Sunday, February 27, 2011

10 things users don't know about UX (and where to find them).

UX is trendy. UX is topical.

Let’s gather a little background on UX growth and the exploding trend using some readily available corollaries - free internet statistics. First lets look at Google Trends to understand the overall use of user experience in stories and articles and how that corresponds to growth in search terms and use.

Growth exploded in the latter half of 2010 and there are already exponential indicators for 2011.

Now let’s take a look at the jobs market as it relates to the need for user experience, as found in job descriptions being posted on the internet.

Nearly 5% of all jobs posted mention user experience.

Finally let’s take a look at one of the web-based communities and UX associations to see how the trends are unfolding there. IxDA now has over 24,000 members and there are currently more than 1,000 UX jobs posted on their job boards.

Job postings for UX on IXDA have grown to the point where members
demanded a separate forum for them and IXDA is effectively
monetizing the trend with 90-day ad placements..
Why is UX trending up?
The short answer here is because it's expensive to launch products and services that fail.  And that failure is becoming more commonplace when user demands for social interaction, simplicity and intuitive use are not met.  There is naturally going to be a certain amount of hype generated by pent up demand to raise a collective toast to great experiences. This same trend emerges in the way we share Superbowl ads and talk about good brand advertising or add our voice to recommendations for restaurants or books online. It is not hype for a user to expect a great experience.  It is not hype when business leaders build pragmatic cases to understand ROI prior to heavier upfront investments in technology projects.  It is not hype when former design snobs open the door to collaboration and discussion as broader team members. The link in the previous sentence takes you to a recent article in UXMag that pointed to an interesting opportunity that exists in the UX practice now to properly align to the broader impetus around customer experience and to formalize how the practices interlock. When we peel back this onion, what we do find is that there are some more thoughtful leaders trying to level-set expectations on what it means to be user-centric.

There is a shared expectation in place today that an investment in user experience will result in the following areas of research and discipline being applied against a project.  There may be some unresolved issues in certain project types relative to upfront investment amounts but at minimum we need to synthesize user knowledge into usable design and measure the usage in order to understand adoption.

  1. User research – appropriate definition of target and impacted users and their frustrations, desires, needs and goals with both current and desire state.

  2. Personas and use cases – the amalgamation of the audience types identified in the research constrained into usable, useful, coherent identities that can be used to map features, prioritization and scenarios to situations. 

  3. Design and design thinking – the use of design to drive iteration in the project and to clarify outcomes to all stakeholders, as well as final form factor for the deliverables.

  4. Optimization – learning from behavior, usability testing, A/B design and offer testing and other data inputs and outputs that support the design thesis and inform successful adoption and satisfaction.
The question is, where else do we need to look in order to truly understand the delivery of a great experience. What other resources and inputs provide an equally pragmatic POV to users when properly engaged? Where can we draw on information that lends itself to inspiration?

A recent Gizmodo post featured a somewhat familiar video under the headline, “In Praise Of The People Who Make Gadgets Worth Using”. From a first mile (outside-in way of saying ‘last mile’) perspective, UX professionals may in fact be responsible for the ‘joy of using’ part, but the ‘worth’ part comes from a lot of disciplines and a lot of contributors to the overall promise being made by a brand which has embraced the provision of a category-leading digital experience.

But there are at least 10 more contributing, pragmatic, non-user inputs that support the story being told and ultimately inform decisions that need to be made. In fact, one could argue that these are just as critical to the success of any project built with the user in mind, since the conversation and actions that are being undertaken are critical to many areas of the business that go well beyond the success of the project or application being built.
  1. Marketing – the role of the experience is generally going to be inclusive of offers and programs that are part of how the brand markets itself. Beyond brand impressions, this is often the primary intended action as either acquisition or loyalty unless the product is an online service itself.

  2. The business goal – tension between user goals and business goals is ratified to common ground in order to meet the unique needs of both participants in an experience.  Beyond the user needs for the service or product itself, this may add unique needs for social interaction, service dialogue or transaction capabilities in the delivery of the interfaces provided.

  3. The competition – what others in the field are doing. It’s important when we look at competition that we look at anything and everything that is competing for attention, not just direct competition. For example, when people are thinking about investing, they are not only thinking about investment banking.  Look at all the areas people invest in and see what is currently capturing passion, mindshare and the attention of your desired constituent.

