When you think about user experience design, what do you think of? A beautifully crafted interface? Sketching out a wireframe? Cracking open Photoshop or Sketch? In fact, user experience design starts not in Photoshop, but in the boardroom. If we want to call ourselves user experience designers then we need to expand our horizons.
Many of us like to call ourselves user experience designers, when in fact we are user interface designers. As soon as things beyond the interface come up we get uncomfortable. We claim that content is the client's problem, or that we don't have the authority to interfere in business processes. To become user experience designers we need to learn how to shape the entire experience, from beginning to end. That means moving beyond our comfort zone.
Take for example Uber. When Uber came to London it caused an uproar amongst cab drivers. The problem: Uber was able to offer a better user experience. Catching a London cab is far from a pleasant experience – they are over-priced, involve hailing a cab, having cash and waiting while the driver scribbles out a receipt.
Uber removed these pain points. It improved the user experience by estimating the cost, providing an updating ETA for the vehicle's arrival, processing payment including tip, and sending a receipt via email. It didn't improve things with just a nice user interface. Instead it addressed them by changing aspects of the business model, which involved executive decisions.
Parcel delivery is another sector seeing the power of UX design. For some time, delivery companies have had well-crafted websites that allow you to track your parcel's progress. Unfortunately, the experience has been poor. Things are now changing. Companies like DPD are considering the whole experience - offering not only a well designed website, but one-hour delivery slots and real-time vehicle tracking.
Unfortunately a lot of management teams resist this kind of change, in much the same way the London cabbies have. The problem with resisting changes that improve the user experience is that they will fail in the end.
The music industry resisted downloads by suing Napster, but in doing so it only delayed the inevitable. In fact, sector after sector has fallen foul of improvements in the user experience brought about by digital. From Blockbuster to Kodak, big brands that failed to adapt have fallen by the wayside.
Time to fight
This brings us as designers back to one of the most basic of human responses: fight or flight? Do we fight to improve the user experience across the organisations we work with, or do we fly to another organisation – one that understands the value of providing an outstanding user experience? Both options are valid, but if like me you are up for a good fight, read on.
It starts not only with the decision to fight, but also the decision that you are going to be the champion of the user experience. Nobody will give you permission, but as Grace Hopper said: It's better to ask forgiveness than permission. It means an end to saying 'I don't have the authority to change that'.
I realise that writing this is easy. Doing it is much harder – but it is possible. I have done it and so can you. I got sick of building sites that failed to live up to their potential because of organisational shortcomings, and I got tired of papering over the cracks with yet another redesign. One day I just decided to untie my hands and champion the user experience. When I started I was far from capable, but I learnt the skills I needed.
Map the user experience
Fortunately the journey begins in more familiar territory: the user experience. To work out what needs fixing, you need to understand what the problems are. That means mapping the user journey. Look at every interaction a customer has with your organisation, from initial awareness through to post-purchase support. For each touchpoint, you need to establish what the customer is thinking and feeling. What questions do they have at this stage? What do they want the outcome to be and how do they feel about the experience?
For example, imagine going to a concert by a band you love. A crucial part of that process is booking the ticket online. You know tickets will sell out fast and so you feel a mixture of excitement and nerves. Will you be able to book the tickets? Will you get the seats you want? Will the site stay up under the traffic about to hit it?
You might have questions about the seating options. If I go for a cheaper ticket will I have an obscured view? If a friend books his own tickets will we be able to sit together? Understanding what is going on in the user's mind at this touchpoint helps shape a better experience.
But don't just look at the digital touchpoints such as online ticket booking, look at the entire experience. As you are a digital professional, look for ways digital can improve offline interactions, too.
For example, perhaps the user's smartphone could hold the ticket, so they don't have to carry a paper ticket with them. Or perhaps after the concert they could access edited highlights online. This would provide them with professional-quality video that they could share with their friends.
Once you have mapped the user journey, you will be able to see weaknesses in the experience, and opportunities to use digital to improve things.
Persuasive business cases
At this point you are probably thinking: 'I don't have the time to map the customer journey, and nobody would listen to my recommendations anyway.' This is where we need to start expanding our skillsets. We need to increase our understanding of business practices and improve our persuasive skills.
To improve the user experience you will need to put forward strong business cases. You will need to persuade management to allow you time to map the customer journey. Then you will have to ensure colleagues are willing to make changes to their business processes. This means improving our skills in two areas. We need to become more knowledgeable about business practices, and we need to refine our persuasive soft skills.
We need to learn how to construct arguments based on threats or opportunities for a business. We need to discover how to use people's pain points to push through change. How to step outside of our web bubble and communicate effectively with business professionals.
A single article like this is not adequate to teach you how to bring about organisational change, but there is no shortage of resources out there that will. If we are going to call ourselves user experience designers, we need to be reading about business strategy, sales theory and much more besides. Try books like Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt.
We need to stop complaining about marketers and business executives damaging the user experience. Instead we need to prove we can speak their language and help them solve their problems. We need to step out of our silo and be willing to go wherever improving the user experience takes us.
Words: Paul Boag
Paul is a digital consultant, author and speaker who helps organisations such as the BBC, European Commission and Nestlé adapt to the new digital world. This article originally appeared in issue 265 of net magazine (opens in new tab).
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