A reflection on the power of UX

“The user is not like you.”

This is an essential mantra when designing user experience (UX) for technology-based tools, marketing strategies, and information retrieval systems. As students of information management, my iSchool cohort members and I have had to unlearn our own instincts for the purpose of better listening to users. Unless we do so, any new system or tool we design may not add sufficient value for the intended users.

In an important contribution to thinking about UX strategy, Samantha Starmer (a lecturer at the UW iSchool and senior manager at REI for information architecture and customer experience) has Tweetedblogged, and presented about offering a holistic user experience. Since an enterprise may reach users through online, mobile, and in-person delivery systems, Ms. Starmer urges designers to think about all of the touch points in user experience. From my own experience, and from what I have so far learned about content strategy and UX, the standard processes for configuring a comprehensive UX strategy include:

  • Understanding the enterprise business model and customer service objectives;
  • Discovering how users find and interact with existing services (each platform is different!);
  • Formulating and delivering a consistent message and level of service for each platform;
  • Analyzing transaction data to grasp weak points in each delivery model.

Coupling good UX with a strong service model can lead to an undeniably powerful experience: I was fascinated by a friend’s blog post to this effect. My friend, Mary, works at a community library to assist job seekers in the Boston area. She spends a great deal of time helping people with online job applications, most often for entry-level positions. Many of the people Mary assists are not native English speakers and few have advanced computer skills. One of her recent blog entries told the story of an online application that was more user-friendly than any she had previously encountered (I would encourage reading the entire post here).

In purely heuristic terms, Mary liked the plain language of the application questions. In addition, she appreciated the feedback from the system, informing the job applicant how much further he had to go with the questions. Small details – an encouraging system-generated message, a friendly take on the drudgery that is an online form – inspired Mary to deem the experience “thoughtful, humane, [and] generous.” These are impressive adjectives. They are also a compelling reminder that designing and implementing UX strategies successfully can garner the trust, and even loyalty, of target users.

Given that UX can have such a powerful effect on a user’s perception of an enterprise, I began to wonder whether there are situations in which offering a “humane” experience is more important than others, depending on the enterprise or user task  at hand. Although a seamless, well-executed UX strategy should be the goal of every user interaction tool, the reality is that most service delivery teams are forced to prioritize projects and enhancements based on limited resources.

How should an organization’s management determine its hierarchy of UX needs? And are there customer service situations where UX is more critical than others (such as complaints in service errors or product recalls)? Is UX more critical to certain organizational missions (e.g., disaster relief, child welfare organizations)? I welcome any insights on these questions – or any other thoughts on UX – in the comments.


One thought on “A reflection on the power of UX

  1. Nick Malone says:

    I don’t think you can really say that one experience is more worthy or important than the other in all situations; however, an organization may prioritize certain experiences above others. UX priorities should fall in line with the company’s values and strategic pillars. For example, if a firm differentiates itself on providing premium level customer service, then its design priorities should reflect that. Perhaps that would manifest itself by focusing efforts on the help experience, product returns, and quickly resolving problems with orders (eg; don’t put me on hold for 27 minutes or make me navigate through 7 menus before getting me in touch with a person who can solve my problem). Another company may make helping customers find the right product a core pillar of their strategy and consequently focus efforts on the information architecture of their product catalog and the precision of search results.

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