  4. What users already like and use – what people know about and do already is often the inverse of the above, especially in the case of a new product or way of delivering service. By understanding the why and what of where your target audience is spending their time, you can better inform the decisions you need to make. This, like some of the other areas, may be covered by user research but too often this is narrowly focused on ‘what they use that you provide.' Motivational design and game theory may both apply here, but the point is not so much the design as the business and market trends that support decisions that you will make.

  5. The glass – We use the glass as a metaphor for the device or system that user will consume the experience on, and to capture and relate the constraints and affordances of the target environment. How can effectively persist context, history, profile and preference across multiple devices and screens? How do you prioritize the most common and lead into the next wave effectively?  This is not so much a question of screen size and pixel depth as it is a question of task and context.

  6. The platform – the complexity of back-end systems, their limited capabilities for great experience and business processes that they are built to support are at least in part why you are here. The bad news is that you can’t ignore them. The good news is that you can make them better. A good metaphor for this was discussed recently on Twitter - that experiences are akin to the razor market. UX (design) and the associated experiences are disposable – used temporarily, rapidly dulling and constantly changing. This is how digital agencies make money and how Adobe makes tools revenue in the category. UX (experience) and the associated systems and processes are more permanent - these are constraints and enablers and require the right adapter/configuration in order to use the design. As an example, it is this the sum of these parts make up the enterprise UX business as it relates to Adobe's focus on customer experience management.

  7. The domain – domain-driven design actually surfaced as a technology approach to enabling better user experiences during the industry’s learning years. While it does not solve everything, what we do know is that the inference of domain is critical, and that the informed separation of domain from service and interface requires that you represent domain effectively. Some platform and tools providers infer this as a pattern and best practice.  IT teams have deep knowledge of the domain model and its association to underlying systems and should be the core contributor to this knowledge.  The consumerization of IT may lend itself to some rethinking of domain models, but that does not mean they are gone.

  8. Data – data is the interface and data absolutely informs the interface. Historical, competitive, industry, market, geography, audience and technology trends are all surfaced as data that can be used along with your own analytics to drive broader insight about the conditions your new design will exist within. Embrace it, live with it, learn from it, and consume it continuously, especially after launch. Then share it with everyone who is a stakeholder in order to maximize learning and inputs into the final form factor.

  9. The world around you – Close your laptop lid and go for a walk. Visit a gallery. Attend a wellness conference. See a movie. What are people doing, reading, studying, watching, visiting and talking about? What commonalities in these shared experiences can you extrapolate to your audience and desired outcomes? What persistent affordances cross over into your world in a way that will both inform and prepare your customers for your leg of the journey?

  10. The designer's body of work – You are, or have hired, some brilliant designers. These brilliant designers are focused on transforming digital experiences based on two key inputs – everything you know or can learn about the project AND who they are and their past experience and knowledge. Today’s UX designers understand layout, color, brand, interaction, information architecture and even the constraints of development. Armed with these tools, their magic is going to play a big part in finding the right path, and we can benefit from some pure, unfettered ideation that borrows on the wealth of education and experience that is hiding in their portfolio. What we do know is that designers all appreciate great UX and that users increasingly appreciate the source of great experience.

This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list – nor does the list preclude that users or user experience professionals will often have knowledge of some of the workings in specific areas - the intent was to both push a little on the realities behind UX trend that favor design and usability in order to inform the overall discovery of requirements.

If I had one question of readers, it would be where do you find your inspiration and logic outside of the design process?  Or, perhaps when is user-centric too user-centric?

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.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Customer Experience Show - Episode 45

Chatting about the various customer experience initiatives I am involved in...

Listen to internet radio with Customer Experience on Blog Talk Radio

Friday, February 04, 2011

The ROI of UX

I spend a lot of time defending the ROI of user experience. From a macro perspective we work in an industry that spends around $1 trillion a year on custom software projects and applications. Roughly 15% of those projects fail even when they are undertaken using an agile methodology, for a variety of reasons including (culled from other posts and experience):
  1. An unreliable team
  2. Weak leaders
  3. Poor stakeholder communication
  4. Reqs and specs are incomplete or too abstract
  5. Focused on success/outcome instead of learning
  6. Retrospects are not implemented
  7. Team members and stakeholders are not properly engaged
  8. Lack of best practices in any of the disciplines
  9. Lack of metrics to measure outcomes against
  10. Inefficient use of time
  11. Scope creep
  12. Not having the right experts at the right time.
UX and design thinking plays a fundamental role in correcting many of the above behaviors and patterns. It starts with playing a role in helping to define a project and its outcomes, shapes the delivery of the actual parts of the technology in terms of who does or uses what and finally gives us measurable improvements in terms of adoption, training and other aspects that are fundamental to the final drop.

