The User Experience Professionals Association describes user experience (UX) as "every aspect of the user's interaction with a product, service, or company that make up the user's perceptions of the whole. User experience design as a discipline is concerned with all the elements that together make up that interface, including layout, visual design, text, brand, sound, and interaction."
For internal audit, the user experience should be considered throughout the audit process. UX begins with understanding the various audiences we interact with throughout each audit, including the organization's staff, management, and board. UX is concerned with every interaction that can impact one's perception of the internal audit activity, from water cooler chats to formal reporting to the audit committee.
Experts in the field of UX spend significant time and effort researching and understanding human behavior and what drives it. Below, I summarize just a few of my key takeaways:
- Don't make me think. The human brain is naturally lazy and will typically drift toward the path of least resistance. Communications, particularly audit reports, need to connect the dots. If not, users will connect the dots themselves in the simplest way possible (or based on their own bias or the bias of others attempting to influence them). When a CEO, board member, or any other user is forced to connect the dots themselves, it is unlikely to match what you want them to believe.
- I scan before I read. In today's world of highly limited attention spans, individuals don't typically read anything in its entirety. They start at the top and quickly scan down looking for anything that grabs their attention. Audit reports in particular are subject to scanning. That makes the design and layout of audit reports (or any other type of communication) very important. Font size, bolding, the use of color, and effectively using headings and sub-headings can help catch the reader's attention and encourage them to read more.
- Visual connections are important. Given the above point, how information is communicated visually matters. If something is important, it should be visually prominent (bold, text size, color, etc.). If there are logical relationships between points you are trying to make, those relationships should be visually represented. Users are much more likely to understand the interrelationships between points when they can see them versus having to read a narrative and get there on their own.
- I don't care how it works (aka — don't bore me with details). Most people are not interested in how something works. For example, I couldn't care less how the engine in my car works, I just want to get in and go. When a car sales person opens up the hood and starts explaining the complexities of the engine, I glaze over and begin to get frustrated. If you have 30 minutes with a senior executive or board member and use a chunk of that time explaining all the steps you took to complete your audit, I guarantee they will lose interest and will not be focused when you finally get to the important stuff.
- Subtle clues waste time. If you have something meaningful to say, just say it. Dropping subtle hints is like asking someone to complete a puzzle while wearing a blindfold, they can get clues from feeling the pieces, but will likely not find any matches. Instead, they will get frustrated quickly and ultimately lose interest and stop trying. If people start to think, "Why am I here?" or "Is this relevant to me?", they are distracted, lessening the likelihood that they will get the message you are trying to send.
- Not everybody thinks like an auditor. Something that makes perfect sense to you might sound completely crazy to someone else. Jason Silva, host of National Geographic's Brain Games, said it best: "Most of us illogically believe that we are logical thinkers." Never assume that people are going to see things the way you do. Instead, know your audience and take the time to adjust your communications accordingly.
A lot of time and effort goes into every audit. Unfortunately, even the best audit will have little to no impact if you can't effectively deliver your message to your key stakeholders in a way that drives positive action. Adding these UX concepts to your toolbox could be part of the solution.
That's my point of view. I'd be happy to hear yours. If you're interested in learning more about UX, start here.