What kind of user experience (UX) challenges are organizations facing today, and how are UX/UI firms solving them? Dean Schuster of truematter explains.
At Progress, we know user experience is a critical part of the design of any app. It's why we work hard to build developer tools that help make it easier for you to deliver an amazing experience to your users. But how are our tools being applied in the real world?
We sat down recently with Dean Schuster, co-owner of truematter, to talk about user experiences (UX) and web app design. We wanted to find out what kind of UX challenges he was seeing in the wild, and how he was solving them.
TLDR: Here's a short video summary of the full interview with Dean:
Progress: Hi Dean, can you tell us a bit about what truematter does?
Dean: We are a UX, UI expert firm. All we do is user experience. We envision, define, design, and move through front-end for digital products and services.
Progress: And what kind of challenges do your customers experience?
Dean: When we talk to clients, the biggest things we're dealing with are complex problems with interfaces. Our clients are coming to us and they have complex data, complex interactions. They have users that have to accomplish very difficult tasks with a screen. The screen might be a wearable. It might be a mobile screen. It might be a desktop screen. Our job is to unpack the problem and figure out what the users really need, and specifically how they act in the real world and how that needs to translate into the digital space. Our job is to research and sort that out so that when we create new interfaces, we're creating them perfectly for the users who actually use them all day long every day.
Progress: What kinds of problems do they run into?
Dean: The world is full of terrible software. By that I mean software that's extremely difficult to use. It's maddening. It leads people to be inefficient. It kills their productivity. It enrages them, quite frankly. They hate to use it. We see that all the time. We see our job really as being the ultimate advocate for the users. We want their job to be less maddening. We want their job to be less horrible, less terrible. We want them to be more productive and efficient. That's why we pay very close attention to them, and everything we do is intentional that leads us down that path to create something that's just right. When something's just right, the company can receive great benefits, better productivity, more efficiency, more use, greater adoption, greater engagement by users, things of that nature that translate into real money.
Progress: What kinds of companies are they?
Dean: We are typically doing work for enterprise level clients. If we're working on, let's say, a website or an intranet, it's going to be a big one that's complex, lots of stuff going on. We've done a great deal of what we call behind the login work for companies like SCANA here in South Carolina, which is a very large utility firm, or we'll do work for a company like Regency Centers, which is a national corporate retail real estate REIT. All of these entities are doing an awful lot with copious data, particularly behind the scenes. We're helping them sort that out and make it extremely easy to use.
Progress: When you engage with companies, what's their level of understanding of the problems that they have? Are they aware just that they have a specific problem, or are they aware that they have a usability problem, or are they just looking for maybe we can improve things?
Dean: Companies come to us when they perceive there's a problem with something they've made or they're concerned that something they're about to make isn't going to go well. When they're concerned that something they made is not responding or performing as well as they want, they typically know it's probably because the interface is terrible, it's very hard to use. They get that much. They understand they've got that kind of problem. They simply don't know how to fix it. They don't know the next step to take in order to get from horrible, terrible, underperforming software, bad interface, all the way to something that performs well, is excellent, and achieves their goals. Our job is to bridge that gap. We bridge it by helping them truly understand their users very well, connecting the things their users need to the business strategy they're trying to accomplish. They're aware. They're just not sure what to do. That's where we come in.
Progress: What does “good” look like for a customer that you work with? Do you measure that in user satisfaction, or productivity, or time to complete a task? What would they typically look and say, "Wow, this really helped us because…" what happened?
Dean: When we're talking with people in a B2C or B2B engagement, we might be trying to help them increase user engagement to help drive certain goals. We do want to increase user satisfaction typically. You can measure all of those things as well. Companies perceive a lot of value there.
Companies also see a great user experience as something that is a driver to their brand value. It's a little harder to measure, but you hear a lot of people say that a brand really is an experience. We bring that down to earth by making a better user experience. When you make something wonderfully easy to use, people don't typically say, "Well, goodness gracious, that app was easy to use." They think, "That company was great." That's what they think. That's how you connect user experience to brand.
Progress: And what does it take to get that done for them?
Dean: When we create interfaces for people and are trying to solve complex business problems with pretty stern technical requirements, you can imagine we're dealing with a great deal of data display, a lot of work with graphing, and charting, and visual display of information. When we have to solve problems like that, we're first trying to understand use. How does a user engage this? What do they need to do? Secondly, we have to implement and we have to create really complex interfaces for these people and make them easy. That's hard to do. We've looked for a long time for a great tool to help that process, and we've encountered Kendo UI. When we did, we realized this is the thing that's probably going to be our best friend and help us launch other successful interface work more easily and effectively.
Progress: So how did you run into Kendo UI?
Dean: We found Kendo UI based on some things that our clients were doing or attempting to do. Specifically we had a client who was working with a geo-accurate representation of retail centers, and they needed their internal user base to be able to update this and change it. I asked them, "What are you doing this in?" They said, "Well, I'm doing this in something called Kendo UI. I'm just starting out figuring this out." I thought, "Kendo UI, interesting." They said, "Yeah, this is made by the company that makes Sitefinity." I was like, "Sitefinity? That's the CMS we're using." You start to discover: What is this tool? Let me figure this out a little bit more. We were also doing a lot of research for tools. We came across Kendo UI in both senses, just from clients using it and our own research.
Progress: And what does Kendo UI bring to the party for you?
Dean: Kendo UI is important to us because it's a foundational toolset. It helps us start the process of making things great at a higher level. We don't have to reinvent the wheel every time from an interface perspective. Imagine if we had to recreate intensely complex grids of data from the ground up every time? It's untenable. It would blow budgets away for clients. It would take too long. It might not work well. If we created something custom, our clients would have to maintain it. They'd have to deal with it in ways that are inconvenient and non-sustainable. Kendo UI gives us that foundation from which we can launch and do some really excellent work.
Progress: What kind of feedback do you hear from the actual end users? Are they aware that they have a problem?
Dean: We deal with people who have to stare at difficult interfaces all day long. Making those interfaces better is a big deal to them. At one point, we were researching this user. He's got to look at multiple screens of huge data grids, and he said, "I've got to look at these rows and rows and columns of numbers all day long and my job sucks. It's terrible." Our job is to come in and somehow make this person's life a little bit better. You can imagine if you hate your job a little less, the chances of you being better at it go up quite a bit. When we're using Kendo UI, we're saying we're going to work with this foundational platform to create something that is wonderful to use. It gives us a toolset that we can use to do that, which we really didn't have before. There are lots of different tools out there. This feels to us to be the most sophisticated and best one.
Progress: If you had to sum up your experience with Kendo UI, what would it be?
Dean: For us, Kendo UI is a foundational toolset that allows us to do what we do best. What we do best is user experience. What Kendo UI does best is create this beautiful set of tools that allows us to build experiences that are easier to use.
Progress: Thank you Dean!
John Willoughby is a product marketing manager and a software developer based in the Boston area. He is passionate about helping to give other developers better tools which is why he loves working with Kendo UI.