At Silicon Reef, our User Experience service is a vital component of our client offering. But, despite being a core facet of all our design and development work, this can be a new practice to some clients and often seems like black art to others. We thought it was time to break down UX and unearth some of the many benefits it can bring your business when developing your intranet, communications, and collaboration tools.
Essentially ‘user experience’ refers to all the aspects of an end user’s interaction with a product or service. User Experience experts cover many aspects of planning and design including interaction design (ensuring a system behaves, flows, and responds in line with user needs), visual design (making a system visually inspiring and accessible), and information architecture (structuring content and data in such a way to make it intuitively available to users).
User Experience Activities in Practice
During any Silicon Reef engagement, there is likely to be an element of UX at play, whether it be informing the creative elements of a site or tool rebrand or designing an end-to-end suite of communication tools. With intranet development, UX takes a leading role as employee engagement is an essential factor in the success of any intranet initiative. There are a number of stages that UX experts will take you through to a greater or lesser extent in any given project:
1. Understanding the user
One of the first activities we carry out is user research, which can take different forms depending on the area of focus and scope of the development.
Research will either be qualitative (uncovering the reasons why people behave in a certain way, or what they need to achieve), or quantitative (which looks to quantify the employee experience, usually around one or two metrics).
The aim is to uncover the motivations, behaviours and needs of your employees and our UX experts will often start by gathering data through observing the workforce and analysing how they perform tasks as well as carrying out surveys and looking at usage statistics. We might spend time interviewing staff and key stakeholders to understand their goals, motivations, and any challenges they might be facing with the current systems, or even run focus groups to unearth common frustrations or visions.
2. Defining the personas
If you’ve worked around UX at all it’s likely that you will have heard the term ‘user persona’. These personas are an effective way of designing systems with specific user types in mind and ensuring that the needs of these personas are prioritised at every stage of design and development.
User Personas are an articulation of archetypical system users – for example, a front-line employee, a manager, or an HR leader – whose missions represent the needs of a wider section of the workforce.
Using user research, alongside the strategy and vision of the project itself, we will define each persona and describe them in a document. This might include details such as their behaviour patterns, their goals, skills, attitudes, and background, as well as their primary missions. Often, we will use creative flair to give these personas personality and help project stakeholders, designers and developers to see them as individuals that have real needs.
User personas always help project stakeholders understand target users at a deeper level and help across the development lifecycle by building empathy, providing objective direction for decisions making, and communicating research findings in a meaningful and relatable way.
More often than not, these personas go on to be useful in other areas of the business for validating decision-making and informing the direction of future employee-facing projects.
3. Mapping the user journey
Journey maps are a common UX tool and can add value to any development or change, regardless of scale. They can vary greatly in terms of formats and can be used in many ways, but every journey map will have the same core purpose; to visualise the process your employees go through in order to accomplish a goal.
User journeys will usually articulate:
- the actor (the user or persona experiencing the journey – such as the employee),
- the scenario and expectations (the goal of the user – such as using the intranet to access and execute a training module),
- the phases of the journey (the high-level stages – such as find, select, learn, graduate, advocate),
- mindsets and emotions (the narrative of the user experience – such as the ups and downs experienced by the user across the journey)
- the opportunities (the insights that can be captured to better enhance the journey – such as identifying tracking or feedback points)
Creating journey maps establishes a basis for conversation and ultimately provides context for development and testing. The shared vision of user goals, and their journeys towards those goals, work along with personas to build a complete picture of the target solution and a place where objective decision-making can take place.
4. Validating usability
During Usability Testing we will be looking to confirm (or challenge) how easy the new intranet or system is to use with a group of users that represent our pre-defined personas.
This usually involves bringing in employees who haven’t been involved with the development and setting them missions. We observe them and – with minimal interaction or support – then analyse how easy it is for them to complete these tasks, what common issues arise, and what delights them.
It is through usability testing – often using a pilot or beta version release – that we can spot issues early, validate the journey maps, and even highlight opportunities that we might not have thought of. Usability testing can take any of three forms:
- In-person, where we carry out formal, live testing of users using an empathetic moderator to note experiences,
- Remote, where we test users’ reactions in their own environment, often revealing more accurate real-life insights, or
- Guerilla, where we test designs, pilot sites, or sketches informally on random users or colleagues, which tends to be less accurate than other methods but is usually cheaper and quicker.
Whatever approach is taken, usability testing is a valuable, iterative process that we can employ repeatedly, and it can be just as useful in validating continuous improvement change management as single-release deployments.
5. Card sorting and tree testing
Essential tools in the design of a new or improved information architecture (IA), card sorting and tree testing are methods for organising and assessing your users or employees ideas about content.
Card sorting is a technique centred around asking people to group individual labels into categories based on what makes sense to them. We can use this for creating structures for anything from products to documents, contents, and features and it is particularly useful when designing navigation.
Bad navigation can be one of the primary reasons your employees aren’t engaging with your intranet so better organisation can be very beneficial.
Tree testing provides us with a way to validate that our structures are working in practice. The ‘tree’ is the hierarchical branching structure of information, and the content is found at the end of its branches. We give test respondents missions to find information and track how long it takes them to complete the task, where there are blockers, and where common conflicts lie.
By using card sorting and tree testing in combination we can confidently develop IA structures that facilitate easy effective searches.
Whether an engagement requires targeted or end-to-end UX planning, our services can add value at any stage of the development. Meaningful, well planned and executed UX will help to define journeys through your employee intranet and systems that drive engagement, inspire productivity, and improve efficiency across your business.
Our UX services help make your digital workplace effective, engaging and productive – from intranets and communications hubs to employee training systems. Want to know more?