I've been designing user interfaces for a long time and I've made a lot of mistakes along the way. And, unironically, I've found that the projects that have brought me the most success were backed up by a thorough understanding of the problem I was setting out to solve.
As a UX professional we have a variety of streams of customer input we can tap into...
It's all about asking the right questions at the right time. Having a firm grasp on the problem is 3/4 of the battle.
One can solve the most complex problems with a curious spirit, some basic know how, and humility.
Don't worry, the data WILL paint a picture for you. Once you have confidence that the picture is thoroughly illustrating the problem, THEN start exploring solutions.
Taking the time to understand what IS will help lead you towards what CAN BE. Only then can you start to manipulate the UI and find those small tweaks that lead to big benefits. When done correctly the result can be extremely rewarding.
Let me show you a recent example.
Recently AWeber provided it's customers with over 3000 stock photos to make it easier than ever to create a professional looking email.
After it's release, multiple promotional efforts took place:
All of the efforts have helped increase customer awareness, however feature adoption rates were still somewhat low.
Then, with a heuristic analysis, some basic research, and a small UI tweak... engagement rates nearly DOUBLED.
We are specifically focusing on the gray side bar that has the "Image Gallery" button.
Based heuristic analysis backed by usability tests conducted with customers we've found that this interface, although simplistic, was problematic.
Time and time again customers would overlook the option thinking the gray meant that it was "disabled" and not available.
Furthermore, customers who did not see any of our promotional efforts actually had no idea that we even offered this feature at all.
The new design is deceptively simple yet hits on a few key subjective points.
First, the button is blue signifying that it is an active choice.
Secondly, to better draw it out as an option we added the word "or" and added an icon into the call to action to signify "hey, this piece of UI might be slightly more important".
Lastly, you'll notice that the order of the options slightly changed. Based on usability testing and user scenarios we were able to determine the hierarchy of importance. We found that a lot of customers actually don't favor the subliminal message associated with stock photography as a whole within their message. With that in mind, it made sense to prioritize as follows... upload your own image, use a stock photo, provide an image url.
So as you see the two variations side by side, the differences are minimal in the eyes of someone who isn't paying much attention.
Even more so, the amount of development time to make the change was minimal at most.
Looping back to what I said before, we would have never known if this was impactful if we didn't have benchmark stats for comparison, an active customer feedback loop, or if we we're using metrics to continually evaluate success.
UX and IxDA for the win!