On-Site 2014 User Retreat Rewind: The Importance of User Experience & How to Achieve a Great One

On-Site just wrapped up the company’s fourth annual User Retreat under the burnt-sienna skies of sunny Phoenix, Arizona. For three days and two nights the storied halls of the Arizona Biltmore rung out with the sounds of laughter, learning and leasing. This year’s retreat was chock full of content. From new insights into online leasing, file management with CloudFile, changes in the integration landscape and more. It was a whistle stop tour of all points pertinent in multifamily. In fact, there was so much ground covered this year that instead of writing a single recap, we’re introducing the On-Site 2014 User Retreat Rewind. Our first installment is the “The Importance of User Experience & How to Achieve a Great One.”


The study of user experience design (UX) is a relatively new field within web design that is changing the world of online business. Forward thinking companies are already aware of the effect UX has on their business operations. From Amazon to Zappos, the list of businesses that have embraced UX design is a veritable alphabet soup of the world’s most influential tech companies. And now it’s time for multifamily to get hip with UX.

Steve and Dave

At the On-Site 2014 User Retreat, On-Site’s own UX Designer Dave Luciano took the stage with fellow UX guru Steve Berry, founder and principle of the UX consultancy Thought Merchants. Together they made the case for UX in multifamily by showing how On-Site is using UX to “Create a delightful and valuable experience for On-Site’s clients and their renters,” said Luciano.

What is UX?

So what exactly is User Experience? To answer that question, we turn to the Nielsen Norman Group, a leading computer user interface and user experience consulting firm:

“User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” – Nielsen Norman Group

UX design is part of our everyday lives. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, but it’s always impactful. As an example of good UX, take Amazon’s 1-Click purchasing, which makes it easy for consumers to make repeat purchases on the site. 1-Click bypasses the traditional online shopping cart and allows purchases to be made with, as the name suggests, a single click. On the other hand Apple’s latest mobile operating system iOS 7 features some UX blunders that have left many design experts scratching their heads. In particular, the new parallax scrolling feature, which causes the on-screen content to shift according to the viewer’s angle, is reportedly giving people motion sickness. While iOS 7′s UX is making designers sick both literally and figuratively, it’s not as obvious why Amazon’s 1-Click  is such a comparative UX success.

Within the world of UX there are certain guidelines for making a great experience and here’s how 1-Click follows them:

  • Delight: 1-Click makes it easy for people to buy the things they want. What’s more delightful than that?
  • Get out of the way: 1-Click removes the roadblocks from the checkout process. Consumers don’t need to enter their billing and shipping info as this data is carried over from previous purchases.
  • Improve the process: If you have any doubts about how 1-Click is improving the checkout process, consider that Amazon has licensed the technology to Apple for use in the iTunes store.

There’s a lot that multifamily can learn from the success of Amazon’s 1-Click. With the adoption of Internet technology, the process of renting an apartment is looking more and more like the online checkout processes typically associated with e-commerce sites. But renting an apartment and buying a book are not the same thing. Translating the lessons learned in the larger world of UX design into something that is relevant to the apartment industry requires innovative thinking and a lot of testing.

We study our users

Making products for the web is hard work. Berry explained that, “Product development is an art that requires many people across many verticals to collaborate: designers, developers, CEOs and more. That gives a unique challenge of making sure everyone’s ideas are represented.”

Unfortunately, with many software providers in the apartment industry the most important contributor to the design process is the one most often ignored: the end user. In contrast, “On-Site doesn’t forget that the end goal is making sure our clients and their renters can easily use our products and services,” said Luciano. “To follow through on this goal, we put a lot of effort into studying our users.”

How important is it to actually study the way users use your products? This brings up a common disconnect between companies and their clients: the so-called Malkovich Bias.

The Malkovich Bias

The Malkovich Bias is the tendency to believe that everyone uses the Web as you do. People who block ads can’t believe anyone else would ever sit through one, and those that gloss over webpages can’t believe others tediously scroll through them. At On-Site, as with any good UX design, we counteract the Malkovich Bias by studying our users. “Studying our users gives us validation that we’re building the right product for the right user the right way,” said Luciano. UX Designers have a number of tricks up their sleeves when it comes to studying users. Take, for example, the click test and the case of Beagle Air vs. Eagle Air.

Beagle Air vs. Eagle Air

Beagle Air and Eagle are two fictional airlines that Berry and Luciano created, for the purposes of the User Retreat, to demonstrate the benefits of click testing. Keep in mind that click testing is only one of the many observational methodologies available to the UX designer, but it’s one of the most interesting.

Beagle AirEagle Air

Our presenters ran a live test with the User Retreat attendees, asking them to check-in for a flight with the fictional airlines using their smart phones. When attendees visited the check-in link, they were presented at random with a mobile website for one of the two airlines.

Beagle Air Check-In

As you can see, there are some major differences between these two companies. Beagle Air makes it hard for users to see what they need to do as their eyes glaze over from reading the text-heavy screen.

Eagle Air Check-In

Eagle Air, on the other hand, offers an informative but clean interface, allowing users to easily check-in for their flights.

And the proof is in the proverbial pudding.

The live test revealed that Eagle Air had an 81% success rate (which means 81% of testers clicked properly). Compared to Beagle Air, which had a successful click rate of only 35%. Additionally, Eagle Air users took an average of 16 seconds to check-in, while Beagle Air users took over twice as long with an average of 34 seconds.

At On-Site, we use click tests and other UX tools to test our software with real-life On-Site clients. “By involving the customer in the design process we are checking our assumptions before our ideas hit the production environment,” said Luciano. “Ultimately, there are a lot of Beagle Airs in the apartment industry, delivering half-baked products to an unsuspecting client base.”

But there’s only one Eagle Air (hint: it’s On-Site). Thanks to our focus on intelligent UX design, On-Site is proud to offer proven solutions that work the way they’re supposed to.


For more about On-Site’s 2014 User Retreat: