Using our sat nav on the way to see a client the other day, we wondered why the touchscreen seemed less responsive than normal. After some thought, we realised that it wasn’t the sat nav that had changed, instead we had become accustomed to the fast and highly responsive iPhone touch screen interface and have now come to expect everything to work like that.
User expectations are always changing
As new technology arrives in users hands, their expectations are raised. When technology evolves, they get used to new functionality and use their new found learning to form expectations. When using a new website, or one they haven’t used for a while, they bring with them their learning and expectations from other sites and expect the new site to behave in the same way. In usability testing, we regularly hear users saying that they expected the search function to make suggestions while typing, just like Google does. Or, that they expect to be able to quickly filter the products shown on a page just like they can on Asos.com.
Unfortunately for websites with smaller budgets, users will judge their experience on your website against the big players. They don’t see the level of cost or complexity involved in a new widget on facebook, and why should they? They expect your site to work in a similar way and when it doesn’t, they feel frustrated. Of course, its not always possible to accommodate user expectations but understanding that your users are constantly evolving is important.
User research is never done, it’s just a snapshot in time
Sorry if this isn’t what you wanted to hear, but usability or user experience is never done. Last year’s usability test is not likely to be valid this year. The user profiles you created two years ago are most likely out of date now. That survey you did 6 months ago, it might not be relevant anymore. With the rapid and relentless advancement of Web technology, it is just not a viable option to assume that your users are the same as they were before. Any user research or customer insight work should be seen as a snapshot in time and not a complete picture.
Like a winning football team, you can’t rely on last year’s squad to win the title this year. The bar has been raised, the competition is getting better, and the fans’ expectations are now even higher. Your website should never be 100% complete, but rather than making decisions on an ageing snapshot of user understanding, check in with your users via regular interactions on a more frequent basis to remain in touch with evolving user needs to stay ahead of the game.
How have your user’s needs and expectations changed?
About Damian Rees
Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees