UX Design Year in Review: What We Learned (and Confirmed) in 2022

Ward Andrews
By Ward Andrews
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We work hard every day at Drawbackwards to create meaningful experiences by helping make bad things good and good things great. It's how we've helped create billions of dollars in value for our clients and partners. We show them how to climb higher up the experience success ladder and make their customers happy with clear and innovative solutions.

But to do that, we can't lean back and rely on our decades of problem-solving experience. We have to lean in and bring fresh thinking to familiar problems. We have to adapt and learn.

Each year, as technology evolves and our clients bring us new problems, we find new ways to uncover the true value of UX maturity. We then pass that value along to our clients by applying our knowledge and expertise in new ways and by helping them grow in their own UX maturity.

That's why at our recent quarterly team meeting we took a look back to uncover what we've learned over the past year. How did we help make our clients' products more amazing? How did we deliver more meaning to their customers and users? What new solutions did we find to old problems? What new insights are we taking into the next year?

What follows is a quick rundown of our biggest UX design lessons learned (and confirmed) in 2022.

To fix complex business problems, put people first.

As the digital economy matures, product portfolios are growing exponentially. Companies face the challenge of merging homegrown products with new acquisitions to create a more complete solution for users. But this often leads to a complex user experience driven primarily by business needs and problems.

Complexity is the biggest barrier to user acquisition and retention. If people can't do the things that your products offer, they'll abandon them or not buy them in the first place. At the core of any product portfolio's success is an intuitive user experience.

We had several projects in 2022 reinforce for us the importance of getting back to basics and focusing on people first. Business leaders may grapple with how to promote and elevate different product offerings. But what users want to know is how to find what they need when they need it. If you focus on their core needs, desires, jobs and tasks, you'll solve deeper problems than which product should appear first on the marketing site.

To simplify, you need to ask hard questions. What real value does each of your products deliver to your customers and users? What are users trying to do with your apps and when and how are they trying to do that? When you know the answers to these questions, you can start combining the pieces of your product portfolio into a cohesive experience.

If you allow your business needs to drive UX decisions you end up with chaos for the end user. This often looks like confusing navigation, several apps running at the same time, and wasted technical resources.

By crafting a streamlined user experience across all your products, you can help users focus on one application at a time. You can create a framework and structure that not only fits your current portfolio but also supports your future growth.

At the end of the day, what's going to help your users is also going to help your business. An intuitive interface that gives users a logical way to navigate through your portfolio will help them not only see, but feel, the value of your solution and buy it when they're ready.

True value is driven by UX maturity

Much of our work over the years has focused on specific problems. That’s still the first thing that brings clients to us. But we’ve learned that solving one problem at a time doesn’t move the needle much on long-term business outcomes.

To do that, you need to think about your team's UX maturity. Most problems arise from a lack of it, and the most effective solutions come from it. That's why we bake UX maturity into every engagement with our clients.

How do we do this? By using the Ladder as a model to establish their current level of maturity and the roadmap to UX success. It's not enough to make your product or service functional. This encourages a whack-a-mole approach to solving one problem at a time.

For long-term success, you need to figure out how to deliver delight and meaning to your customers. The Ladder helps our clients visualize how they can exceed customer expectations and deliver more revenue. It's only possible to reach new heights if you know where you're starting and you can see a way to get to the top.

Heuristic evaluations are (still) essential diagnostic tools.

Heuristic evaluations are an oft-overlooked UX design tool, but they're proving to be among the most valuable in our toolbox. Why? Because they help us start engagements with quick feedback and recommendations to guide future work.

Many of our clients ask us for a UX audit. But these can often feel subjective, especially when clients are still getting to know us. We've found that when we anchor our insights in tangible and quantitative usability principles through a heuristic analysis, we can deliver more value to our clients right from the start.

By looking at your product or service through an objective lens, you can identify low-hanging fruit that can make a big difference. You also get a clear backlog of improvements that can guide your larger efforts to improve user experience.

For some projects, a heuristic analysis is enough to make significant improvements. For others, it’s the tip of the iceberg. Either way, it’s an essential tool in any UX strategy.

Good UX design is nothing without the back-end infrastructure to support it.

Poor coding or technical infrastructure can torpedo even the best UX designs. This isn’t a knock on the many talented developers who we work with on a daily basis. It’s an organizational flaw. Dev teams are often inundated with backlogs of quick fix requests and patches. They also are often hamstrung by poor tech tools chosen to fit the budget more than the needs of the team.

One of the most important things we’ve learned to do in a new engagement is to take a look under the hood. A good auto mechanic doesn’t rely on the strange noise you’re hearing to diagnose the problem. They’ll dive into the inner workings to see where things have fallen apart.

Users feel supported when the product feels fast and responsive. In any given application, there is excess code that can get in the way and drag down the user experience. That's why we audit the code just like we audit the design. We take an inventory of what's there, what it's intended to do, and if it's working or not. Then we take a vote on whether it should stay or go.

Challenging what our clients are doing, and why they're doing it, before diving into the design helps make us more effective. We can address technical issues that will not only improve the user experience but also make the dev team more productive. It makes no sense to create something that looks good on the outside if it's doomed to fall to pieces on the inside.

Let’s learn and grow together in 2023.

It's time to start thinking about what lies ahead in the new year. What new angles will we take on old problems? How will we apply our skills and expertise in new ways to solve problems for our clients and their customers? What new challenges lie ahead?

We’re excited to take our learnings from the past year and apply them to new projects. Let’s start a conversation now about how we can help you address your core problems in 2023.