The pace of technology is constantly introducing new ways for us to use the applications that make our lives easier — whether we use those apps to connect with people or run our businesses.
New features, capabilities, and connectivity empower users to do more, but they come at a cost — changing the user experience (UX) of your application.
That cost is more than just your monetary expenses or time; it’s the experience that your users have when they use your product or service. It’s the value they perceive from what you provide, how efficiently they can use the technology, and how likely they are to remain a customer.
Think about it like this: whether your application is used internally by your employees, or externally by clients, there’s a group of highly experienced users who know the interface of that application inside and out. They use it efficiently and effectively, and even if the UX design is in dire need of an update, they won’t care because it already meets their needs.
Unfortunately, you must also consider the fact that younger users are used to simple, streamlined experiences, mainly because of the proliferation of mobile devices. Whether internally or externally, you need to cater to those users as they start to consume your services or join your team.
All of this begs the question: how do you update the UX design of your application so that new users enjoy the experience without alienating your more experienced user base?
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to make a bunch of drastic changes all at once. You can guarantee that such an abrupt shift will scare your users and result in some negative backlash. Small, incremental changes will result in a better reaction, and will also give you the opportunity to iterate and test what actually works.
Start by creating some mockups with small changes that add value to the application; the changes should make the app easier to use and allow the user to produce results more quickly. Then review those mockups with a small set of key clients/users and gauge their reactions. They won’t like everything, but that’s okay; just be sure that they aren’t shocked or feel blind-sided by the changes.
Growing pains are inevitable — the point is to minimize that pain as much as possible.
Extend Existing Design Elements
If you’re considering an update to your application’s UX, you have a piece of software that has successfully done its job for a considerable amount of time. It works, and your current user base is satisfied with the experience.
That means there are a number of existing elements in your application that can be extended or built upon to improve the experience. Rather than introduce new functionality and features outright, try leveraging the tools that are already there. This could potentially save you time and money, and will make it easier for your experienced users to accept the changes.
Changes to the application should feel natural and match the behavior and needs of your users. Maria Ioveva, the Product Design Manager at Instagram, explains this concept further in this article.
Focus on Usability, Not Looks
There’s no doubt that visual design plays an important role in a satisfying user experience. But UX design is about much more than looks. In fact, aesthetics should take a back seat to functionality and usability when it comes to UX.
You certainly don’t want your application to be ugly, but it also doesn’t have to be the most eye-catching product on the market. The key is to be sure that the changes you make help your users produce results more quickly and provide a more intuitive and natural flow through the application.
Also keep in mind that a significant overhaul to the visuals can upset your current users just as much as an architectural or structural shift. Change the graphics too drastically and users won’t know where to find the tools they’re so used to leveraging, even if they’re in the same exact place.
Exceptional visuals can elevate UX to an even higher level, but they shouldn’t be your first consideration.
Test and Iterate
Earlier we covered the importance of reviewing early mockups with your users, but a mockup is no substitute for a live test of the actual application. Nothing is a better indication of how your changes are received than watching your users interact with them.
This also gives you the opportunity to distinguish between what your users want and what they actually use. That’s an incredibly important distinction, because when changing UX your users will think of all kinds of fancy new capabilities they want.
It’s in these moments that you should remember the Diderot Effect, or our common tendency to upgrade and build upon rather than simplify and eliminate. An update to UX doesn’t mean you have to add a bunch of new features – in fact, it’s more important to enhance what’s already there, because you know that’s what your users are leveraging.
In addition, if you’re constantly moving the finish line, you’ll never reach it.
By testing with small focus groups and observing how they use the software, you’ll find out what they use and can prioritize those features over others. You can also quickly identify gaps or areas for improvement based on these observations, empowering you to iterate and get that much closer to the perfect product.
Never Stop Improving
Balancing improvement with meeting expectations is a fine line, and one that you shouldn’t take lightly. That’s especially true when dealing with competing expectations that contradict one another. Change is difficult, but there are steps you can take to alleviate the burden and make it a more seamless process for everyone.
As we’ve reviewed, you can modernize your UX design without alienating existing users by…
- Making small, incremental changes and reviewing them with users as you go.
- Extending existing elements of the application so that the changes feel more natural and intuitive.
- Focus on improving usability over changing aesthetics.
- Have users test your changes and iterate based on your observations.
Some level of disruption is inevitable when changing your UX design, but the steps above will help you minimize that disruption while bringing more value to users both new and old.
If you come across any challenges when modernizing your UX, please don’t hesitate to ask an expert. It can be intimidating and costly for business owners to undergo UX upgrades without the advice of a consultant or prospective feedback from an expert in the field.