Don’t Fill Empty Space in the User Journey

When it comes to designing the user experience, less is more for the following Austin experts.

Written by Tyler Holmes
Published on Mar. 28, 2022
Don’t Fill Empty Space in the User Journey
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“Simplification is one of the most fundamental principles of good design,” said Andrés Ospina, SVP of user centered design at City National Bank

Ospina is familiar with the complexities of designing a smooth user journey — and how convoluted it can become when solutions are added to maneuver around roadblocks instead of eliminating them.

“The designer’s role is to take negative emotions off the user’s plate by stepping into their shoes and truly empathizing with their needs; only then can a designer create meaningful and intuitive solutions,” he said.

However, like coding an interface design, the process is complicated and many questions must be answered. Does solving for a user’s direct issue in the moment seamlessly intertwine with the overall product journey? Does the product map follow a cohesive path for every different type of customer group? Are designers simply filling empty space, instead of closing the gap?

It’s crucial for designers to work from the customer’s point of view, consider their end goals and experiment with each touch point throughout the user journey.

Built In Austin caught up with Ospina and experts from CrowdStreet, Arrive Logistics and Sysco LABS to learn how their design teams have eradicated unnecessary barriers and introduced their customers to a process built on simplicity from start to finish.


 

Andrés Ospina
SVP, User Centered Design • City National Bank

 

When do you know it’s time to simplify your product’s user journey?

You know it’s time to simplify a user’s journey when users face ambiguity, complexity and confusion in their process to accomplish a task. Some key indicators you might find are that users feel blocked, take too many steps and face delays or friction trying to accomplish a goal.

To help solve those issues, our UX design group uses a user-centered design playbook and process to put our client’s experience first. We enable cross-functional product teams with tools to understand, prioritize and solve intricate, end-to-end experiences. The approach is straightforward in theory, but to simplify the truly complex, it takes qualified product leads, researchers and designers all working together to identify the priorities that live at the intersection of the client’s experience and City National’s white-glove service.

 

What process do you use to identify opportunities for simplification?

Over the last couple of years, our UX design team at City National has facilitated dozens of design sprints to create better and more intuitive experiences for our personal banking and business clients. As a result, we have established a process founded on design thinking and user-centered design principles. 

One of the things we value the most about the design thinking process is that it allows us to create spaces to learn from prototyping and rapid experimentation. For example, in 2019, we developed a prototype for a new, standalone app that would help us resolve certain pain points that our clients and bankers were experiencing in their Wealth Management onboarding journey. We shared the prototype with both types of users, and many of them said things like, “I really like the features and experience of this app, but I would prefer to use fewer apps, not more, to accomplish my goals.”

This particular experience taught us that less is more, and highlighted just how important it is to understand the context, behaviors and mental models of the users to align with their expectations and help them experience a more straightforward path in their process.

Our UX design team has facilitated dozens of design sprints to create better and more intuitive experiences for our personal banking and business clients.”


What are some common traps designers can fall into that result in an overly complicated user journey?

During the research phase, mapping the current state of a client’s experience journey can be a complex process that includes gathering, clustering and prioritizing hundreds of quantitative and qualitative data points. As a UX strategist and designer, it’s easy to let curiosity about gathering new insights and opportunities lead you into knowledge rabbit holes, or to become overwhelmed by a lot of uncertain or invalidated data. 

At City National, our product teams use divergent and convergent moments throughout the design process to co-create the future state of a user’s journey. This helps us frame the user’s needs and business insights to reveal the most valuable moments of the experience. For example, one of the tools we use often is the Experience Prioritization Matrix, where we can visualize critical areas of pain points that overlap across channels to create a simpler, consolidated solution for our clients and the colleagues who support them.

 

 

Margaret Hanken
Senior UX Designer • CrowdStreet

 

When do you know it’s time to simplify your product’s user journey?

Fortunately at CrowdStreet, we have numerous data points in both our quantitative and qualitative research that we can point to when we are both hitting or missing the mark on our customer’s expectations. While it’s often impossible to please everyone, we necessitate that our users do a lot of work to set up their accounts, due to compliance and financial requirements. As a result, we’re always looking at how we can improve user adoption and engagement but still gather the information we require to provide them the value and opportunities they desire.

 

What process do you use to identify opportunities for simplification?

We use an iterative design to streamline the inherent complexity, and while committed to the outcomes, we do not get attached to certain design solutions as they are often a moving target based on our constant research. I personally like to tell myself beforehand that a lot of this is wrong to begin with — and it will often be this way — but we are committed to providing the most clarity amongst the complexity of our service offering.

