Article
June 3, 2021

UX Design Audit: What It Is and How It Can Help Your Product

Steffie Jessica

Many people are familiar with the term UX Design, but they seem to raise an eyebrow when they hear the term “UX Design Audit”.

The term ‘audit’ is often used in financial lingo. Audit usually is an inspection of financial records, to make sure that these records are a fair and accurate representation of the transactions they claim to represent. In other words, an Audit is an examination to make sure that the information that is displayed conveys the right message to those who consume it.

So…what is ‘design audit’?

It is an inspection performed on your product to analyze and find out whether it is performing in the desired way and how your product can be improved to achieve your goals or measurable KPIs.

“But I already have a dedicated design team working on my product, shouldn’t my product be performing well even without an audit? Shouldn’t the designers know what’s wrong if anything doesn’t do as well as expected?”

The answer is: not necessarily. The designers in your team require some dedicated time to run this audit every once in a while to make sure the product runs smoothly.

Every digital product is unique. Although we might access millions of them with a single click, each of them is built differently. Many different components are put together to serve a specific purpose on each and every screen or flow of your product. And everything is supposed to work seamlessly when it’s all put together. However, when the purpose behind putting together a specific interface or experience is not met, finding out which elements contribute to the inadequate performance of a product is meticulous work that requires time and expertise.

Why do You Need a Design Audit

  • To Escape the Tunnel Vision
    Designers are designing and constantly looking at the app interface for about 8 hours every day. Over a couple of days of working on the app, they get familiarized with the product completely. However, we can’t assume the same level of familiarity and usability from the users. Which is why it becomes important to have multi-vision and have a fresh set of eyes examine the product and it’s usability.
  • Taste the Food You’ve Cooked Before You Serve it to Others
    Just like how we make sure the taste of what we’ve cooked is edible and enjoyable for everyone, we should also make sure, before launch, that our product is easy to use and delivers value for all new users that would be onboarded to it.
  • Every Individual Might Like a Different Part of the Dish You’ve Put Together
    Some may love the icing, some may love the moist sponginess of the cake, some may like to dig deep into the center, and others may bite away on the crust. Similarly, we need to make sure that every small part of your product is usable, and at the same time has a pleasant experience as a whole.
  • Design is Iterative
    As much as we value designers and their work, we know that there will always be room for improvement in the designs. As our external environment continues to change and evolve, there will always be a necessity to adapt and improve. (Remember how we all were forced to learn about this the hard way this last year?)

What a Design Audit can do for your product’s well-being

  • Help you see your product from a different perspective
  • Detect usability flaws before developing the product any further
  • Fix existing issues in your product like sign up flows, drop-offs during check out, low user engagement, low user retention, etc.
  • Help you keep your product development process cost effective by identifying issues early on in the design process.
  • Establish a product roadmap that aligns with your business goals

How would you perform a UX design audit?

There are various ways and techniques to perform an audit. How do we choose the most suitable method to be done in a limited time frame? It all depends on your end goal and priority. Since every method has its own advantages and disadvantages, we need to choose carefully which method can accommodate the most answers you might be looking for. We’re saying ‘the most’ because there is no such method that would cover every answer you are looking for with limited resources. So buckle up, prioritize, and weigh in on these methods.

1. Overall Audit

A. Heuristic Evaluation

If you are looking for a thorough, overall view of your product, you can perform a heuristic evaluation. It is a general rule of thumb to run a heurestic evaluation in order to check on your product’s performance. It is usually carried out by people with expertise in usability. However, it is important to communicate here that the evaluation might not be too specific for each flow inside of your product.

When should you conduct a heuristic evaluation:
Heuristic evaluation can be performed whenever you want to improve the overall usability of your product. A heuristic evaluation is best performed on live products or a developed prototype because it emulates the real journey that a user will go through. Performing a heuristic evaluation on static UI screens can also be done with some limitations, but we need to make sure that we have a complete flow of all the screens in the particular user scenario that needs to be tested.

Heuristic Evaluation for Pegadaian
B. Data Analytics

Data analytics is a fancy word that might sound quite scary and unfamiliar for some designers. However, it is a good starting point to determine which problem is the most urgent one that needs to be solved as soon as possible. For example, if data shows there is a significant drop off rate on the checkout page of an e-commerce website, then we can decide to perform a UX design audit focusing around the check out flow and pages/screens leading up to it. It is only after we figure out the “what” will we be able to dive into the “why” factor.

