Pitching the concept of UX for GIS to decision-makers who may be unfamiliar with, or sceptical about, UX principles can benefit from an evidence-based approach.
Recent research by Intermedium revealed that the main barrier holding UX back in many organisations and government agencies is a lack of understanding at leadership level.
In my experience meeting with stakeholders in many different organisations, I’ve found that framing discussions around UX for GIS by answering the following five questions helps give decision-makers more confidence.
What is UX for GIS?
The concept of UX for GIS takes user needs into account through the stages of planning, development and ongoing updates of geospatial apps and maps. The aim is to consider the goals and objectives not only from the business or technical aspect, but also from a user perspective. Also consider how the cartography, data, hierarchy of information and interface design influence the user experience. Many of your existing GIS projects may have included some form of user-centred thinking in their development, even if the concept of UX wasn’t formally part of the process. Embedding UX for GIS ensures that principles are consistently applied in a methodical manner, with decisions backed by data and research.
Why should we consider UX?
The number one benefit of applying the UX process is avoiding costly mistakes through the need to redesign apps or maps that don’t meet user needs after they’ve been delivered. When the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers surveyed its members they found that 15 per cent of projects are abandoned. 50% of the time is spent on rework. And the cost of fixing errors versus doing it right in the first place was up to 100 times more than the original cost. Meanwhile, in Australia, the key objective of the Digital Service Standards set by the Digital Transformation Agency is to “understand user needs.”
What’s already out there – who’s doing it well?
A successful example of UX for GIS is the Queensland Globe, designed by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME). The Globe lets a broad range of users – some with no GIS experience – navigate over 1,000 layers of state data to extract meaningful insights. Australian Transport departments are also leading the pack when it comes to applying UX design to digital geospatial projects, ensuring their apps and maps fulfil the needs and expectations of a large and demanding public user group.
How can we get started?
Start with small wins. If you have existing geospatial products – apps or maps – run research with a selection of your users to find out how the products are being used, and whether they’re meeting expectations. If necessary, you can implement incremental updates, then re-test to see how the results improve. Share the results of UX success with others in your organisation. Identify like-minded advocates of the process to build a team of UX evangelists; together you can empower your team with the knowledge to talk confidently about UX.
What about budgeting?
This isn’t about finding additional budget – it’s about using what you have in a more considered way. When it comes to trailblazers in the digital UX space, some are allocating up to 20% of their digital budgets to UX. If you compare that cost to the 50% of time that could potentially be spent on reworks, the question changes from “can we afford to apply UX design” to “can we afford not to?”
At first, embedding UX as a ‘business-as-usual’ process into your organisation may seem a little daunting, but the methodology is flexible, and can quickly deliver quantifiable results.
When considering your users’ needs, remember that the decision-makers in your organisation are not your users – so any input from them needs to be recognised as subjective. Base your key decisions on what your users are saying.
And keep in mind that your research should always come back to the same core questions: who are your users, and what do they need?
About the author
UXG Project Manager