Dr. Susan Weinschenk of Human Factors International postulates the 3 of the top reasons that all projects fail are directly tied to UX, and breaks it down in plain language and pictures in the video below, pointing to measured ROI which we can extrapolate into 8 high value categories as follows:
  • opportunity cost or loss resulting from unintended behaviors
  • sub-optimal conversion rates
  • abandoned registration due to complexity or reg-wall
  • reducing support costs associated with complex interfaces or processes
  • decreased training costs for new application rollout
  • more use resulting in repeat customers and process optimization
  • less development time (impact to bottom line) - Download a PDF poster of the ROI of User Experience animation featured in this video.

About Dr. Susan Weinschenk:
Dr. Susan Weinschenk has over 30 years experience as a consultant worldwide and is Chief of UX Strategy, Americas at Human Factors International. Her areas of expertise include persuasive interface design, neuropsychology, user centered design, and generational differences.
Dr. Weinschenk has a Ph.D. in Psychology from Pennsylvania State University. Susan has published 4 books on user experience. Her most recent book, Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click?, published by New Riders, is in its second printing.

Tesco app lets you order direct from your phone

Great affordance in terms of a user experience that works by using what you know to do what you need to do.

Grab the Android version using the QR below:

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Have you banked on Facebook yet?

No, this is not an article about Goldman Sachs.  In September 2010, ASB Bank opened a virtual branch on Facebook under the leadership of Anna Curzon, General Manager Internet Banking.
Pop into the branch on Facebook (no install req'd)
Note that they post their hours on the door.

At a recent meeting in Stockholm with a leading Swedish bank, the discussion around banking on Facebook came up and this example was discussed at a positive sign for bringing real value to engagement through external conversation platforms. 

I was thinking about this when I posted on the Adobe Enterprise blog about the Razorfish report on consumers not wanting to engage with brands on Facebook and Twitter.  This type of engagement could be an exception since it essentially intends to inject the right amount of service into the experience. 

To date there has been no statistical data reported but I expect it will be forthcoming.

Consumers don't see Facebook and Twitter as brand engagement platforms - 'Liminal' from @razorfish

Brands on the other hand are flocking to these platforms often in experimental outreach programs and in other cases in concerted and (somewhat) organized efforts that span brands, employees, agencies and more.

My take on this is that social media engagement itself has to have a reason - it's not just the engagement but the reason for engagement. Is it about helping your customers learn more about your products and services? Is it another outpost for customer service? Are these things that consumers are going to feel comfortable sharing publicly?

Our team has spent a lot of time thinking about this - about SocialCRM, about using social in our own efforts and about which of those efforts is productive. I am fortunate to work for a company that is embracing this and willing to try new things and organize effort around activities that make sense to have a social component. For me the reality is that these are only part of the story because even if we were to randomly get lucky in the social space and get to everyone that is 'following' us we would still have to work through a multitude of other engagement points and channels. This is also true of our customers and partners.

The best approach is going to be to get this integrated into the other things that you do. Treating it as an experiment or side project makes it even harder to integrate down the road. Accept that we live in a multi-channel world and a multi-screen universe and that each one has strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly that each one needs to be able to 'see' the other.

I am no psychologist but I suspect that there is something else at play as well. Social media is social and we don't hang out with faceless friends. If we did hang out with faceless friends we would feel very awkward engaging with them on a regular basis. But I'll let the PHd-types sort that one out.

Now the study / article from Razorfish and MediaPost.

(I have noted that Razorfish attributes the management of it's Twitter account to real people that you can also engage with)

Amplify’d from

While marketers have flocked to social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, consumers still don't view them as important ways to engage with a brand, since they don't meet their expectations. Most people still prefer to connect with brands through more traditional methods, such as email, company Web sites or word-of-mouth.  

That's among the key findings from a new report from Razorfish titled "Liminal", based on its own primary research, customer data from a study for Virgin America and social network data compiled by online tracking company Rapleaf on 100,000 consumers. The goal was to look at customer-relationship management more from a consumer's standpoint than a marketer's to understand how people choose to interact with brands.

Across the board, consumers cited "feeling valued" as the most important element of brand engagement. "This demonstrates that both the hipster who DMs a company on Twitter and a boomer who sends a letter in the mail both ultimately want the same thing. Thus, companies should worry less about building out numerous channels and touchpoints and more about ensuring each customer interaction communicates value," advised Razorfish.