Expert Reviews are Good… But Not as Good as Talking to Your Customers

I was recently working with a client developing an online resource center for educators. First, we assess their business needs for this project and developed our UX plan. Then we ensured understanding of the market problem we were solving and defined our target audience. Next, we did our competitive analysis and looked at what other institutions were doing to solve this problem – and we looked at organizations in other markets to find similar solutions we could bring into this space.

We developed some personas, conducted tasks analysis, create flow diagrams, wireframes, etc. All along the way we continuously reviewed what we were doing with our target audience, getting their feedback and making adjustments as we continued to get a better understanding of their goals and exact needs.

We worked with a third-party to develop a prototype for our formal usability evaluation. Prior to running our evaluation, we shared our prototype at an expert review group. The reviewers were from disciplines ranging from marketing, content strategy, information architecture, graphic design, interaction design, usability and more. One of the big takeaways from the review was the main navigation metaphors we were using was not going to be understood by our persona. This was concerning because it had been so well liked in our reviews.

Well, we conducted our formal usability evaluation and, not only did our instructors understand the main navigation metaphor, they loved it and wanted to know how soon we were going to release the new resource center!

This is a reminder to me (and all of us), that no matter how great an expert review may be, it is never as good as working directly with target audience.

I give expert reviews all the time. I can share with you what industry standards are, guideline, best practices, the latest pattern that specific demographics recognize, etc. BUT none of that matters if what you deliver does not match the mental model of YOUR customer. A lesson that is reinforced for me still today.