Product configurators are now an invaluable tool in the sales process leading to more efficient and reliable sales processes, as well as better customer experiences. A product configurator can be used to create a customer self-service portal or enable resellers and dealers to guide customers to the right choice for them.
When first introduced, product configurators were a game-changer, providing customers with the ability to customize their products to suit their needs and preferences. This naturally led to a better user experience. However, as products become more complex with more choices and dependencies, the configuration process can become quite frustrating. Better user experiences are no longer guaranteed just by having a product configurator.
Up to this point we have discussed user experience in general terms, but User eXperience or UX is a defined design concept. The term “UX” was first used by Donald Norman, a cognitive psychologist who worked for Apple in the early 1990s. He felt that terms like “human interface” and “usability” were too restrictive and didn’t capture what he believed the real focus should be; namely the complete experience of the user. This included all aspects of the product in relation to what users are trying to achieve.
An effective UX is based on understanding the user’s work processes and designing products that assist user’s in achieving their goals and completing the work at hand in the most efficient way possible. This, naturally, involves a focus on the Graphical User Interface (GUI), but also on the systems supporting the GUI, as these will determine what can and cannot be done through the GUI.
On average, every $1 invested in UX brings a return of $100. That’s an impressive ROI of 9,900% (Source: Spiralytics)
A well-designed user interface can increase the conversion rate of your website by up to 200% (Source: Forrester Research)
Improving the UX design of a website can enable a business to achieve a conversion rate as high as 400% (Source: Forrester Research)
66% of customers are willing to pay more for a great experience (Source: Salesforce)
84% of customers say the overall experience a company provides is just as important as its products and services (Source: Salesforce)
72% of customers will tell 6 other people about a good user experience they had. This is excellent for brand reputation and winning new customers (Source: Spiralytics)
70% of ecommerce customers abandon purchases because of bad UX (Source: Spiralytics)
88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a website after a bad user experience (Source: Toptal)
90% of users reported that they stopped using an app altogether due to a poor user experience (Source: Toptal)
An eye-watering 70% of online businesses fail because of bad usability and UX (Source: Uxeria)
Of those who encounter a bad user experience, 13% will tell 15 or more other people about it. That’s extremely damaging for business (Source: Spiralytics)
There is clearly a lot of up-side in improving the user experience, but how do you ensure a good UX experience?
The Product Configurator UX Design Process
The UX design process for product configurators follows a classic UX design process, which can be broken down into four basic steps:
However, it would be a mistake to think of this as a linear process. The UX design process is iterative where UX prototyping is extremely important. These prototypes are initially crude and become increasingly sophisticated based on validation from real users. Only when the validation process is complete is the design released for implementation. A more accurate depiction of the process is shown in Figure 1, again from the UX Design Institute:
The entire process is user focused, beginning with the research phase where the UX designer is focused on what the user is trying to achieve, how they try to achieve it and what is needed to support them in achieving their goals. The importance of the research step cannot be overstated. Only by observing users and understanding why they do, what they do, in the way they do it, will you gain the insight to know what is important and not important to a good user experience. For example, a GUI designer might well feel that a certain design layout is optimal, but it is only when you see how users try to accomplish a task that you can really know whether the layout makes their life easier or is a source of frustration.
The next most important phase is the prototype. This is where assumptions and hypotheses can be validated by real users. It can take several iterations before the optimal design is discovered, but once it is validated, the UX designer can release the design with confidence that all aspects of the design have been thoroughly considered.
Building Better Product Configurators with UX Design Using Configit Ace®
For product configurators, UX design can be used to ensure that users can quickly and efficiently meet their needs without frustration. As products become more complex, so do product configurators, making it even more important to consider UX design approaches within product configuration best practices.
One of the key issues is understanding that designing a good product configurator involves two levels of analysis; the product configurator GUI and the supporting systems providing information to the product configurator GUI.
Configit is the world-leading provider of configuration platforms or Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) solutions. The Configit Ace® cloud-based platform provides all the capabilities required to build effective product configurators for manufacturing. This includes the ability to import or define product models and sophisticated rules that are then exposed via web-based APIs to product configuration applications. Configit Ace® is the engine driving the product configurator, enabling real-time validation and feedback on choices and dependencies.
How to Improve User Experience (UX) and User Efficiency with Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM)?
In designing the product configurator, it is important to understand how the product model and rules should be designed to ensure that only valid choices are being provided to the user at each step. To this end, Configit Ace® also provides a testing, debugging and validation environment, called Configit Ace® Verify, which allows modelers to test and debug their product models and rules. This includes analyzing all potential configurations, or the “solution space,” and iteratively refining rules and constraints to ensure that only valid configurations are offered to the customer.
One tool that is particularly effective for UX designers is the built-in configurator in Configit Ace® Verify. This is a configurator designed for testing purposes that can be customized by the UX designer. It can be used as an effective product configurator prototyping tool as it works on the real product model and rules. This provides an opportunity to both test the layout of options and the underlying product model through direct interaction with customers.
Using the Configit Ace® Verify built-in configurator accelerates the UX design process as a prototype does not need to be developed from scratch either in design tools like Figma or as a stand-alone application. The configurator can be easily customized to test assumptions while also providing feedback on the underlying product model, which would require extra effort to model in other ways.
Rapid UX Prototyping for Better User Experiences
When designing your next product configurator, it would be good to consider a UX design approach as well as consider prototyping using Configit Ace® before embarking on any application development. A thorough UX design approach ensures that the product configurator is designed to support users effectively while the underlying product models that drive the product configurator are also thoroughly tested before application development begins.
Transform Your Product Configuration Process Using a Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) Approach
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About the Author
Henrik Hulgaard, is the CTO and co-founder of Configit, a global Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) solution provider and a supplier of business-critical software for configuring complex products. He holds a doctorate in computer science from the University of Washington and is an associate professor of computer science. He has published more than 25 articles internationally.