Engaging with our connected world has never been simpler. We do it from our workspace, favorite coffee shop, and the living room couch whenever the mood strikes us. With that simplicity, though, comes an obligation to engage in a constructive way. We live in an age where tactful communication is as evasive as it is crucial. Especially when you consider we have the capacity to connect with hundreds, thousands, even millions of people simultaneously.
This applies to corporations as much as it does to individuals. Remember, this is the same information age that has burdened us with an internet loaded with banner ads, opinions, and unwieldy ecommerce websites. Some offer valuable insights; others not so much. Most of us have heard UI/UX horror stories from friends and colleagues, if not endured these nightmares ourselves.
Maybe you were browsing for your next set of curtains only to have your on-line experience interrupted by an obnoxious pop-up window boasting some new product or service with no connection with your current search. All you want is to find and click the near-microscopic ‘x’ that will deliver you from this digital purgatory! Or how about the times you’ve been forced to call or chat with customer service, only to be put on hold as you wait for others to be served, or have your chat disrupted by computer gremlins.
As designers, developers, and product managers, we have to ask ourselves: just how well are we communicating with our customers? Are we part of the solution or part of the problem? In what ways can we use our communication skills to design better experiences for our customers?
Celeste Headlee, speaker, journalist, and author of “We Need To Talk,” offers important guidance to help us navigate these fundamental communication challenges. Through her numerous talks on the art of effective communication, including a March 2016 TedX Creative Coast conference, Celeste described 10 ways to conduct a better conversation. If you have not watched the video, I encourage you to do so. Not only do many of these principles apply to us as individuals, they can significantly enhance communication between businesses and their end users through the design and development of well-crafted websites.
These points apply neatly in a variety of situations throughout the design process. For example, crafting interview questions when conducting research, developing user personas when creating product prototypes, and even designing the experience itself, Celeste’s points strike the right chords.
Take a moment to review some of Celeste’s talking points and how we might implement them throughout the design process:
Use open-ended questions.
To better understand our end users, we need to actively engage them by asking the right questions, in the right way. For example, instead of lazily inviting a “yes/no” response with, “Are you happy with your experience on XYZ’s website,” capture their attention by asking, “What did you like/dislike about the current experience,” followed quickly with, “Why?”
This approach makes the atmosphere more like a real conversation, instead of an interrogation. When you ask them to describe their preferences, likes, dislikes, hopes, and goals, you get to know the person more completely. The more you know, the better you can understand their motivations and appreciate their concerns – all of which make persona development easier, with a more accurate result. Great personas = better case studies and prototypes. Not only that, but your effort helps you better understand the actual problem you’re trying to solve.
Don’t equate your experience with theirs.
We need to understand the end user’s experiences, not impose our own onto them. When evaluating the customer’s goals, be careful not to introduce bias into any project. Remove yourself from the equation.
Avoid repeating yourself.
On this point, Celeste says it best: “It’s condescending, and it’s really boring…we have a point to make, so we just keep rephrasing it over and over. Don’t do that.” In other words, no more repetitious pop-ups and redundant information on your website. Period.
If we’ve learned nothing else from social media over the past few years, it is the vast disparity of opinions and perspectives that exist in our society. To understand our customers’ diverse backgrounds and approaches to problems, we need to engage them and actively listen to understand the decisions they make and the goals they expect to realize. Not only will this effort produce happy clients, but it will produce positive business results.
Be brief; be sincere.
Avoid the temptation of haphazardly slapping a monologue on the homepage of your site. Steer clear of boasting an exhaustive list of why you are the best. Be empathetic with your customers’ needs. Make your point, and leave it at that. Let your work speak for itself.
When you’re able to gather meaningful user feedback, and combine that with a deep dive into the topics that matter most to them, you start to realize an exciting momentum in your project. The wealth of information will make the vision clearer, motivation for the project stronger, the created roadmap easier to lay and follow, and the capabilities needed for a project more easily identifiable.
So get out there. Communicate regularly with your customers and end users. Ignite their passions, help them reach their goals. Be a partner in their success, as it will make the internet a better place.