3-Lens Process: How to Diagnose Breaks in Your User Experience

By Allison Sall & Helen King
October 13, 2021

The site isn’t converting. Customers are dropping off before checking out. No one is interacting with the feature we just released. When product teams encounter these problems, there is typically a break in the product’s user experience.

Experience breaks can range from pebble-sized bumps that build friction across a customer’s journey to boulder-sized blockades that prevent them from completing an essential task.

The immediate question is: How do we modify the user experience to fix these breaks? Well, first, it’s essential to identify why the friction exists. Otherwise, you’ll be lobbing design solutions at the problem without knowing the source of the experience break. An excellent place to get started is with the 3-Lens Process. This Process combines three activities (hence the catchy name) to identify experience breaks:

  • UX audit
  • User session analysis
  • Usability testing

What’s magical about this process is that it combines different perspectives to reveal gaps in the customer’s understanding of the product, unnecessary complexities, inconsistencies, and other usability issues. So let’s break it down.

1. UX Audit: The 10,000-Foot View of the Experience as a Whole

Digital products are living things. Over time, your team adds new features and revises them, creating inconsistencies in the user experience. For example, perhaps you started within a single vertical; over time, your product offering grew, and you extended into another vertical; now, the two shopping experiences don’t easily flow, and customers are bouncing. Or, your business model changed, resulting in adjustments to the user experience without a comprehensive look at the impact these changes have on your customers’ use of the product and how it solves their needs.

A UX audit leverages our UX expertise to examine your site with critical eyes. The audit equips us with an excellent overview of your product and its potential issues. We document the experience from screen-to-screen and feature-to-feature from high-level flows to screenshots of pages and views across mobile and desktop – pinpointing areas that represent three causes of potential user resistance:

  • Usability issues
  • UX friction
  • Information needs

This approach enables us to identify areas that would benefit from UX best practices and usability principles, such as consistent use of language and visuals, clear communication of the product benefits and value proposition, structured information architecture, established UI patterns, and accessibility standards.

Equipped with this holistic assessment of the site, the UX audit helps facilitate conversations with your team about design decisions made at different junctures of the site’s lifespan, and includes guiding design principles and specific design opportunities to improve the overall user experience. 

2. User Session Analysis: On the Ground Observations of Customer Behavior

Next, we need to learn from the people who use your product. We use session recordings to observe people in their element as they use your site — think of this as your Jane Goodall moment. We watch customers click and tap around in unexpected ways or under unique circumstances that we wouldn’t have known to recreate. We are consistently surprised by people and their tolerance for broken product experiences: complex checkouts, intrusive pop-ups, unexpected bugs, and unusable mobile UI. We look for these friction-filled moments. 

We watch sessions across time and numerous customers. As we observe, we come in with hypotheses to explore on specific screens or features. We also look for user behaviors that reveal themselves through the sessions: where do users naturally navigate within the site? What content and screens are they most drawn to? How much time are they spending completing different tasks? What actions do they attempt that reveal unmet expectations about how the site should perform? With a large sample size, we can catalog repeated patterns and friction points that customers may not even be able to articulate themselves. 

As observation of natural user behavior, session analysis offers the most pure answer to the question, “how are customers using our site?” From there, we can then determine if there is a clear “why” behind those behaviors that we can use to inform the design. By highlighting representative session recordings in a documented analysis, we can then make design recommendations that will address the specific behaviors or site issues uncovered. These behavioral clues can also be a starting point to explore through further research, such as digging into site analytics or as a basis to probe in usability testing.

3. Usability Testing: Hearing from Your Customers In Their Words

After the audit and session analysis, usability testing brings together what customers are doing on the site at the same time they are describing why they are doing it.

We conduct usability testing through designing discrete tasks and flows from which we want to learn users’ perceptions and actions as they navigate. Based on the target audience, we either recruit participants who can give us fresh perspective as first-time users, or recruit internally with your existing customers who can shed light on their ongoing experience with the site. We have them complete these tasks on their own (unmoderated) through individual, “talk your thoughts out loud” recorded sessions if we want an unaided perspective on the experience. Or, we hold individual live sessions (moderated) where we take an observation + interview approach if we want the opportunity to ask follow up questions in real time. 

In either approach, participants talk through what they are experiencing in their own words as they use your product, granting us a rich picture of their motivations, expectations, impressions, and unanswered questions along the way. We hear their sighs, their frustrations, and learn what they think of the product. These focused sessions with users provide invaluable context to any previously observed or newly discovered behaviors within the site.

Synthesizing the usability findings, we share documentation of users interacting with your site including analysis of themes discovered and recommendations for design solutions. 

Pulling It All Together: How a Comprehensive Evaluation of Your User Experience Leads to More Customer Engagement

Each step in the 3-Lens Process (UX audit, session analysis, and usability testing) provides valuable insights into how customers interact with your product. However, when these insights are layered together, they can provide clear direction to solve broken product experiences and unmet customer needs. Working together we can make immediate product design changes that improve the user experience and also determine where more exploration and testing are needed. The 3-Lens Process is a tool to create informed design decisions and achieve impactful results.