lay off personnel. But, on the other side of the spectrum, some industries have seen upticks in their financials and had to expand their headcounts to keep up with the demand. Working with multiple clients coming from different verticals, we managed to stay afloat and helped our clients to better understand their users.

How is UX business market in Turkey? As you compare it with other markets in the region, what is the outlook of Turkey?

From a demand perspective, there are a number of factors contributing to the size of a market. For companies with digital solutions, the size of the total addressable market for their services depends on the factors including internet penetration, smartphone usage, and more broadly disposable income per household. These macro factors guide companies and entrepreneurs in building digital services. And as for UX, demand first and foremost is heavily interconnected with the technological maturity.

In Turkey, very interestingly, people, aka end-users, tend to keep their fingers on the pulse of technological advancements, which contributes to a wider range of tech adaptation that encourages companies to create better products. In some verticals, we’re working with product teams and companies that are fully aware of how vital the UX aspect in meeting user needs and expectations.

Seeing UX as an indispensable part of a product development strategy linked to the level of UX maturity. And, from experience, we know that there are stark differences between Turkey and the UK, maturity-wise. Considering UX as a complementary function is a perception we come across often in the former whereas, in the UK, companies are closer to the top of the UX maturity pyramid and see UX as a function to enable them crafting better products. That said, we’re also witnessing first-hand the paradigm shift in Turkey, companies investing in UX and becoming more user-centric as they get used to digital technologies.

I know you currently announced UX Audit, a digital assets analysis tool. How does it work?

Yes, we’ve just announced a new productized service, UX Audit, designed for digital product owners to help them work on the usability issues in their products and services. With this service, we aim to thoroughly evaluate a digital product, whether it is a website or a mobile app, to detect all usability issues in a chase of better ROI of UX investment.

To identify UX problems, we’re employing heuristic analysis methods, qualitative and quantitative data analysis techniques, and getting touch with actual users so that product owners can have what it is needed to build a frictionless experience, a report full of a backlog of issues ranked by their severity and UX recommendations.

We offer UX Audit service with three different options —Small, Medium, and Big— with contents ranging from a first impression analysis to UX roadmap so that anyone can select the one that best suits their needs.

Our studio manager, Selen, has a refreshing take on framing this new service for established teams. In her words:

“We believe that the UX Audit service can also be useful where brands have an in-house design team. For example, if a company prioritizes cost reduction, more broadly saving money, an internal team of designers, developers, product strategists, and business managers might be able to handle any UX related issues. However, their close familiarity with their product and business may result in blind spots. Also, along with the skills and technical abilities that may not be in place, any redesign or development process requires a significant investment of time and labour.

We step in at a point where we focus on providing a snapshot of the current situation with UX Audit from an external point of view. On top of that, since every big project requires considerable investments of time, effort, and money, we try to validate or disprove the ideas behind a redesign project. And usually, mere compliance with UX standards proves sufficient for solving most issues without dissecting and rebuilding a complete product.”

After all, we believe that if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Don’t you agree?

What kind of companies do need UX in Turkey? Do public institutions, such as municipalities and ministries, ask for consultancy?

If we’re talking about a system and its users, experience matters. That’s actually how we see it. Our motto, design is problem solving, is a mere reflection of this perspective too. Since UX manifests itself in understanding users and their behaviour, in theory, any company with a digital offering has to see UX as an inseparable piece of their product strategy.

Vertical wise, we’ve worked with companies across many industries, but the sole purpose of our job has never changed: bridging the gap between business goals and user needs. To do so, we almost always start with a discovery phase in our projects where our focus is on from both perspectives, business and users. Finance, banking and insurance in particular, along with e-commerce are the verticals we delved into to uncover user needs and build products. We haven’t had a chance to closely work with public bodies so far, but we see value in collaborating with them since their products reach wider audiences in most cases and generally focusing on solving real user problems and needs. As UX maturity grows in the market, we expect to see a blossoming relationship between public bodies and design studios, working on design solutions for the greater good.

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