When should you run a data analysis
Since it is used to find the “what” factor, it is better if you can run a data analysis at the start of any redesign exercise (whether that’s a redesign of one feature, multiple features or the entire product), so that the analysis validates our assumption that a redesign might solve a particular problem in the product. This data can be again be used at later stages to compare how the redesign helped the product’s performance after the redesign was implemented.


2. Audit for a more specific scope / flow

A. Cognitive Walkthrough

We would define a cognitive walkthrough as putting ourselves inside the shoes of a user while wearing stakeholder helmets. We go through the journey a user would typically go through in a certain flow and at the same time assess the challenges and pain points that would be a hindrance for them to complete a task easily. This will be followed by suggestions of how the flow might be optimized.

Some questions we might ask during a typical cognitive walkthrough would be:

  • Does the interface give enough visual cues for the user to know how to complete a certain task?
  • Does it communicate what the options are for achieving a certain goal?
  • Does it explain well when something goes wrong?
  • Would the user be frustrated while progressing on a certain task?
  • What can we do to increase the usability of the interface? Is there a similar or better implementation on a similar product?
Cognitive Walkthrough for HHWT Homepage. Read our dedicated study case here

Although a cognitive walkthrough is a faster and cheaper process compared to usability testing, it would be challenging to execute this method on a product that is designed for a very specific target audience with specific technical skills or a specific way of thinking (for example a b2b product designed for engineers or an enterprise dashboard designed for data analysts or doctors). In such cases, we would need to dive deeper by conducting usability tests or user interviews in order to see how a user behaves or thinks while performing certain tasks through the flow of the product.

Examples of informative walkthroughs with great visual story telling can be found on Growth Design and Built for Mars

When should you conduct a cognitive walkthrough
A Cognitive walkthrough can be performed on live apps, static UI screens or even wireframes. Cognitive walkthrough outcomes would depend on the fidelity as well. For example, if we are doing a cognitive walkthrough on wireframes, the further development of UI can’t be assessed right away. It would be better to include improvement suggestions as notes for the UI Designer based on the insights gathered on the wireframes.

B. Usability Testing

According to NN Group, Usability Testing is the practice of testing how easy a design is to use with a group of representative users. It usually involves observing users as they attempt to complete tasks and can be done for different types of designs. It is crucial to make sure that we recruit the right participants in order to see how a typical targeted user would behave with the product.

Source: NN Group

What can we observe during usability testing?
Usability can be measured in 3 perspectives, this can be specified further into the following categories:

Effectiveness
Can users complete the task easily? What do they accomplish after completing the task?
Efficiency
How much time, energy, and effort does the user have to spend in order to complete the task?
Overall Satisfaction
How do they feel when they are using the product? Do they see the value after completing the task?

Other things to be observed would include:

  • How the user would try to accomplish the task — what are her considerations and concerns?
  • What are the difficulties that she faced while completing the task?
  • Are there any assumptions that might be a hindrance in order to complete the task? if yes, what factors would influence these assumptions?

When should you conduct a usability testing?

  • Before starting the revamp/redesign process
  • After an initial design process has been done, before proceeding to the development stage
  • Before and after a redesign — this would be a useful tool to validate whether the design has solved the initial problem identified in the ‘before’ usability test
Usability Testing Session to Observe How User Interact with our Product

We strongly suggest doing usability testing with a live product or a high fidelity prototype. Usability testing with wireframes would not give the maximum outcome since wireframes and UI may differ greatly from each other and may be giving a very different message to the user, resulting in very different reactions from users. Conducting a usability test on the wireframing stage would require us to recruit extra participants as well if we plan to do it again during UI stage.

Nevertheless, any testing is better than no testing at all. If the resources and time is limited, the least we can do would be to make sure the copywriting is complete inside the wireframes by the time usability testing is conducted.

Conclusion

Usability is not just a checkbox you need to tick, it is a mindset. So ideally, the answer to ‘when is the right timing to conduct a UX audit?’ would be — Constantly. While designing any interface or user experience, a designer should always be asking “is this easy enough to be understood?” “Does it fulfill the end goal we are aiming for?”

A UX Design audit is a suitable way to make sure your product is usable and provides a great experience for your potential users before you develop and launch it. It acts like a health checkup with a doctor, you would expect everything to go smoothly, but at the same time you will be thankful if the doctor diagnoses any major or minor health issues as early on as possible.

Running a UX audit can be tricky and may seem overwhelming too, however, with a clear goal and good communication, we can perform a UX audit that can identify the pain points a user might face in the future and provide a far more superior product experience than we initially planned.

Thanks to Ritika Bhagya

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If you’re looking to build a mobile app or website, or just want to talk about design, reach out to us to have a chat.

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Tags
UX Design
Design Audit
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