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12 November 2019

How to Perform a Successful User Experience Audit?

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Andrew Terehin
Managing Director / Partner
How to Perform a Successful User Experience Audit?

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What is a UX audit? What kinds of audit are there?

Let’s start with the terminology, shall we? I’ll try to explain the concept in plain language, without quoting boring articles from UX journals.

User Experience audit is a process that allows you to perform an expert analysis of your digital product—be it a website, mobile, or desktop app— depending on how the user interacts with your app. A proper UX audit helps in several areas:

  • Detecting a product’s bottlenecks.
  • Looking at the product with the new eyes.
  • Defining opportunities and improvements.
  • Building a product strategy.

Often, when a team works too long on a product, they start losing sight of the details; their attention is distracted. That’s where the external UX experts step in: to review the work and find blind spots.

This works the same as a financial audit: even though you think everything’s well, you’ll sleep better after a double-check.

Anyway, why should you believe me? How can this service help your business? Hold tight and read on. I’ll tell you how UX audit can affect your business ROI and other important metrics.

How Can UX Audit Be Helpful for My Product or Business?

First, an audit rests upon expert opinions of UX specialists, researchers, and designers as well as the data on your users.

Second, according to Andrew Kucheriavy, Founder and CEO of Intechnic, “every dollar invested in UX brings 100 dollars in return”.

UX audit as a service

Source: Forbes Technology Council

Just imagine, sounds like a fairy tale: You invest one dollar and get one hundred dollars in return. But we won’t believe ambitious statements until we prove it ourselves. Let’s continue.

User experience is a process of user interaction with your website, app, or device. The simpler and more intuitive this process is, the more satisfied your customer will be.

UX design is a field that improves this process and simplifies complexity. As a result, your business will spend less money on client acquisition and client retention, and your customers will be more loyal to your product.

I like the solid and detailed research of McKinsey in "The Business Value Of Design" which expands on the points already mentioned. 

The main point of McKinsey’s report is impressive: companies who invest in their product design, design processes, and design teams, perform better than those who don’t.

The research is based on real metrics: the company revenue, ROI, and total shareholder return (TSR) have grown after the improvement of design processes.

how design helps business

Source: McKinsey

I hope no doubts left that UX design is crucial for your company, and investments in design will multiply your profits. Let’s move forward to the most compelling part: How to conduct UX audit, and what steps does it include?

What Phases are Involved in a UX Audit? What Does the Client Get as a Result?

There’s no strictly defined methodology or procedure when conducting a UX audit, but the main steps and stages are similar. The exact approach you choose, its complexity, and the number of steps—will depend on product type, size, business goals, and user data. Based on these parameters, the audit can involve the following phases:

1. Requirements Gathering / Review UX Business Goals Document

At this stage, the team of researchers should stand in the customer’s shoes and understand the key objectives to be reached with the UX audit.

It’s critical to synchronize with the client’s team and to ask the right questions. Only then can you find a really useful solution that will have a positive impact on both business and users.

UX audits are typically conducted for existing products, which means that there’s already a team involved in the business development strategy, and product vision—they are called stakeholders. You should invite those people to the initial stakeholder interview, which can be conducted either verbally or in written form—by filling in the requirements gathering document.

Source: Unsplash

This phase of the UX audit involves three parts:

  • Preparation for the interview, inviting stakeholders, creating a list of questions.
  • Conducting interview online or verbally.
  • Analysis of the results, detecting repeating questions, documenting the answers.

As a result of the first step, we get the final document which helps us understand how stakeholders see their project from the business standpoint, which business metrics need to be improved, who their product’s users are, what are the pain points in the current product.

2. Working with Analytics

Depending on the type of audited product, various analytical tools can be used. For example, if you make a UX audit for a website or a web app, you can use Google Analytics, HotJar, or Metrica. If you need to make an audit for a native mobile app (iOS, Android), the toolset can include AppSee or Firebase.

Source: Unsplash

Before you start working with the analytics, you need to review the current metrics. First, find out whether the client has used any analytics at all.

You’ll be surprised at the number of businesses that do not work with data. They are either not gathering any, or not analyzing what they have. In these cases, you should make sure that you’ve set conversion goals in analytics; if not, you have to set them.

In some cases, clients have extra data available, such as heatmaps, scroll maps, visitor recordings, funnel analytics, form analytics—these can be extremely useful.

As a result of working with analytics, we can ascertain:

  • Pages or screens with the highest conversion rate.
  • Pages with a lot of traffic but a high bounce rate.
  • The most popular landing pages. That’s the pages where a user starts interacting with your website. You should focus on whether they are useful, logical, and intuitive enough for the user to work with your website or app. Undoubtedly, relevant content also plays a huge role—the user is always looking for such content.
  • Weak points in the customer journey; working with analytics at this stage, will help you to build CJM in the future.
  • Strong points in the customer journey that we should focus on.

3. User Research Phase — Defining User Personas, Their Goals, and Pain Points on the Way to Completing the Goals.

This phase is obviously my favorite one. In order to study product users, we conduct workshops with a mixed team of UX experts and product stakeholders. As a rule, we invite the UX professionals from our side (a business analyst, a designer, a workshop facilitator, etc.) and the stakeholders from the client’s side.

user research in agente

Source: Agente

The client's team can include product owners, developers, project or product managers, sometimes even business owners or top management.

Usually, the user research phase is used in the projects that are being developed, in order to clearly portray the user for whom the product is yet to be created.

