When making a digital product or service, you can probably sense if things are going well. But what if you’re unsure? What if you can’t shake the notion that something is wrong and can’t quite put your finger on it?

Being anxious about building sites, apps, or software is completely normal. Web development isn’t exactly famous for fidelity to scope, budget, or timelines. But what if your anxiety goes beyond functionality? What if you think you’re building something that users will absolutely hate?

Product leaders who feel this way must determine if their suspicions are on target before taking their organization any further down the wrong path with user experience (UX) or customer experience (CX).

Digital Product Triage

To be honest, your usability concerns are probably warranted. Sorry to say it, but at least you’re not alone. When it comes to user friendliness, an embarrassing number of digital products are indeed headed in the wrong direction.

But what exactly is wrong? Where are the specific areas where your site or app is going astray? To find out, you must identify and assess your products’ potential usability flaws. More important, you need practical short-term recommendations to fix the problems. You also need long-term strategic advice. Conducting an expert review will allow you to target problems and understand how to fix them, both right now and in the long run.

What is an expert review?

An expert review is an unbiased assessment of your digital product based on established UX/CX standards, the well-documented patterns of behavior and preferences people exhibit when interacting with screens. Being unbiased is really key here, so the expert review is usually conducted externally (at least outside your team, department, or division). Your resulting expert review report should include practical, immediate steps you can take as well as longer-term recommendations for user acceptance.

Why is it valuable?

Reviews like this don’t take long (1-2 days or 1-2 weeks, depending on the complexity of your product). They’re usually inexpensive, particularly when compared to the risk and cost of launching a product ill-suited for customers. They also provide essential, objective ammunition for dealing with internal stakeholder disagreements. Even if you find out your product has problems, knowing what they are and how to address them offers peace of mind. Think of the expert review as a quick, affordable gut check that includes a plan to fix any problems you encounter.

User Experience is Central

Before continuing, let’s make two points clear:

1. Expert Reviews are done by UX professionals.

These folks are well versed in the applicable standards and know how to interpret them for your unique situation and users

2. You’re not currently working with UX professionals (internally or externally).

If you were, you would not be feeling profound usability angst.

Getting an Expert Review

Getting an expert review is easy. The way you go about it depends on your situation.

Organizations with Internal UX Teams

Your company may have an established UX team, even if they are in another division or location. Find them and interview their leader. You will likely find them experienced and able to help. Ask them to assess your project. If the review goes well and their report is useful, find a way to incorporate your UX team into your long-term product road map.

Companies with a Sole UX Person

Be careful. Sole UX practitioners inside larger companies can run the gamut of experience and quality. Interview them. Ask if they have done expert reviews in the past. If so, ask about their process and review criteria. Request a sample report. Fast, clear answers indicate sound footing. Any pause, and you’re likely not on terra firma. Lone UX experts may be excellent, but they will certainly be stretched thin. Get schedule assurances.

Again, if things go well, try to find a way to work with your UX person more consistently. Perhaps you can even lure them onto your team.

Organizations That Hire Outside Vendors

Most organizations take this route. Because expert reviews assess user experience, you need to hire a firm with true UX expertise (and experience with expert reviews).

Unfortunately, the consulting landscape can be confusing, especially since many firms touch digital products in some way and nearly all claim to offer UX services of some kind or other. Here’s a breakdown of organization types and the likelihood of whether they can help:

Can’t Help

  • Advertising Agencies – Traditional agencies do not offer credible UX services (even if they claim to). Avoid, avoid, avoid.
  • Design or Branding Firms – These firms offer brand strategy services. They are not digital product firms. They cannot help with questions about user experience.
  • Marketing Firms – Similar to ad agencies, these firms focus on positioning and market share. They don’t “do” user experience, even if they say they do.
  • SEO Firms – Search engine optimization teams help you conquer Google’s algorithms. They cannot help you conquer your UX problems.
  • Social Media Specialists – Social media is a marketing category unto itself. It has nothing to do with UX.

Might Help

  • Digital Agencies – These internet-focused firms often claim broad expertise in every possible digital offering. Their UX capabilities might be solid, but it’s rare.
  • Management Consulting Firms – Some large-scale consulting firms have recently invested in user experience. Because they focus on the enterprise, they are expensive.
  • Web Design Shops – These firms typically build templated, commodity sites in high volume. They will claim to offer UX services but almost certainly do not.

Definitively Help

  • UX Firms ­– Just check their expert review track record.

What if you have no access to UX resources?

Most organizations soldier on without user experience expertise. This a common problem, especially for development-centric firms. Don’t fall into this trap. Neglecting to get UX eyes on your site, app, or software will almost certainly will set you up for failure.

You’ll need to hire someone externally to get the job done. It can be a sole UX practitioner or a UX team. Make sure you keep the above warnings about non-expert firms in mind when going in this direction.

Of course, you can always grow UX expertise internally. In fact, if you are making digital products, you really need at least one UX professional on your team. This will take time to put into place and won’t help you assess a site or app today, but it is the correct long-term strategy.

Characteristics of the Best Reports

The best expert review reports are easy to read, use simple language, are short, and contain the following:

  • Issues List – A categorized, prioritized list of UX/UI problems.
  • Practical, Step-by-Step Guidance – Practical, visual (or code) examples of fixes for the worst problems.
  • Forward-Looking Advice – Recommendations for the coming year, if not the next several years, to help keep you going in the right direction.
  • Scope, Estimate, & Timeline – A truly useful report will tell you exactly what it will take to get your digital product back on track.

Leveraging Your Expert Review

Assessing your digital product is an important first step to reducing your digital product anxiety. But you’ll see the biggest impact of your report in how you use it internally.

Driving Change

You can use an expert review to great advantage in your organization.

  • Foster Buy-In – There’s nothing like expert advice and a clear plan to help everyone get on the same page (and stay there).
  • Adjudicate Arguments – When stakeholders can’t agree, an objective, external report often can help arbitrate. At the least, strong opinions that lack evidence can be tempered by a report driven by empirical standards.
  • Measure Success – Use the report to identify if your finished digital product has gone in the right direction.
  • Drive Internal Skill Development – Working with UX professionals may be the catalyst that gets your team to development this expertise internally – a wise move if you create and manage digital products.

Conclusion

It doesn’t matter how hard your work on your digital project or how feature-rich your app. If your users reject, you have wasted precious resources. An expert review is an efficient way to reduce risk and it could even save you from digital product disaster.

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About truematter

Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

An expert review can help you, right now. And you don’t have to hire us to do it. Knowing your users are about to be much happier is enough for us.

Author: @ExperienceDean
Editor: @baileysendsword

Graphic: @josephdmachado
Image Source: Rama