Here’s a great article from Harvard Business Review focusing on the growing realization in the business world that User Experience is critical to the success of an organization. I want to pull out a couple of key passages for comment, so click the link and read the article, but then come back here for some additional thoughts…
All in all I thought this was a great article that touched on several points of interest…
User Experience Defined
Fabricant starts his article with a VERY high level definition of User Experience:
In business today, “user experience” (or UX) has come to represent all of the qualities of a product or service that make it relevant or meaningful to an end-user — everything from its look and feel to how it responds when users interact with it, to the way it fits into people’s daily lives. You even hear people talking about UX as the way in which a consumer connects to a business — all the touch-points from marketing to product development to distribution channels.
While I think he hits all the right notes in defining User Experience, I think there is a level of nuance that Fabricant misses. I like to think of User Experience as having two major levels: Organizational User Experience, which I think Fabricant nails here as ” the way in which a consumer connects to a business — all the touch-points from marketing to product development to distribution channels,” and Product User Experience, the utility or usefulness of a product (“how it fits into people’s daily lives”), the usability of a product (“how it responds when users interact with it”), and appeal of a product (“its look and feel”).
As an aside, I am more and more convinced that User Experience and Customer Service are one and the same. For service organizations or organizations in which service is a large component of their offerings (like a restaurant or a doctor), Customer Service IS the interface between the product (a meal or a checkup to follow my previous examples) and the user.
The article then continues to a brief discussion of outsourcing User Experience:
Some companies believe that outsourcing to design firms is becoming less attractive as the value of UX as a core business asset increases. frog and our peers in the design consulting world have become more adept in recent years at helping companies build this capacity internally.
I agree wholeheartedly with this point. In addition to this argument for bringing User Experience functions in house, I think companies are beginning to realize that the value derived from the user research component of your User Experience function increases exponentially as the knowledge and experience of the industry/vertical/domain/product deepens with time.
An organization is going to get a lot more value from user research conducted by in-house researchers that have built a deep familiarity with the domain for an extended period than they are from a design firm that comes in and spends a few weeks interviewing customers. This deeper understanding allows greater intuitive leaps, makes recognizing extant and emerging patterns easier, and provides an overall better feel for the nuances of the domain and its users.
Leveraging Limited Resources
Then we get to the meat of the article, a discussion of how to best leverage limited UX resources across an organization:
But even as big business looks to bring UX and design talent in-house, few companies are willing to embed designers on every product development team (and, frankly, there is not enough talent to go around even if they wanted to). So in-house UX groups generally focus on a few high-impact product releases a year, leaving much of the business — and most of your offering — untouched. So what is management to do? How can large organizations deploy this capability on an enterprise scale?
I have yet to work with an organization that has enough UX resources to go around, and it is indeed a challenge to get the most bang for your UX buck. However, I think that Fabricant is presenting a false dichotomy here: product releases either getting a UX focus or remaining untouched. This system leaves a lot of room for partial engagement, and I have never seen a project that wasn’t improved, sometimes substantially, by even casual involvement of a UX resource. The key is to evaluate each project and determine which facet of UX would provide the greatest impact to the project (user research, design, heuristic review, usability testing) based on the projects size, scope, and impact. From there it is a matter of determining what UX activities or techniques to execute.
From here, Fabricant discusses several methods for leveraging limited resources:
…inspired by the startup market, many businesses are experimenting with lean, agile product development processes, which benefit from customer insights, participatory design, and prototyping.
Fabricant seems to be conflating several different concepts here, including lean, agile, and UX. My understanding (and I believe the definitions of all three are in a bit of flux these days) is that Lean is a term that refers to a set of business practices that emphasize and focus on adding value for the consumer or end user via the elimination of inefficiencies. Agile on the other hand is a development methodology that focuses on iterative and incremental delivery of complete subsets of functionality through the life of a project. “Customer insights, participatory design, and prototyping” are, of course, all aspects of User Experience design and can benefit any business practices and any development methodology.
UX in R&D
There has been a startling change in the technology environment… that allow teams to much more rapidly experiment with new product and service concepts at the UX, and not just the engineering, layer. … This form of experimentation is a Trojan Horse for getting product development teams to capture requirements in working UX prototypes instead of documenting them in endless Powerpoint decks and PRD’s. It also provides the executive leadership with a steady stream of “demos” to show off at CES.
This to me is more indicative of an Agile development methodology that focuses on working prototypes rather than requirements documentation, especially if these early prototypes are constructed in an iterative fashion while other back-end foundational development is happening on the coding side.
While the app marketplace has not necessarily been a great contributor to the bottom line for many businesses, it has created an easy environment for organizations to strengthen their UX muscles. Companies like Bloomberg, whose core user interface is hobbled by their terminal infrastructure, have released successful iOS apps that meaningfully shifted perceptions in the broader market.
Not something I had really considered until reading this article, but I am persuaded! I think this is a great idea and a wonderful way to get some modern workflow and design associated with what might be perceived as an otherwise stodgy brand.
Six Sigma UX
Successful UX is often about doing less, not more. This can be hard won in today’s engineering culture in which middle management is generally rewarded on product features and releases — more, not less. … But great UX requires some teeth — the ability to delay or kill product releases if they are not aligned with the corporate UX strategy.
I couldn’t agree more with the point that Fabricant makes here. As one of the three pillars of User Experience, usefulness should always be considered and used as the ultimate judge of whether a product or feature is worth the effort spent to develop it. The most useful and beautiful product in the world is going to be a loser if it is not addressing the implicit or explicit wants or needs of its potential users!
Sales teams generally believe that they know what customers want, yet they are usually terrible at asking that precise question.
Yes! But, no! Yes, user experience should be customer driven (well, user driven, but that is a discussion for another time!), but being good at asking that question is not where you want an organization to be. Asking users what they want a product to be is a violation of the first rule of User Experience! I will say that asking users what they want is better than guessing, but neither can hold a candle to direct observation of users in their natural habitat.
All in all, I think Fabricant’s article is full of excellent points that any organization would do well to heed. What do you think of the article or my comments? I’d love to hear what you have to say!