Key points (aka Tl; Dr)
- Every UX problem’s different and the golden rule’s that there are no golden rules. Great design is a result of many factors — and unfortunately only a few are within designers’ control.
- Design works best when the approach is iterative. I use five distinct parts to guide me through the process: Identifying usability problems > Objectives & hypotheses > Method > Usability testing > Findings.
- I focus on what areas i should test, discover why the design causes issues, and finally how I can solve those problems.
According to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report and Ranking 2017 Singapore has been announced the most talented startup ecosystem in the world and I have a privilege to work at one of them. Currently, I’m working as a Product Designer in 99.co — the fastest growing real estate technology company in Southeast Asia. I’d like to share with you my process and the challenges I’m facing in this fast-paced environment with you.
Identifying usability problems
Designers mostly use two methods to identify UX problems: analytics and usability testing. Analytics gives you hints about which screens or journeys are causing frustration. Subsequently, it allows you to identify which areas you should focus on in the next usability testing. Then the usability tests will discover why users are behaving in that way. Finally, after you learn what the problems are and why they occur, you can provide prototypes with tentative solutions for the issues.
Firstly, the product team goes through areas that have to be improved. After that, we assess the severity of the problems (I use Jacob Nielsen’s scale for it). and decide what to take up next. In this case it’s going to be the ‘list a property’ flow.
Our platform consists of two parties: the real estate agents and consumers (buyers/renters). Previous usability tests identified that consumers are frustrated by listings without pictures, incomplete descriptions and outdated information. On the other hand, agents complain that they don’t get enough enquiries from consumers. By breaking this vicious circle we can potentially increase the conversion rate.
Objectives and hypotheses
Once you have the insights from the analytics or users directly, it’s time to craft objectives and hypotheses. Objectives help you identify the concerns and goals for the test. They can be either broad ( “Can users list a property on our website?) or specific (“Will users know which inputs are required?’). Remember to keep your objective concise in order to stay on track throughout the process. Hypotheses are testable assumptions that can be answered by measuring the impact and prediction of the outcome. It’s an important step, but is often overlooked by designers.
I developed an objective and hypotheses which helped me to learn why the problem occurs:
- Can agents list a property the way they want to?
- If I solve the design problems, then the listings’ quality will improve.
- If I educate agents how to be ranked higher on our platform, they will get more leads.
- If agents follow our guidelines, their listings will be ranked higher.
Your objectives and hypotheses are crafted, now you need to decide how you’re going to test the users and choose the method to do it. Every problem is different and there are many tests to choose from, so narrowing your focus helps you get closer to the result you’re looking for. Considering time constraints, the most common tests in the startup environment are:
- quantitative surveys
- face-to-face meetings (from the guerrilla method to 60/90 mins sessions)
- eye tracking
- A/B tests.
I decide to gain qualitative insights and meet face-to-face with agents. It’s the most effective way of understanding what works and what doesn’t. I ask our support and sales team to schedule appointments with 5 participants that are eager to help us out.
This kind of usability testing has many advantages. It can be conducted at any stage of the design process, it provides rich data and you can see the users’ real reactions. Moreover, Five participants can help you detect 85% of the usability problems. In order to observe users you need to give them something to do — these assignments are frequently referred to as tasks. They’re written in the form of scenarios and should match the objectives and hypotheses of the study. The scenarios can range from general to specific tasks, which come in the form of two main types:
Exploratory tasks: They’re open-ended and answer broad research-oriented goals. If you want to focus on qualitative testing and learn how people discover information on your product, then open-ended tasks might be the right choice.
Specific tasks: Specific tasks and questions are more focused and usually have a correct answer. They’re used for both qualitative as well as quantitative testing.
Before I meet users I come up with goal-oriented scenarios. In this particular case I test the old design and competitors’ websites (Don’t panic if you don’t have a prototype — you can always test the old flow, or competitors’ design). The current ‘list a property’ flow consists of 4 steps:
- Page 1: Address
- Page 2: Basic info
- Page 3: Details
- Page 4: Photos
One of my goals is to provide agents with a tangible proof that if they enhance their quality of listings, they will get more business. When the agent clicks on the ‘list property’ button in the navigation, he sees a message about the data which is most relevant and helpful to consumers.
Address / Basic information page
The new ‘basic information’ step consists of the address and listing type option.
- Agents are informed that higher response rates to consumers’ enquiries leads to higher rankings on our platforms.
- The radial progress chart tracks progress on completion of the fields.
- This button leads to the same popup message that is displayed after clicking on the ‘List property’ button (The only difference is that I removed the ‘Don’t show this message again’ option).
- The section contains contact details. In most cases if users can’t find what they’re looking for on a website, they’ll leave. However, I include it because it gives users the comfort that there’s someone on the other side who’s eager to help them.
- The ‘Save draft’ button was one of the most frequent requests. The reason being, some agents don’t have all the information at once and they’d like to get back to the draft later.
- Consumers claim that a lot of descriptions are low quality. I decide to create a template for the agents what should be covered in the description.
- Based on users’ requests I add the character limitation.
- Although Singapore’s first language’s English, 75% of the resident population is Chinese. Many of them prefer to communicate in Mandarin. We offer agents to translate descriptions to Mandarin. In exchange it helps us to boost our SEO optimisation, so it’s a win-win.
- Creating user-friendly forms can be a separate article of its own. A rule of thumb is that less user effort leads to higher conversion. Previously we used left align labels. According to Luke Wroblewski’s research it‘s the slowest way to complete the form. Instead, I use labels within the form field. This approach has pros and cons, but it seems to be the best choice when the form has a lot of inputs.
2. The floor and unit numbers are optional. Agents don’t like to provide such details about apartments because the real estate market is competitive in Singapore. If they publish them, other agents might reach out to the seller.
- Agents suggested a few new features that are missing: Medium floor, change a label from ‘Utility room’ to ‘Utility/Store room’ (Utility and store are used interchangeable and consumers often seem to be confused). Finally, we want to promote a new feature called ‘All races welcome’. The owners of private residential properties routinely exclude individuals based on ethnicity. By adding this option, we aim to save consumers time and avoid unnecessary unpleasantness.
Photos / Media:
- A picture is worth a thousand words — it’s a cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Many of listings don’t have pictures, and obviously it affects the conversion rate. Agents who don’t have the interior design pictures at least can include a building’s images that we have in our database.
- Some of the agents have videos of apartments but they weren’t able to upload them to our platform. Additionally, users who purchase a premium account can request a professional video record.
- Summary is a new step, it calculates overall listing’s quality score and encourages agents to enhance this rate.
- Now agents can preview a listing before publishing it.
Remember that design is an iterative process and problems you (think you) fixed should be tested again to ensure that the “fixes” really solved the problems. Additionally, you want to learn about any new usability problems introduced by the changed design. The next face-to-face usability testing should be conducted with 5 participants, and enable you to calculate the overall usability improvement. Nonetheless, it sometimes doesn’t work in a fast-growing company and you need to find other ways to collect data.