Sprints. Phases. Betas. Iterations… The world of web service design, once the sphere of glamorous big-bang releases, now often revolves around ongoing analysis and incremental improvement - continuously tested, launched, monitored and refined.

Here at NetConstruct we welcome this. In fact we thrive on this mentality; the realisation that websites are almost living things. That while what we do might be ‘the best’ today we can always make things better tomorrow, next week or in the next phase.

To get to the right answers in order to make things better we need to start by asking the right questions. And whilst we work with, and deal in, technology - the best place to start to get really useful answers is working directly with, and thinking about, real, everyday people that represent your audience.

Google analytics and data-mining from web-logs can tell you ‘where’ people seem to be having digital problems, (drop-off, bounce rates, cart abandonments etc.), but only by ‘speaking’ to real people can you start to see what the problems are and, even more importantly, why they are happening.

Real users, real wants, needs and issues. A real focus on where to apply development effort and ultimately budget. As UXers we want to make the site ‘easier to use’, but for our clients this focus can mean increased sales, increased revenue, decreased overall costs or stronger brand loyalty.

At NetConstruct we believe that ‘solving human problems’ is the best way to deliver better digital success. We explain to clients the value in user research; the need to continually engage with a real audience throughout the project’s different phases. These ‘real’ users plus internal staff and NetConstruct, as your IT developers, provide true insights at all points in the process, including after launching new functions or designs. Ultimately the opportunity costs associated with building the wrong thing, (rather than building a thing wrongly), easily eclipses any initial outlays of a user-centred design approach.

However, we also appreciate that sometimes our direct client contacts need  our help to upsell the value of this sort of shift in approach to their boss. That’s why we have developed what we call our ‘Rapid User Experience, (R-UX), Review Programme’.

Our R-UX Review Program is a series of discreet, remote tasks, evaluations and opportunities that put real user issues, wants and needs at the centre of new ideas. It provides the client with a blueprint of problems, priorities and possibilities for making real and tangible improvements online. 

The program can include:

  •          Remote, video-based user testing
  •          Heat mapping analytics
  •          Scroll mapping analytics
  •          Device and platform tests
  •          Expert best practice review of you and your competitors’ sites
  •          Wireframe sketching
  •          Next-step opportunities

For each strand undertaken we detail our findings into a structured report. Thoughts, insights, and ideas are researched and annotated around screen grabs of various site pages and functions. User tests are transcribed with links to videos and all this information provides the backbone to our proposed ideas- the wireframe sketches that show how the site can be ‘better’ as well as future opportunities for development.

This program is - as its title suggests - rapid - at least for this sort of research. But there is a degree of upfront planning and organisation needed to add code, set-up and run tests, analyse results and produce proposals but the complete program - including the creation of the final wireframes - can be delivered in around 2–3 weeks.

Of course - the other route to take for a review is to focus purely on the technical implementation via a code review.

Wikipedia describes a code review as;

“… a systematic examination  of computer source code. It is intended to find mistakes overlooked in the initial development phase, improving the overall quality of software.”

We at NetConstruct use peer-based code reviews as standard during our technical development; it’s one of the crucial processes for ensuring the spread of knowledge and best practices throughout a development team. Using both ‘light’ and ‘contextual’ reviews that happen at various points during build, they act to ensure any testing through ’linting’ programmes, unit testing and other technical compliance audits done prior to deployment, pass through with the minimal of friction. And with the software we use to build client software, (CMS systems, databases, frameworks etc.), constantly changing and improving code reviews are clearly useful.

And yes, code reviews can lead to improvement; refining data transfers, easing load times etc. It can also highlight where newer releases of the base CMS could now be used for increased efficiencies. So, as a client stakeholder responsible for improving an organisations digital platforms, this can seem to be the thing to focus on. It can be implemented as a relatively simple isolated task and be shown to provide measurable improvements.

Thing is, (and I will hold my hand up as coming from a non-coding background), my experience of developers, with their skills, aptitudes, uniqueness’s and general all-round ‘smarts’, is that when looking at someone else’s code it can sometimes feel like the dealings you have with plumbers or electricians.

“Who did you have in before to do this? oooooOOOoooo no, I wouldn’t have done that like that! See there where the flange node rubs up against that repeating script trap - that’s asking for trouble is that!!! And that there, integrating the switch library with the data outlet - frankly I’m surprised it’s still working!! We could fix it but….. you’d be better off just ripping it all out!”

In this way, code reviews are often compromised through coder 'one-upmanship’ or personal preferences. And relying on a code review in isolation is never going to provide the right answers because - as we have already detailed - code reviews by their nature don’t ask the right questions to the right people.

While we work in an increasingly technological world it’s vital that we don’t forget that real people are on the other side of the monitors, tablets, smartphones and connected tech we develop for. And real people have increasingly high demands that go way beyond increased code efficiency. Simple, beautiful and rewarding experiences across any platform and device that provide solutions to real human problems should be the goal of all brands online - quite simply because that’s what customers today expect and deserve.