I recently attended the MassTLC Wireless Summit where Rich Miner, General Partner at Google Ventures, was asked about the importance of user experience. He loved answering this “softball” question. He responded that user experience is absolutely critical for mobile applications, that most successful enterprise applications have a great user experience and that it is key for the viral growth that makes SaaS applications successful. He also said that the user experience team is the most sought after support team at Google Ventures.
I also attended the recent Boston Product Management Association event where Joe Baz, CEO of Above the Fold talked about how to incorporate user experience into solution design. Above the Fold is a user experience design firm providing design and consulting services for software applications. Joe shared his approach and methodology for developing excellent software user experiences. His approach is directly applicable to SaaS and Mobile SaaS applications and this is a significant part of their work.
Joe’s methodology is an iterative approach based on strong customer interactions, an emphasis on factual data and substantial use of customer feedback. The three main steps in the process are:
These steps can and should be repeated as many times as are appropriate and this approach fits well with Agile development. The approach can work for existing or new applications.
One of the things that struck me as unique about this approach is the discipline in writing down hypotheses and in using personas. This combination of structure and emphasis on empathy with the customer drives the discipline needed to truly design an outstanding user experience.
I won’t go into the details of Joe’s approach here but I do recommend reviewing the slides from his presentation. Joe is a great speaker so if you have an opportunity to see him talk about user experience I highly recommend taking the time to see him speak.
Joe suggested some other resources on user experience including “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely and “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. I would also suggest that you download a free copy of Joe’s e-book “50 User Experience Best Practices”.
Whether you use an outside firm to help you with user experience, incorporate this type of thinking into your Agile development process or some combination of both, I believe that the emphasis on the process, tools and techniques for designing a great user experience is important for any SaaS application.
Increasingly, I see enterprise SaaS applications that have a great user experience have a significant competitive advantage over other SaaS applications. Although the actual buyer is often different from the user and the direct measurable ROI of a great user experience is hard to quantify it is clear that a great user experience is positively influencing enterprise purchase decisions. Workday is a great example of this.