UX is a Full Stack Problem

UX Insights and Tactics

Building a successful user experience is a labour of love — one that requires careful planning across multiple areas of expertise to execute properly. Too often, UX design is viewed as a siloed process, where research and user feedback are used to create up-front deliverables like workflows, journey maps, and wireframes that can be checked off the UX to-do list in order to “complete” the UX design process. While the artifacts and processes mentioned have value and should be a part of the process, they don’t by any means guarantee good UX.

We’ve found that a more holistic approach is necessary to build a clear and enjoyable experience for your users: what we call full-stack UX.

Looking at the Whole UX Picture

Full-stack UX asks you to think of the user experience as the sum of all the decisions you make, and the execution of all the elements of software design and development, throughout your product development process. A great user experience is a combination of all these parts, not just an easy-to-use platform with a nice-looking interface. Development details like speccing the proper server infrastructure, reducing database calls, proper asset loading hierarchy and the like will greatly impact the end result of your users’ experience with your product. Even relatively minor front-end items like proper hover states and clear user feedback on actions like form submissions are small, but important pieces of the holistic UX puzzle.

In order to get all of these elements working together, frequent communication and collaboration between project team members and across departments are necessary to help everything come together into a cohesive, positive user experience. Working with this UX-first mindset across the entire product team can help to avoid major issues in QA and at launch, saving you time and money in the long run.

web app example

A Full Stack UX Case Study

In 2021, Paper Leaf designed and built an application for Elections Alberta alongside a third party who were responsible for server deployment and infrastructure. While the project as a whole was a success, even winning an award for best software design, there were problems in the initial deployment due to improperly specced, managed, and deployed infrastructure.

Despite the hours of interviews done, tight workflow built, and strong front-end development, the experience for our first group of users was poor due to the infrastructure issues. This one piece of the stack failed and tainted the user experience for the initial wave of users, despite all of the upfront elements traditionally thought of as “UX design” being executed well.

Thankfully, better infrastructure was spun up and deployed quickly to resolve the issues, and the rest of the enumeration effort went off without a hitch. We learned a valuable lesson in approaching UX as a holistic endeavour with all parties invested in a project, and are much more stringent in our expectations when we are not the ones in control of managed services and infrastructure.

Adopting UX as a Full-Stack Approach

So, now that we know what we mean when we say “UX is a full-stack problem”, how do we begin to change and approach UX that way?

Get the Team on Board

Each member of a project should look at every decision they make through the UX, or user-centered, lens. All aspects of your project should be planned with UX in mind, including traditional UX work, UI design, infrastructure design, back-end development, and front-end development. Having a user experience-focused product manager can help to ensure that the right questions are asked about the less obvious items. Think: what’s our infrastructure set-up for this application going to be? How can we ensure performance? What are the potential issues & errors we’re not seeing?

Plan For the Future

Remember, UX is not a one-and-done set of tasks, and it doesn’t end at launch. Initial deployment is one thing, but you will need to have a plan in place for when software becomes out of date, new devices hit the market, and user patterns shift. Remember that band-aid fixes – the quick and easy fix to post-launch problems – will only work for so long and often result in expensive repairs or even a complete rebuild if left unchecked, thanks to our old nemesis technical debt. The post-launch plan needs to include a long-term strategy to ensure the longevity of your hard work.

For your users to get the most out of your product, each component in the entire stack must be crafted with user experience in mind. For example, the user experience of an intuitive platform with good workflows and a strong UI design can easily be damaged by improper infrastructure or long load times.

Think of it this way: UX should be viewed as many roads leading to a city, not just a single highway. Each road functions independently, but all are part of a network effect designed to work in concert to create an efficient experience for those using them.

Exploring options to improve user experience across your organization? Join us for our upcoming digital transformation webinar to learn how.

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