Monday, February 14, 2011

User-centric: how much is too much?

This is part of an enterprise UX and architecture whitepaper that a few folks at Adobe have been working on for release soon.  This particular part has been removed from that paper in the 'edit' process.  I share here because I feel it is worth sharing and since I claim some part of the credit for this along with Craig Randall, Marcel Boucher, Rob Pinkerton and others. 

Consumers need or expect a compelling experience across devices, channels and, in some cases, on and off-line. Design and experiential symphony are the new competitive battleground in modern commerce. For business managers, this represents a new method for acquiring customers...or a threat if they lose customers to competitors providing a better experience. The company who provides the best sales or service experience will grow.

Today, most user interface re-design efforts amount to applying lipstick on a pig. This is because it is either a pure design function (aesthetics) or because it is left to developers and technical teams to ‘skin’ the application based on data or functional requirements. There are important differences between UI (user interface) and UX (user experience). UI is about chrome (frosting); UX is about interaction (cake). Better together, the properly layered and frosted cake symbolizes both the unique innovation and the repeatable approach to delivering sweet experiences.

Efforts to link existing systems to provide comprehensive data integration are valuable, but have less to do with customer experience on the front end than with transactional automation on the back end. Such strategies may prove useful for improving customer service through existing systems but even then you might consider integrating information where it is used, in and by the client application or browser.  User-centric technologies are designed to induce customer participation from an evolving consumer who wants to modify, create, and respond to product and service offerings in-context and at non-traditional intersections in the customer communications model. Businesses that can reach these customers through experience will grow their customer base and increase revenue opportunity. Unforgiving users will create new business opportunities as well. Customers disappointed with experience will seek new firms for their business.

Performance and blended environments
Personal computing environments are outperforming workplace computing environments. Employees and consumers mix and match their own blended IT environments to optimize performance - and challenge the traditional role of IT. To the business manager, this represents an opportunity to harness employee productivity outside the traditional workplace environment and to reach customers through new touch points. User-centric computing enables telecommuting, personalized workspaces and hour access for employees allowing them to work the way they want to work and increases productivity, loyalty and contribution. To access the participatory customer, there are new opportunities to communicate online, offline, on mobile, and securely through traditionally unsecured channels. Such access provides opportunities for constant contextual analysis and delivery of services based on improved customer insight.

User-centric computing can turn amateurs into professionals, consumers into prosumers, enabling deeper participation and ownership of interfaces and how people use them. Customer participants should be nurtured as human capital as well since they will invest in developing, improving and evangelizing products and services. User-centric technologies provide the tools and access to the machinery of innovation - content, context, communication, collaboration. Employees can design business processes to meet changing market conditions. Customers can design products to meet their specific needs and this dynamic intelligence can be aggregated to unearth new business opportunities.

Opening up traditional business process boundaries provides new opportunities for customer contact and regulatory compliance: User-centric technologies create a complete paradigm shift as they perforate the traditional enterprise border. Business process automation and information security are typically constrained by a network, a machine or a disk. The companies who extend their business outside the traditional enterprise border will generate new business opportunities and can reduce the burden of regulatory compliance.

These boundaries are challenged by new technology delivery models such as SaaS and pervasive client infrastructure such as PDF, Flash, HTML. These new delivery models promise opportunities to delivery superior service with less cost, reach large audiences for compliance without systematic burden and communicate rich, personal information with complete security. Over time I have adopted a refined approach for measuring categorical leadership across three core capabilities that should be inherent in your design thinking and application delivery strategy:

• Reach – you will want your applications to reach the most customers in the most contexts possible with the least amount of effort to provide for these various contexts; e.g. browser, application, mobile

• Experience – You must leverage best practices in experience to deliver on three key opportunities to excel; during customer acquisition or the first touch point, during any interaction dealing with customer service throughout the life of the customer, and enhancing our communications both personal and mass inclusive of all documents and ongoing outbound touch points to provide new levels of interactivity and response

• Optimization – Tireless improvement and betterment as part of a measured approach to bringing these great experiences, enabling us to manage highly responsive environments, constantly optimized both physically and from a content and delivery perspective.

These three core capabilities empower your opportunity to deliver this new breed of applications: high touch, collaborative, everywhere and instilled with a constantly improving and agile sensibility. Further we see an increase in applications built by enterprises to service their customers, leveraging web and enterprise technologies to optimize outcomes by focusing on defining factors that invoke push/pull relationships between systems and users, leveraging dynamic content, rich data visualization and capture and finally social interactions to increase engagement.

Much of your time as an architect is concerned with how to sensibly partition an application into a set of inter-related modules or at minimum recognizable "chunks" of software. Software systems are designed according to human motivations and desires, and any reasonable architecture process should not remove the human element from the architectural design process. Essentially a focus on users both from the perspective of knowledge and environment as well as goals and activities is the best combination, since a pedagogical focus on what users want infers too broad of a set of cases, and conversely a pure focus on activity will not produce the desired results from a user input perspective.

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