• 6 minutes
  • January 5, 2023

Increasing UX maturity in startups

Before you spend another pound on SEM, content, or brand advertising, first consider working on increasing UX maturity for your startup.

Customer Experience Has Become Your Brand

As customer engagement with your brand becomes increasingly or entirely digital, the experience of connecting with your company has become the most important marketing investment you can make.  Known as User Experience (UX), this goes far beyond visuals, following brand guidelines, or responsive design across device formats.  In fact, high-performing companies know that UX should be approached like the science it truly is, and put significant effort into constantly iterating their UX, using brand affinity and revenue as measures of efficacy and performance.  

A number of powerful tools and techniques are available to ideate and measure UX, and expertise in UX is on the rise although there is still a shortage of highly talented, proven UX thought leaders.  In fact, over 900K+ people claim to have UX expertise based on LinkedIn® profiles, but multiple creative services industry experts believe the number of highly skilled UX professionals is closer to 10K, which is a significant deficit compared to market demand.  As is the case with so many evolving facets of an increasingly digital world, there is an abundance of “conventional wisdom” and generally accepted “rules” that are often overly generic and a poor match for many businesses.  So there remains a big challenge for companies to balance wanting to make rapid progress in UX while also being careful about expensive revisions or trying things that could negatively affect their business.  

At Solace Digital, a pioneer and leader in UX for emerging brands, addressing this challenge head-on is a primary inspiration behind the formation of our agency.  We have proudly hired the top 1% of design talent in the UK, who have helped our clients deliver breakthrough UX to more than 25M users globally through applications, products, websites, and innovative content that we’ve developed.  In addition to our talented team, we have created an incredibly rigorous discovery and research process on UX projects to find the right balance of creativity, performance, simplicity, and fit for our clients.  Beyond the discovery phase, the Solace Digital team also works with clients to actively measure deployed UX to continuously iterate and improve performance.  Our team also invests heavily in continuing optimization of our processes and tools, along with continuing education.  Solace Digital’s ambition is nothing short of being recognized as among the top 1% of agencies with a speciality in UX.  

Assessing UI/UX Maturity – A Roadmap to Higher Performance

A “hot” topic for Solace Digital clients and prospects is UI/UX Maturity and how to benchmark progress to ensure continuous progress, efficiency, and ultimately measurable growth and gains in brand value.  So, when we recently came across a UX Maturity Model from NN/g® Group, we were excited to endorse their approach and share the NN/g® framework, shown below:

Three aspects of the framework especially stood out to the Solace Digital Team:

  • We fully embrace the naming of the top stage of the maturity model – “User-Driven.”  We believe user testing, and measurement of user efficiency, is critical to have breakthrough UX and we work with our clients to put as much as 75% of our UX work, during the development phase, into user testing and measurement.  Once our first full prototype is delivered, that also gets extensive user testing at the 100T level.  
  • We agree with the description of the “Integrated” stage as needing to be “universal.”  In our experience, clients that come to us with poorly performing UX often have a “beautiful” look and feel without further optimization.  High-performing UX is so much more than visual design – it should truly be “universal” in regards to how every step a user takes, even the simplest, is well designed.  
  • The categorization of UX as being “Partially Systematic” in the “Structured” stage of maturity.  To the Solace Digital team, this stood out to us for implying that effective UX automates and streamlines user workflows as much as possible, which is a critical focus of every one of our UX projects.  In fact, proactively anticipating likely user steps is critical to high-performing UX, and a significant focus of the discovery process for Solace Digital with new clients.  