In the case of the UX audit, this phase is useful when studying existing users and their behavior. It helps you to visualize user needs, search for new opportunities, and find places where the interaction with the product can be further improved. In other words, it helps to refresh the memory of our typical user, what we know about him, and why and how he uses our product.

While conducting UX workshop, we have several internal activities, such as:

3.1 Proto Persona Forming.

This is a basic exercise that helps us understand who our users are, the goals they have, and how they solve them. In order to carry out this activity, you need to stock up on a large number of post-it notes, preferably of multiple colors, some highlighters, clean sheets of A4 paper, and some large surfaces (such as a whiteboard or even a wall) where all this can be glued.

Identification and segmentation. First, participants define all possible people who might use the system and group similar personas together.

Demographics and the environment. Then, we assign demographical attributes to each of the groups, defining their age, gender, location, education, hobbies, etc.

Goals of using the product and the problems solved with it. Here, we define the typical goals for each of the groups and the reasons they use this product or service.

Creating proto-persona cards. In order to consolidate the information in the tangible profiles, we create the proto-persona cards where we generalize the main characteristics of each persona.

user persona example

Source: Agente

3.2 User Scenario Mapping.

After we are done with the portraits of our users, we need to understand how they solve their tasks with the help of your product. The best way to do that is with story mapping.

As a rule, we use this exercise for defining potential user actions, e.g., the ideal scenario of interaction with new features or a new product. In a UX audit, this method describes how the existing user interacts with the product.

The process can be split into several steps:

  • The workshop participants create a persona and the main task that is to be solved.
  • Then, we define the main steps of the persona. It’s important to focus on what they are doing rather than on how they do it.
  • Under each of the steps, the participants place post-it notes with their commentaries, questions, and ideas. It’s better to use a separate color for each of the commentaries.

user story mapping example

Source: Agente

The result of this activity is a structured list of questions, suggestions, and ideas. We can use it in the future to improve some screens or sections of a website or a mobile app if it already exists. If the scenario mapping takes place before the product is released, this exercise helps us to understand the information map or app’s structure, user flow, and UI screens at the top level.

3.3 Customer Journey Mapping.

This process is very similar to the user scenario mapping, but it allows experts to study the user journey to the goal (or several goals) in more detail. CJMs help to visualize user interaction with your product by showing the emotions—positive or negative—the user has experienced along the way.

In the course of the CJM workshop, participants create a customer journey map by documenting the current user interaction with your product.

customer journey mapping example

Source: Agente

The customer journey map consists of three main zones:

Zone A - assigning the persona, its goals, and the scenario that the persona follows

Zone B - interaction zone, where we define the main steps within the scenario, emotions that the persona feels, as well as thoughts, feelings, pain points, likes, and dislikes.

Zone C - ideas and insights zone, where we bring together all the ideas and suggestions that help us improve user interaction with our product.

The maps can be very simple or very complicated. The latter includes various environments where the user interacts with the product. The level of complexity and details, as well as the length of the user journey,  can be managed.

Source: Rail Europe

As a result of the CJM workshop, we get a list of ideas and insights on UX improvements. We can use these outcomes as an action plan for the design and development teams.

4. Design and Usability.

In this phase, the main goal is to analyze the visual interface and understand whether it is easy to use. The result can be achieved in several ways:

  • Usability testing can be done in two ways. You can either run the moderated lab-based research with real users involved, or you can conduct a remote moderated testing via specific platforms, such as UserZoom or UserTesting.
  • The expert design review with the heuristics evaluation method, using ten usability heuristics by Nielsen Norman Group.

5. Making UX Audit Report.

In this phase, an auditor analyzes the results of the previous activities and comes up with solutions for improvement. Then an auditor compiles a multi-page report with descriptions of all the phases and their outcomes. Each section of the report is followed by an exhaustive list of recommendations.

ux audit report

Source: Unsplash

There’s no strictly prescribed format for the UX audit report, for the simple reason that its size and its structure depends on the complexity of the project, its size, and the activities that have been completed during the audit.

How much does the UX audit cost? How long does it last?

The cost and duration of UX audits can significantly differ. An audit can take from several weeks to several months, depending on the range of parameters, such as:

  • The size and type of the company and its expertise.
  • The complexity of the project and the level of detail.
  • The applied methods of research.
  • The quality and complexity of the final report.

For example, you can find simple UX audit offers on the market that contain only the analysis of visual UI and usability. Yet, the audit can be complex and detailed, with the high-profile lab-based user testing and technical improvement recommendations. The cost may vary from $5,000 to $100,000.

What tools can be used for the UX audit?

  1. At the stakeholders’ interview phase, we use Google Spreadsheets or Google Forms, as well as Zoom and Meet for videocalls and office productivity suites.
  2. Working with analytics, we use Google Analytics, HotJar, or Yandex.Metrica.
  3. At the user research phase, we use post-it notes, highlighters, and whiteboards. However, when there’s no opportunity to meet face to face, we use online tools for collaboration, such as Miro or MakeMyPersona.
  4. At the usability research phase, we work with the app in its environment—web or mobile—and write down our ideas and commentaries in Google Docs.
  5. The final report is created as a simple document in a text editor. Then it is converted into a well-structured branded report in Illustrator or InDesign.

Final word

Without a doubt, a real UX Audit will dive even deeper than described here. Hopefully, this outline of the common phases and activities will help you get a glimpse of what companies offer under the “UX audit as a service” label.

Any questions left? Drop me a line to see how Agente can help your product to improve conversions and work at peak performance.

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