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The Developer’s Gamble: a “Just Build It” Mentality and How to Avoid It

We have all heard the story before. A development shop, filled with talented developers, is building a new website or app for their client. The project’s requirements have been discussed, such as what features and functionality to build. The client requests the latest technology and look & feel that will “wow” site visitors. Unfortunately, when a developer starts building out the features & functionality first, they often neglect the design, user experience (UX), and information architecture.

Which webpage would you rather use?

One with a unique design and advanced features, but with moving navigation that’s difficult to read?

Or a webpage that is clean, straightforward, and easy to find what you need?

Users get frustrated by a site that does not prioritize information, is difficult to navigate, and has a clunky design. What are the causes and effects of a development process that doesn’t consider user experience early?

1. Cause: The Just Build It Mentality

Dev shops do not purposefully ignore the experience design. For example, a developer may have the mentality to “just build it”, thinking they know how to create a great experience when really they just know how to recognize one. Many people are able to spot what makes a website usable, functional, or eye-catching, but are not able to replicate this on their own site.Paul Scrivens blog post details the problems when developers work outside their scope of expertise. This doesn’t mean that the developer is wrong or in any way replaceable. Rather, development shops should bring on other expertise to prevent their hard work from coming crashing down when actual users come into play.

2. Cause: Confusing UX with UI

Many professionals are not aware of the difference between UX and UI, and more importantly, what a good user experience entails. Without the expertise to build a good user experience through usability testing, information architecture, UX principles, and content strategy, important considerations are left under the table. In “UX is not UI,” Erik Flowers details some of the top mistakes people make when trying to understand the difference between user experience and user interface design. Unfortunately, this mistake can not only lead to a frustrating user experience but can be detrimental to a business.

3. Cause: Web Analytics That Don’t Paint an Accurate Picture

Web analytics tell the “what” but not the “why”. What makes one page more popular than another or what makes a path to a piece of content more popular than another? In order to get answers to these questions, a UX expert would either need to interview a subset of users or use testing software such asCrazy Egg or ClickTale to monitor mouse movements and clicks. However, even if we ignore this fact, web analytics will not paint the full picture for a site with a poor design, information architecture, and content strategy:

Were people using search more often because they couldn’t find what they needed?Were people going down a certain path because that’s all they could find?Is the bounce rate actually lower than expected because users had to spend more time on the site trying to find what they wanted?

Analyzing web analytics can be a futile exercise if a site is not designed well in the first place.

4. Effect: Lose Sales or Conversions

If the site being developed relies on conversions, it is likely that users will leave and go elsewhere if it is not user-friendly. In the blink of an eye, users judge the quality of a business by its design and usability. If a business is unable to build an engaging and easy to use website, what will their product like? Does the company not care about their business enough to put thought into its web presence? This lack of conversions could be detrimental to a business’ bottom line and reputation.

5. Effect: Increase in Time Spent on Customer Service

Although every website administrator has to perform some type of customer service role, the increase in responsibility occurs when information is not easy to find on the website. Would a developer rather be spending their time coding a website or would they rather be helping answer questions via phone, email, or contact forms that should be easy to find on a website? Although it may appear that there are just a few questions here and there, unnecessary customer support does affect productivity and sucks up resources. Additionally, it is extremely frustrating for users to not be able to find what they need on a website, when such information should be clear and easy to find.

What is the solution?

So what can a development shop do to fix a project that has been built with a “Just Build It” mentality? Do they have to scrap the entire site and start all over again? Absolutely not. While ignoring User Experience during development may lead to many changes later (additional time and budget), the core code of the site can still be used. However, the front-end design and user experience must go through a facelift. In order to determine what changes should be made to the site, conduct an expert UX review accompanied by user testing. The review and testing will help you understand the pain points of your site and what you can do to improve your user experience and your business.

To prevent running into these issues repeatedly, we recommend hiring a UX expert and a front-end designer to assist the team. Our blog post “5 Reasons to do a UX review before user testing” provides details on why a UX review is helpful in increasing conversions, focusing on brand loyalty, analyzing user satisfaction, and reaching more customer markets.

About the author:

Ryan O'Connor

Ryan has helped build compelling experiences for startups and Fortune 500’s around the globe, a passion he draws from his endless curiosity of psychology, computer interaction, and company culture. A published author and mentor with an M.S. in Human Factors, Ryan is on a mission to help companies discover the balance of creating delightful digital experiences while achieving business goals.