More broadly, the NN/g framework underscores key principles of the Solace Digital approach to UX:

  • First, accomplishment is the ultimate driver of positive UX from a user perspective.  There is no amount of imagery, simplicity, or engagement that will compensate for users finding it takes too long to finish their intended task, or that figuring out the steps is too difficult.  The Solace Digital Team maps out the “intended accomplishments” of users, together with clients, by documenting a series of user journeys.  This takes place before any design ideation ever begins.
  • Second, understanding the context of the “intended accomplishment” comes into focus.  Will the user be mobile, at home, in transit, in many potential locations?  Will the user be multitasking?  Context of this nature is important to ensuring UX that is as simple and easy to use in the most common use case scenarios.  For example, the way to optimize UX for a one-handed mobile phone scenario can be very different to the optimal UX for usage that occurs primarily on a larger screen format such as a tablet, laptop, or desktop.  
  • Third, performance metrics are established to understand if the UX will contribute positive user sentiment towards the brand and engagement that drives revenue or other growth-related outcomes.  Planning for metrics upfront allows for integrated technical steps to be implemented for measurement of user time to complete a task, keystrokes, clicks, scrolls, and other indicators of UX efficacy.  For example, if the primary objective is to keep the user engaged for longer, often the case in retail scenarios, than the UX design would be very different than an objective of fast time to complete a task.  The underlying application needs to provide metrics, in both cases, to inform of the performance objective is being achieved, and technical steps can be taken in the design of the application to automate capture and reporting of these metrics.  
  • Fourth, planning is done for potential extensions of the application, even if they are relatively unknown up-front.  For the Solace Digital Team, this is a critical step as a well-crafted, high-performing UX that must be re-engineered for new functionality is more than wasted effort –  it’s a risk for user retention.  In fact, UX overhaul is one of the largest dissatisfiers for otherwise satisfied customers and often the second largest trigger for switching after price increases.  The Solace Digital Team, together with the client, will simulate application extension in any UX ideation to ensure extensibility.  
  • Fifth, parallel UX ideation is done for prospective customers as well as subscribed, returning, or affinity program users.  Solace Digital believes this is a critical step to avoid a scenario where the benefits of great UX are not exposed to a prospect, which increases the sales and marketing cost required to explain the UX benefits to a user who cannot “see for themselves.”  One of the most important UX principles is that great UX should always be apparent from the first moment of engagement – it should invite participation.  

Example Planning Framework for UI/UX

For example, here are two hypothetical clients and how their UX situations and needs can be very different.  For the Solace Digital Team, equal rigor, time, and up-front planning are required in both scenarios.

Pre-Series A FinTech Starting with a Trading Application Publicly-traded retailer with an e-commerce website
Primary application performance objective Users make at least 3 trades per week Affinity customers spend at least 100 GBP monthly
Primary UX objective 3 clicks to make a trade Spend at 5:00+ per session at least 1*weekly
UX usage context Smart mobile phone Smart mobile phone, tablet, and laptop have equal usage
UX potential extensions Adding additional markets for trading Creating sub-branded micro-sites for popup brands, special sales
NN/g® Maturity Model Designation Limited Integrated

For the Solace Digital team, the UX up-front investment in planning, research, ideation, and simulated use cases ultimately makes the biggest difference in the development of high-performing UX for each of these hypothetical clients.  The “maturity stage” is helpful to understand the progress the client has made so far, but neither status allows for less rigor.  Ultimately, the NN/g framework reinforces a core conviction for the Solace Digital Team – creating high-performing UX is a sophisticated, complex, multi-step process that requires expertise, rigor, real user feedback, and vision.  

We also agree with the NN/g framework maturity approach, emphasizing that achieving breakthrough UX is a continuous journey.  In fact, one of the scenarios we often see from new clients is a poorly performing “first UX” that was crafted with all of the right intentions and significant effort.  In these cases, we reinforce that the client has gained valuable insight so starting over is not entirely inefficient, and that future iterations will always be necessary to keep the UX at a “breakthrough” level.  Even for our clients who are at the NN/g “User-Driven” level of maturity, we are clear that they should still invest in research and discovery on UX to maintain the advantage they’ve created.  

Whatever the stage of UX maturity and on any time horizon, few marketing investments will have a higher ROI than breakthrough UX.  Once a proven, high-performing UX is in place, other marketing investments are likely to have a much higher return.  

 

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