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Vitamin of the Week, Amanda S. (Talent)

Vitamin of the Week,...

Amanda S.

A Tuft’s educated Sr. UX Strategist, Amanda lives and breathes the world of UX. Her impressive resume includes work at adidas Group, Staples, iContact, and 352 Media Group.

She was nice enough to share her keen insights into the mind of the user, list her top benefits of great UX, and tips for anyone trying to improve the User Experience of their site.

What project are you working on now? What business problems are you trying to solve?

Right now I'm working on several different projects in a wide variety of areas. In the last week I've worked on a brand new mobile app for a bank, a single sign-on process for a series of e-commerce websites, and the experience of purchasing cloud-based apps.  Although each project is unique and presents its own set of challenges, a common thread right now is to see how each individual item fits into the bigger picture of the experience a user has with a company.

When making recommendations to improve a product or service, how do get management buy-in?

My strategy for getting buy-in is an extension of my work researching and understanding people. With every new project, I try to get to know and understand enough about each of the key team members to tailor my approach. Just as one interface won't work for every user, one communication style won't work for every manager or decision-maker.  For instance, I worked with one manager who made all of her decisions based on how quickly she could get results, so I broke my recommendations into immediate-term (within a week), short-term (within a month), and longer-term solutions. I then included estimates surrounding how each recommendation might impact the end user. The breakdown helped her feel at ease because there were some immediate wins and she knew the impact of those wins.

I also find that including key decision-makers into the research process as early as possible always helps final buy-in. Doing so allows them to see all the information gathered and the amount of thought that goes into creating solutions. It can help prevent them from later suggesting or requesting items that have already been investigated. Aside from being able to see the progression of data and problem-solving, there is nothing quite like seeing the grimace of a frustrated user to inspire change.

In your experience, what are the top 3 benefits of Great UX?

1. Internal process improvement . Ok, I know. UX is supposed to be focused on the end-users. And it is. But when a company thoroughly understand their users (makes roadmap decisions based on what those customers want and need) and plans, tests, and builds designs based upon those users, there is less likelihood of spending months and months designing a feature that never gets built or even longer building a feature that never gets used. A clear picture of end-users can help the product teams plan, the development teams build, and the marketing teams pitch in the most effective way.

2. Customer retention and loyalty. Besides the obvious effect — that customers will continue to use a site or product that is easy for them and provides what they need — the process of collecting and incorporating feedback is an incredible way to build relationships. I can't count the number of times that I've heard research participants gush about how happy they are that a company is taking the time to ask for their input.

3. Uncovering opportunities. If you truly understand your users’ needs, goals, and motivations, you can do more than just make your site/app/product easier to use, you can use that information to have your site/app/product make your customers' lives better. Customers aren't going to ask for the specific solution you should build — just ask Henry Ford — but they will identify their unmet needs, which are your opportunities.

When thinking about mobile, what are you most excited about?

The possibilities for new interactions. Ten years ago, most people could not have imagined paying their mortgage while sitting on a train or asking their phone to make them dinner reservations while sitting in traffic. This past weekend I watched a toddler try to make the image of a puppy on the TV larger by using swiping gestures like he does on his iPad. I can only imagine what will be possible by the time that little boy is my age.

Which skills do you admire most in a UX talent?

I am always impressed at the ability of my UX peers to present to and coordinate with a wide variety of team members. In many cases, UX researchers have to persuade several layers of disparate groups to agree to one project scope, one set of target users, one design. Our research may disprove the assumptions of various senior level leaders and our recommendations often require groups to agree to spend additional time and money. None of those tasks are easy, but the best UXer can successfully navigate all that while remaining liked and respected.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a UX professional?

Right now, I'm consulting at several different places and most of my projects are relatively small. While I love the variety of challenges, the timeline and budget of smaller projects is limited, which means I'm not able to dig in and spend as much time on the team or the users as I would like. I've found that the initial investment in time of truly understanding target customers makes every other task and decision easier, and I'd love to get back to that place in all my projects.

Lastly, what's your best tip for someone trying to improve the UX of their site?

Don't overlook the existing issues in an effort to be innovative. Everyone wants an opportunity to delight users with some as-of-yet unheard of element, but there are so many sites that could be vastly improved by embracing well-known solutions. Check basic interactions, fix bugs, and adhere to the laws of Internet Land. There are many documented best-practices and it's okay not to reinvent the filter or form-submission wheel.

We’d like to thank Amanda again for sharing her incredible knowledge base with us!

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