Ultimately, as with many things in tech, it’s all about the process we adapt and iterate upon. For example, as part of our required onboarding, we recently launched a Centralized Investing Accounts tool and went through many rounds of usability testing with multiple prototypes shown to stakeholders, investors and even third-party users so that we could truly get a 360-degree view of their needs. This gave us a lot of confidence that the workflow was accurate, and ensured the iterative process served its purpose in simplifying the onboarding workflow we require to provide customers with the opportunities they need to grow their investment strategy.

We need to look at what our intended goals are and push product, engineering and the business to allow us the time needed to develop — in an Agile way.”


What are some common traps designers can fall into that result in an overly complicated user journey?

Not taking the time to discuss risks and anticipate where the user journey might go as it evolves, changes and scales. It’s very common to prioritize the main user journey while negating potential edge cases or pushing them to later phases of the development strategy, when that puts enhancements at risk. It’s easy to spend too much time talking about solutions and not enough time actually designing and researching the true problem areas that overly complicate the user journey. As such, we need to look at what our intended goals are and push product, engineering and the business to allow us the time needed to develop — in an Agile way where we can learn from each release — the best product or feature possible.

 

 

Arrive Office Exterior
Arrive

 

Carl Sieber
Director of Product Design • Arrive Logistics

 

When do you know it’s time to simplify your product’s user journey?

It’s time to simplify when you’re adding something new and there isn’t an easy answer for where it should go. The original interface or underlying interaction model can no longer support what we’re asking of it. We have to weigh how that new function or step in the journey fits with our overall vision, and not be afraid to go back to the drawing board if we’re making the experience worse.

 

What process do you use to identify opportunities for simplification?

Focused, qualitative design research will quickly uncover where we’ve gone astray or could do better. Shadowing users while they work allows us to observe what’s really going on and where our current tools are falling short. When we were designing the new load tracking process at Arrive Logistics, our research found the existing process to be overwhelming.

We have a ton of information and tasks to be done, but when everyone shouts no one is heard. Along with clear opportunities for improvement, we uncovered new thinking that led us to create a proactive workflow management system that drives success — all from immersing ourselves with our users and not assuming we already had the answers.

Create a community of users for continual access to feedback and opportunities for evaluation.”


What are some common traps designers can fall into that result in an overly complicated user journey?

Trying to do too much, and not focusing on what’s important. Having a clear vision for the product and being able to defend what it is, and what it isn't, is critical to keeping your product simple and focused on creating value.  

Not thinking through incremental changes. Products naturally evolve over time, gaining new features and functions. It’s imperative that designers understand the limits of the product interface and interaction model used so the experience can scale as intended. We should never just tack something on where there’s empty space without fully understanding how the experience works. 

Not making process flow diagrams or app maps. It’s easy to get stuck in the details and not see the bigger picture of what users are going through. Accurately modeling the steps and business rules that comprise your product will expose bottlenecks and inefficiencies by making them visually apparent.

Not validating with users. Gain a clear understanding of how successful your product is based on real interactions from direct user feedback. If you can, create a community of users for continual access to feedback and opportunities for evaluation.

 

 

Caitlin Hagerty
Senior Product Designer at Sysco LABS • Sysco LABS

 

When do you know it’s time to simplify your product’s user journey?

It’s time to simplify a product’s user journey when data indicates that users are having difficulty completing tasks. User journeys can also be simplified when there is a recognized pattern of behavior that can be streamlined through automation for the customer.

 

What process do you use to identify opportunities for simplification?

At Sysco LABS, we have a highly trained team of user experience researchers who interview customers regularly. Through those interviews, our teams can identify customer pain points and simplify the user experience through design. Recently, our researchers observed customers hitting a speed bump when placing an order with out-of-stock items. Customers would have to exit their typical ordering flow to search for an alternative product to replace the out-of-stock product. In order to simplify the purchasing process, we created a “Find Similar Items” button that would allow customers to see top similar available items while staying inside their typical purchasing flow.

It’s important when designing to understand the varying behaviors of different types of customers.”


What are some common traps designers can fall into that result in an overly complicated user journey?

Not getting weigh-in from key stakeholders soon enough. To keep things from getting messy, it’s crucial to ask customers and teammates — product managers, UX research, copywriters and engineers — for feedback. Including the necessary people early in the process ensures that any pivots are easier to make prior to being too far down a design rabbit hole.

Trying to lump all customers into one journey. While this certainly varies from company to company, it’s important when designing to understand the varying behaviors of different types of customers. Often there are customer segments who have different goals or approaches to completing tasks, and trying to cater towards each one of those groups without separating their experiences can lead to an unnecessarily complicated journey for all. 

Forgetting to take a step back from a new feature. When working on any new feature, it’s easy to fall into a zoomed in focus of a specific piece of the picture in a user journey — often a failure to recognize how this integrates into the overall customer journey results in over-complication. It’s important to be mindful of the bigger picture when designing for smaller pieces within the journey.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photography provided by associated companies and Shutterstock.

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