Partners by Design: Why UX Design Benefits from Ongoing Customer Collaboration

August 24, 2015

Do any of these experiences sound familiar? A cleverly designed shopping app in which you can’t find the Buy button. A Phone number text box where it’s unclear whether you need to type dashes, so you waste time typing it both ways to see what works. An illegible CAPTCHA standing between you and the 30 seconds you have remaining to complete your Taylor Swift concert-ticket purchase.


In our digital, mobile world, at nearly every moment, user experience (UX) matters. Google calls these micro-moments—hundreds of fragmented, in-between, in-the-now, on-the-go times when we turn to technology to research, discover, connect, share, set goals, buy stuff, and do a million other things.

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No matter what product we’re using, we expect brands to give us what we need right now. It’s in these micro-moments that UX really matters. Think about your own experiences. How many times have you checked the weather on your phone today? Checked your fantasy team on your work computer in between meetings? Posted to Instagram? Scanned Reddit?

UX design defines our experience of the micro-moment, and this can make or break a brand. Micro-moments serve to influence, entertain, and assist. But when they’re executed poorly, they can also annoy, frustrate, and perplex.

As user experience becomes synonymous with brand identity and product, brands can’t afford micro-moment misses. There’s too much disruptive competition—even for CAPTCHAs—too much social-media attention—just Google UX fail—and consumers don’t have enough tolerance to simply forgive and forget. Today, the need to continuously earn your customer’s attention and loyalty with delightful interactions continues to grow, as attention spans decrease and blind acceptance of sub-par experiences becomes unnecessary.

Benefits of Customer Collaboration

Here’s a story about customer collaboration: National Car Rental is a lauded industry leader—most recently, Travel + Leisure magazine ranked National No. 1 car rental agency in the world—thanks in large part to its commitment to customer experience, in particular their online experience. When the need arose to build a new mobile app, National turned to its customers. Throughout the development lifecycle, customers identified the app’s must-haves—for example, the ability to see exactly what cars were available before arriving at a rental location. Later, usability testing revealed the app’s must-fixes—things like making it easier for customers to locate and redeem loyalty rewards they’ve earned on their accounts. By working with its trusted customer consultants, National ensured that every feature of the app was pleasingly useful and easy to use.

So what can brands do to ensure they’re delivering the best possible digital, mobile experiences? Work with actual customers as long-term strategic partners, not anonymous one-off testers. Ongoing relationships with customers yield a continuous and ever-evolving stream of insights that should shape a brand’s identity—all the way from product design to go-to-market messaging. There are three advantages to maintaining this important partnership:

  1. Faster execution
  2. Richer learnings
  3. Easier activation

1. Faster Execution

Brands must constantly innovate their product design—not only to meet, but also to anticipate customers’ constantly changing needs. As many large companies face this reality, they’re met with a conundrum:

  1. Save money and get in the long line of internal projects waiting to use the often slow, in-house usability testing resources. OR
  2. Invest in an external usability testing vendor to get results faster.

Pre-established customer relationships eliminate this quandary. With customers always at the ready, a company’s UX team can simply tap into the wisdom of its trusted customer advisors at any time—for any size project—to test, iterate, refine, gut check, and, ultimately, perfect an experience. As a result, UX teams can synchronize their discovery and design work with agile teams’ development schedules, stay nimble, enjoy greater flexibility, and take action on findings in matter of weeks as opposed to months.

2. Richer Learnings

Traditional usability testing is a rigid, one-time, moderated experience that treats users as respondents. It’s uncommon—and often logistically complicated—to reengage with the same participants at a later date to conduct follow-up research.

However, ongoing customer partnerships enable flexible followup and the ability to conduct multi-layered research. At the beginning of a project, for example, a UX team may have a need for moderated usability tests on an app prototype to identify high-priority usability issues. Later in the project, there is an additional need to understand whether the iterated app design truly solves the usability problems that testing originally identified. A large pool of customer partners gives UX teams the flexibility to learn from either different sets of customers or the same group of customers that tested an earlier design.

In addition to these episodic usability tests, you can conduct longitudinal research simultaneously with various customer partners to examine app usage behavior and retention. Synthesizing these very different types of research provides a comprehensive understanding of user experience throughout a product’s evolution. Customers are happy to invest time in acting as brand consultants to improve the products they use. Trust elicits candid conversation, respect, and mutual investment in designing the best possible experience.

3. Easier Activation

The empathy you build through customer partnerships keeps the customers’ and users’ needs—not the company’s—at the forefront during design. It also helps design teams to work more efficiently—always toward perfecting the experience and avoiding the dreaded #UXfail. Guided by customer emotion and data, teams can cut through the noise and act with instinct and urgency to design the very best user experience possible—an experience that meets the needs users have identified. Who better to listen to?

Working with customers fills in the gaps in the customer journey that a UX team might not otherwise have considered. Teams can quickly access customers from different market segments. They can take a multi-method approach to usability testing that combines qualitative learnings with quantitative task analysis—adding depth and meaning to experience design, while keeping up with the speed of development and business. You can use an agile, user-centered development methodology that incorporates customer quotations, interactive discussions, videos, and data on the time it takes to complete a task or error rates to better understand your customers’ motivations, behaviors, and preferences—then deliver on them with confidence and ease.

From the biggest interactions—for example, mapping the most intuitive user flow—down to the smallest decisions—what color a button should be—ongoing customer partnerships enable UX teams to execute quickly, while gathering feedback in a variety of ways, both formal and informal. Trusting partnerships ensure that customers will be forthcoming with their feedback and open to letting you into their whole lives, so you can design amazing experiences that make every moment—micro or macro—delightful for them. 

Senior UX Designer at Tank Design

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Hilary BaschAs a User Experience Designer at C Space, Hilary focuses on integrating the voice of the customer into UX design and advocating for a better, user-inspired experience. She’s found that by combining her technical chops with her artistic sensibilities, she can speak the language of both the engineer and of the customer.  Read More

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