How UXers Can Win In The “Legacy” Corporate World: A Q&A with Jakob Nielsen

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Here’s Jakob Nielsen’s take on UX in corporates that have legacy systems and attitudes. It’s taken from my recent Q&A, where I asked him questions posed by UX Professionals.

 

 

Listen to the audio segment above, or download the entire interview here. You can also explore the other parts of the series for more questions posed by UX professionals to Jakob.

 

Watch the complete Q&A with Jakob Nielsen now

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Jakob Nielsen

Watch the full Q&A to get Jakob’s take on the following topics:

  • How can usability professionals prioritise and get stakeholder buy-in for UX projects within a company?
  • How should UXers manage Lean UX?
  • What is the relevance of UX/Usability testing in today’s digital world?
  • Where is UX heading in the next 5 years?

Transcript

Lee: How useful can products be while working in large commercial branded worlds where legacy systems and antiquated processes mean we struggle to achieve basic UX principles from very mediocre products?

Sounds like somebody should be looking for a new job!

Jakob: Maybe, but I think he should look at this as an opportunity:

The worse the current product the more you have your chance to shine because the more you can actually improve it.

The worse the current product the more you have your chance to shine because the more you can actually improve it.

I mean, we started our company in 1998 and at the time being a web usability consultant was such a happy job because it was like shooting fish in a barrel. A client would come to us and I would look at their website for about an hour and I would tell them this is how you can double your business, but with little analysis it took to find terrible design problems in these websites back in the 90’s.

Today we have to do more work to find out how to help the client but I think it’s a similar situation here, if it’s a really, really bad product then you have the opportunity to find low hanging fruit. I mean you can find some things that are really bad and yet when fixed would create like vast improvements.

That doesn’t mean that the product will then become perfect or even great or maybe even good but it will go from being terrible to being reasonable and in relatively few steps because you can identify those problems.

I think turning to the question again… the two elements of this are the legacy systems and antiquated processes. And I think those should be considered differently.

Because the legacy systems they are there and that’s a big hunk of software developed over decades and that is hard to change overnight and that’s when you have to then look at sort of your opportunities, big kind of quick gains for fixing these things and then over time this could easily take another decade over time. We architect it, change some of the foundation of things and gradually grow it into a great product.

But what you could change faster I think is the way you work. And that is the antiquated processes which I agree we see in a lot of these kind of big software departments and these have been in place for decades. And they built themselves up in ways that were successful in the old times but are not successful anymore.

…what you could change faster I think is the way you work. And that is the antiquated processes which I agree we see in a lot of these kind of big software departments and these have been in place for decades.

They just need to change those processes.

Here is where I like to turn to discount usability – simple cheap usability and again try and get some quick wins – do some designs that are clearly vastly better and find specific things that you can change where you can do a few hours of usability testing and iterate the design.

Get something that is clearly vastly better and even if the processes is not something that can be changed overnight either because it would involve hundreds maybe even thousands of staff who need to be retrained and that doesn’t happen overnight either, but I think you have a little bit more of a chance of doing this faster among other things you can take not all thousands of employees in these departments. But you could take a smaller group.

And say this is the group that is working on this critical thing of where the User Experience really maybe software now really hurts us now and we can see great improvement potential. And maybe that smaller team decides to try and use a more user centred approach to design and then whey they are successful then you know that can kind of spread.

Lee: Okay, interesting so I guess you are saying don’t try and change all of it in one go but chip away at it, look at.

Jakob: I just don’t think it is realistic, the bigger it is, take the metaphor of the super tanker…if something is a really big organisation you cannot change it overnight, even if you are the boss, the very top big boss, even the President you still cannot change the organisation overnight because you cannot change how thousands of people think.

…you still cannot change the organisation overnight because you cannot change how thousands of people think.

You can’t change I mean, the education and their skill set you can’t change that overnight you can of course if you are the manager with the budget send these people out to courses and training.

It’s just one of the reasons that we in the Nielsen Norman Group have our conferences where we teach people how to do user centred design and usability guidelines. And all different aspects of User Experience.

So you can teach people and they can learn and they can change what they do, but you have to change them by kind of one person and one group at a time and it does take, it takes a while to do it for a big organisation but I would say emphasise some really big wins in the early stage of the low hanging fruit is such a great metaphor in those organisations.

Where you have it, you should go for the low hanging fruit not go for change of the entire plantation in one go.

Lee:  Sure, sure, have you got an example, perhaps even if it is anonymised of a client you have worked for where there has been some low hanging fruit perhaps in an organisation that was similar to what we see in the question here?

Jakob: You often have even simple things like registration screens or screens that can get in the way of people, getting the information. This is a more website type of example, but there is often if you have that really long survey’s you can chop them in half or even quarter size and your response rate will quadruple or number of leads.

Those are the kinds of things that are very easily measurable. And I should actually maybe add that as an additional point that if you want to try to aim for what these kind of early successes it’s great if is something that you can quantify so if it’s something like number of leads, ecommerce of course sales would be the simplest and most obvious thing. But those tend to be reasonable good, most ecommerce sites but B2B sites tend to be much worse.

And you can count the number of leads for example if it’s a financial site you can even look at things like maybe some of the sign up screens that so often have some big barrier that dramatically reduces conversion.

So, some things we can associate, this is the before number, this is the after number and if it’s really is a place with currently mediocre products, current bad design processes then doubling those business statistics is not an unrealistic outcome.

It’s a very common thing we see that going from bad design to okay design, I wouldn’t even say great design that cannot necessarily be possible when you are a legacy system because there are always constrains that make it not possible to do everything you would want to do.

You can have a great designer and they can come up with this is, how it ought to be but that cannot be built with the current system, but what can’t be built with the current system you could scale that back and remember that good design doesn’t require any kind of fancy technology or gadgets or gimmicks.

good design doesn’t require any kind of fancy technology or gadgets or gimmicks.

I mean it can be done on really a basic text only screen and they can be dramatically, they can be better or worse depending on the language used, how many buttons are there, where are the buttons, I mean all these very simple things can—if optimised for users’ needs—easily double things like conversion rates.

Lee: Fantastic, well and I guess the key thing there is you know measure it and report back the improvements and I guess we will start getting buy in in other parts of the business, over time.

Jakob: Exactly and again it will be gradual process because the first time people say that was a one shot thing and it’s not going to generalise to my part of the business.

But some people will be convinced, you will get more, the second time around you will get more design elements done, user centre design more, it will show good results and it will spread and it will take several years in a big organisation but it will spread.

Lee Duddell

Lee Duddell is the founder of WhatUsersDo.

During 20+ years of working in digital, Lee became increasingly frustrated with the amateurish way that companies were making important design decisions. Personal opinions, hunches and incomplete data were driving experience design. And not user insight.

Lee started WhatUsersDo to fix this by making user research and UX Testing business as usual.

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