Answer

How do we define user experience design requirements for mobile apps?

What is the most effective way for software development teams to define user experience requirements for mobile applications?

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The most effective way to define user experience design requirements is to start by developing an understanding of the user's experience. The best tool I know of for doing that is a customer journey map -- also called a customer experience map. One of the first things a user experience professional will tell you is that experience design is not visual design or usability alone. Your goal is to understand the experience that someone has. That experience is influenced not only by your product and how it works, but also by the user's context, environment and goals -- all of which exist independently from your product.

A journey map is sort of the process equivalent of a wireframe (a "sketch" of the user interface) -- what does the experience look and feel like from a user's point of view? What are they trying to accomplish and why? What influences their experience positively and negatively throughout the journey of doing whatever it is that they want to do, that your product is intended to help them do? Where, in the journey, can your product add value for the user?

When you build a journey map, it helps you uncover nonfunctional requirements. Users often want one particular step of the journey faster, more intuitive, less frustrating, more exciting or different in some other way. The journey map allows you to identify those aspects of the interactions with your product that should be improved. It also helps you identify additional subordinate problems that should fall within the scope of your product that you didn't initially anticipate. 

The journey map provides an outside-in view of the overall utility that your product can provide for your users. It also provides a framework for competitive analysis; instead of comparing features, which may or may not be irrelevant, it allows you to compare in terms of the difference that those features will have on the user's experience (and therefore satisfaction, delight, disgust).

Not all people are created with identical goals, nor do they value the same things in the same way.  Different people may focus on different steps of the journey as being the ones that most influence their satisfaction with the experience.  You can -- and should -- refine your journey mapping exercise to take into account that there are different users who experience the journey in different ways.  The best tool for doing that is user personas. Developing different personas, and understanding how their journeys are different gives you the ability to avoid trying to be all things to all people.

You should also identify the relative importance of users that match each persona to your product strategy. Are these the users who represent the greatest direct source of revenue? Are they the users who generate the most word of mouth for your product? The ones best (or worst) served by your competition? Your strategy for competing in the market drives the notion of importance.

When journey mapping for personas, you will identify which steps are most important to each type of user -- an input into prioritization. Within each step, you will identify the particular pain points, opportunities to improve, interactions that most need to be improved, and so on. This gives you a detailed set of inputs for prioritization -- e.g., a focus on the most important interaction within the most important step of the journey.

At the end of this exercise, you will have an informed point of view about what is most important to your users. You can now combine the importance to each type of user, and the importance of each type of user, with your corporate goals (like synergy with other product offerings), to best inform your overall product requirements.

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This was first published in February 2013

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