Selling a house is not an easy task, and neither is User Experience Design. What’s interesting though, is how similar these two activities are. No, really!
In September of this year, I was hired as Sr. UX Designer for Slice of Lime. I love it here, and Boulder is an awesome place to be! Living here though, meant relocating my family from San Antonio, TX and doing so quickly… like in a matter of three and a half weeks! We had already been considering a move so we had a good idea of what needed to be done to get our house ready to sell. What we didn’t expect though, is the amount of work that we hadn’t thought about.
The first task after deciding to move was getting organized. We made collections of things to sell, donate, pack and throw away, becoming quite surprised by amount of stuff we could easily part with. Some items were seldom used, others were duplicates, and some were just trash. Once things were sorted, it was much easier to see just what we had left to deal with. It was absolutely necessary to take this inventory before picking up the moving truck, otherwise we could have ended up with too much (or too little) room! To me, this felt a lot like the initial scoping and content audit that usually happens during the first stages of an interactive project. It’s all about knowing exactly what type of content there is and how much there is to deal with.
We also looked at things we could do to make the house more appealing to buyers. We prioritized the projects we had already decided to tackle and then looked for anything else we would be able to address over the next few weeks. Now that we had the lay of the land, it was time to get to work.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
We knew there were glaring issues like some wall cracks that needed to be patched up (pretty common in South Texas), but I started to become distracted by the things that had bugged me for a long time; a cobweb up in a tall corner of the ceiling, a chip in the paint, a sticking door. These issues were truly pretty trivial compared to the wall cracks, the missing baseboards, and the yard work that needed to be finished up, but I would still get hung up on them. Why? Well I think it has a lot to do with being too familiar with a system, and I find this to be true for UX projects as well. Clients usually have their own perspectives on what’s ‘broken’ because they are intimately familiar with their product. In reality though, those same issues may be pretty minor. Trying to address every issue within a set budget means compromising (ignoring) other areas that need the most attention. Often times, these details will disappear within the scope of a larger redesign.
The bottom-line? If it’s functional then fix it. Otherwise just come back to it and don’t let it get in the way of progress. Customers will gladly articulate what needs to be fixed during user research sessions.
Sweat the small stuff
“Wait, but you said…” Yeah, I know. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Instead, worry about small details that will delight or add to the big picture. Assuming the glaring, functional items have been addressed, there are little details that can leave a substantial positive impression. For me, this meant planting some colorful flowers in the front, doing a quick mulching around the plants in the back, and leaving our (beloved) Nest Thermostat installed on the wall. These are things that didn’t take a whole lot of time, but have resulted in a lot of great feedback. The right touch of personality in copy, greeting a user by name, hinting at hidden functionality and using well-crafted graphical elements are examples of small details that can go beyond the average experience to make a difference.
First impressions go a long way and injecting personality and taste is a nice touch. Just make sure the larger issues have been addressed.
It’s a bit strange letting people come into my home. We had a few showings in the midst of the packing process, and I must say it’s a little uncomfortable discovering that buyers had gone through our cupboards and drawers. That’s what people will do though, if given the opportunity. The same is true for UX projects; it’s easy to think people will just fall in love with a product homepage and immediately start sending in the checks, but that’s just not the case. People are nosy by nature, and they will venture into the nooks and crannies of a product, discovering all there is to see. Should that be a cause for discomfort? Not at all! If customers are going to provide feedback, it’s best to have an efficient and structured way to hear what they have to say. Prepare for opened drawers and cupboards!
Before the move we conducted a little usability study of our own; inviting our friends over for drinks and free food in exchange for packing help and mock-walkthroughs. Throughout the afternoon, our friends walked through the house while in the buyers shoes, taking note of things that stood out to them. It was great feedback and by the time everyone was done, we had a house we could take to the market confidently. This confidence is exactly what the UX process seeks to provide. It does so by allowing users to explore without feeling like they have to invest much of anything. This candid feedback may be hard to swallow, but it’s exactly the type of feedback that helps craft a great product.
There’s a point where I had to start thinking of my house not as ‘mine’ but as someone else’s. It’s wasn’t easy – especially after investing so much of my own blood, sweat and tears, but was required. It’s difficult to craft a UX strategy and help develop amazing products without considering the end user. I’ve seen this in startups especially where the ideas are fresh and creative, but there is a dissonance between the company goals and those of the end-users. Include them in the process, and do so EARLY!
Having a deep understanding of our clients, their business and their customers is the main philosophy we preach at Slice of Lime. We apply UX strategy to all that we do because it would be short-sighted to assume we have all the right answers. Even though we may love and use the products that our customers have created, we bring our own biases and tastes to the table with us. So how do we get around this? We schedule mock “house showings” with real-life customers who may or may not be familiar with the product. We let them open the drawers and cupboards in a controlled environment where their feedback is logged and can be synthesized. We let them take the reins and tell us what they think and feel.
Letting customers provide their thoughts may be uncomfortable, but to make a great product their feedback must be considered throughout the UX process. It’s a better use of time and money to fix what they feel is broken, than to obsess over sticky doors and cobwebs. The customer isn’t ALWAYS right, but if they are using the product, talk to them first.