Superior User Experience Can Democratize SaaS-Based Ad Tech

May 9, 2022

Digital advertising has gone through many stages of evolution throughout the years. However, ever since programmatic—that is, data-driven, automated, digital—ad buying has become the norm for the vast majority of all ad spending, UX design has largely been forgotten as an essential element of advertising-platform design. This is the case primarily because highly skilled, experienced traders are now operating the actual campaigns, so there is little need to create intuitive, easy-to-use platforms. If you are an agency or brand with sufficient resources to hire dedicated staff, this is completely fine. However, this means businesses that have smaller budgets often encounter severe challenges when it comes to entering into the digital-consumer activation space.

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All too often, companies develop advertising platforms without a proper focus on the user. A recognition that UX design is essentially about solving problems for human beings is critical. This seems so obvious. Nevertheless, the fundamental role of UX design often gets forgotten. As a consequence, UX design often takes a path that presents users with convoluted, even frustrating experiences.

The implications of a bad user experience can be nothing short of existential. Dominant platforms such as Facebook and Google, among others, are typically hard to use, creating a barrier to entry for small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs). A business consequence is often predatory behavior and the resultant chaos that clouds what success should look like. By enhancing the user experience, we can democratize advertising technology, or ad tech, by offering SMBs a glide path for growth.

As someone who has built a product-design department at an ad-tech company from scratch, I’ve learned three core principles that are critical to creating a dynamic, sustainable design sensibility for our industry.

Accessibility Is Paramount

By accessibility, we mean aspiring to design a friction-free user experience for all—the user-experience version of utopia. According to Donald Norman, the godfather of emotional design, “Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”

But too many designers make human beings adapt to the designs they’ve conjured, which are, all too often, based on their own personal aesthetic. It really shouldn’t take someone ten minutes to figure out how to run a dishwasher or open a door. Our goal should be products that are seamless, whose use is instantaneous and easy. UX designers must adapt to human needs.

As ad-tech companies more fully embrace subscription models in the post-cookie era, the Software as a Service (SaaS) marketplace translates to more hands on keyboards in business-to-business (B2B) companies. This typically means a more diverse multitude of users who might have very different needs. The challenge and the opportunity for UX designers lies in designing keyboard navigation and typography—all in service of superior user experiences that are not uniform. Thus, the UX designer’s ability to anticipate and meet all of the users’ relevant needs with one product design is tantamount to a formula for making your advertising platform more successful.

Efficiency Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Speed

People often conflate productivity with efficiency. Why take eight hours to design something when you can get the work done in two? Because there is value in taking your time to get the design right. If designers are truly serious about the user experience, spending the extra time pays off in the long term. A frictionless user experience could become their calling card. Being efficient while designing the right user experience requires balancing insights that you’ve gleaned directly from users as well as analytics data.

As UX designers, our job is often combining our gut instincts with just the right amount of pragmatism. This means breaking complex tasks down into simple digestible steps to help reduce the user’s mental load. You must design user experiences through your clients’ eyes.

Invest the time necessary to truly understand the users’ challenges and identify patterns that guide them in overcoming their hurdles. So much of effective UX design stems from delving deeply into user psychology. This thorough spade work prepares the ground for creating a user experience that meets users’ needs. Design a button and place it at the top of the screen where users can see it. Not because of some arbitrary choice that is based on your personal aesthetic.

Utility Plus Desirability Equals User Engagement

Utility, in and of itself, is not the be-all-and-end-all. After all, for those of us in the ad-tech business, our core purpose is to inspire, aspire, and persuade. Creating desire among our users is our overarching raison d’etre because ad-tech users are human beings, not bots. In these chaotic times, which offer so many different options, human beings engage with brands experientially. It’s not enough for a jeans brand to make good-looking pants; they must manufacture their products with respect for the planet and the ultimate wearer of their jeans. Otherwise, they’ll go elsewhere.

Desirability that is rooted in a company’s values is as critical in B2B as in B2C (business-to-consumer). We are living in a truly pivotal period of the ad-tech business and the broader world. Sustainability and purpose are words that are on everyone’s lips. I may be biased, but I think humane, ethical UX design must be a fundamental part of everyone’s mission going forward. And by the way, having a good user experience is also good business. 

VP, Design, at Ask Locala

Paris, France

Sophie DelrotSophie’s modus operandi is solving problems by creating clarity from complexity. As VP, Design, for Ask Locala, a global, Paris-based, advertising technology–platform company, she built their UX team from scratch. Over the past decade, her team has grown and evolved. Their mantra is designing for impact. Sophie has led the shaping of the Ask Locala design ethos and is committed to creating experiences that are both desirable and sustainable.  Read More

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