By Kevin Yamazaki, founder and CEO of Sidebench.

My team has designed apps for brands such as Red Bull, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Sony Home Entertainment. We believe we've been awarded these opportunities primarily because of our commitment to crafting top-notch user experiences. The best piece of app design advice I've ever received is that ease of use should be developers' and designers' top priority. You haven't succeeded if users have to tap or click around aimlessly to find what they're looking for -- or worse, are stumped on how to reach their desired content.

Especially in industries typically thought of as "boring" -- insurance, finance and personal banking, for instance -- user-centered app development has the potential to deliver better customer experiences and get you ahead of the competition. Take TurboTax®, for example: Taxes can be tedious to file, but with a great user experience, TurboTax makes them a breeze for millions of people.

Our company uses products like Gusto for payroll and Guideline for 401(k) plans that turn normally stale, boring company functions into intuitive, manageable experiences that are more interesting as a result. Their monthly reports are beautifully designed and easy to read, and because they're user-centric, it's easier to get the most out of them.

The mission of these companies is to make a boring experience better through usability and aesthetics. They've succeeded and are making money as a result. For companies aiming for similar outcomes, consider the following:

1. Start with users' pain points. Think of your least enjoyable user experiences and the industries that are a chore to even think about. Then, play around with solutions that have a more user-centric focus. Recently, we've taken on more problems in the healthcare space and created internal systems that are easy and fun to use, even when the tasks themselves are banal. We consider ourselves creative problem solvers, so we facilitate discovery processes that involve identifying problems not only with the current client's product, but also within that entire industry.

2. Connect with users early. Talk to users about what they like and dislike, and how your app could make their life easier. Solicit feedback on prototypes early and often and, if possible, incentivize users to provide meaningful feedback. We made sure to implement this in our work with IOT Group's ROVA drone, which involved user-testing the product with internal team members first and watching them use the app in real-time, without instruction. Watching this first interaction provided an abundance of helpful feedback on how user-friendly the app was.

3. Watch and learn. In addition to asking users what they want, simply observe them. Watch your users try out your app, and take notes on the process and deficiencies within it, paying attention to body language. Are they frowning or sighing? Do they look confused? This will give you a solid idea of how they're feeling about the product -- sometimes an even better indication than what their verbal feedback tells you.

Industries that are traditionally considered dull are in the best position to benefit from user-centric design. Most people will agree that payroll, employee paperwork, health benefits and taxes are cumbersome and yawn-worthy in their current state. In these mature markets, UX is so much more important because there are no first-to-market or substantial pricing advantages.

Small, incremental UX improvements that provide a better customer experience have become the most reliable way to build a customer base, so talk to your users early and often. Know what they like, what they hate and how you can make their lives easier. The solutions you produce can transform people's preconceived notions about your industry.

Kevin Yamazaki is the founder and CEO of Sidebench.

Published on: Jun 8, 2017
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