Exposure Hours Drive UX Innovation

by Jared Spool

Want to achieve a dramatic innovation in your design’s user experience? That’s easy. Just increase the hours of exposure to real users that your design team has.

In our research, we found successful design teams have each team member spend a minimum of two hours every six weeks watch real users interacting with either their design or a competitor’s design. The most successful teams have even more frequent exposure hours.

When team members watch someone use the design, several things happen. First, they gain empathy with that person — empathy that makes them sensitive to frustrations and delights the design imparts. That empathy is critical for setting design priorities, as we try to eliminate those frustrations and amplify the delights.

Second, the team picks up the culture of use. They learn the language the users use. They learn how users approach different parts of the design. They learn the goals of the users, and how the design fits into the users’ daily life.

Third, the team develops a design language to describe the differences between good and bad. Having the real experiences of real users as a common understanding breaks each team member of always referring to their own experiences. Instead of saying, “this is how I’d use it,” they can now say, “this is how Mary, who we saw last week, might use it.”

Fourth, because the exposure happens frequently over a long period of time, the team members see how their design attempts are working. It creates a feedback loop in their design process, where they learn when their design changes created the improved user experience they were seeking.

Innovation happens when you add value for the user. Teams with more exposure to how real people use their designs can more easily see opportunities for innovation. They can try new ideas to whittle away the users’ frustration and see how those ideas pan out. This makes them smarter and more informed, so they make better decisions in the long run.