As readers of the Smartlook blog, you’ll know that we’re doing our part by providing software tools (such as mobile app analytics tools and website visitor recording tools). As important as tools are, they are only a small part of a much bigger picture.
There’s a lot that goes into creating the best UX. Some of it your customer sees, some of it they don’t. Some of it makes them frustrated, some of it glides over them leaving behind a positive, undefinable feeling of user satisfaction.
Is your overall UX strategy set up to create user satisfaction, throughout every element? Do you have the right type of deep, progressive thinking in order to deliver what benefits your users, and your business, the most?
We’ve reached out to expert Eric Reiss, founder of UX designing company FatDUX, to give you some tips and guidance on delving in and embracing the process of creating an amazing UX.
Eric doesn’t skip steps – he makes connections and conclusions from all across the board of business operations – and ties them together to satisfy the user.
You don’t want to miss the tips he has to share.
First of all, we’re really excited to have you here today Eric. Thanks for joining us. For starters, can you share with us how you got into the UX niche?
Thanks. I’m delighted to participate. To be frank, I think I’ve been thinking about user experience since I was a baby. At the age of three, my parents gave me a rocking horse that was so badly designed that it skinned my knees. I got my mother to cut down the support posts so it didn’t hurt me. I guess this was my first venture into product design. The truth is, I’ve never merely accepted things as they are but have always looked for ways to make things better.
Throughout the variations of your mission statement, a theme that’s displayed consistently is the idea of “[increasing] the value of your brand”. You specifically highlight your ability to add value to a company’s brand through the most optimally created UX. In an article detailing this topic, you take your audience on a journey from problem solving, to testing, to delivery, and everything in between. Could you highlight for our readers what that connection is, from well designed UX to increased brand value? What parts of a UX strategy need to be in place in order to achieve this effect?
First of all, let me explain that I take a very broad view of user experience. It is not just something that happens on a screen. For me, UX represents the net impression left after a series of interactions between people, devices, and events – and in any combination. Here’s another article of mine from Medium that goes into some very useful detail.
In an age where more and more products and services look alike, the user experience is often the only differentiating factor. For example, imagine there are two pizza places in your neighborhood that serve exactly the same pizza at exactly the same price. In one place, they are rude but in the second place, they actually know your name and bid you welcome when you walk in. Where are you going to buy your pizza? This is also why service design is one of the most visible parts of user experience. And if you can keep a secret, many of the tools and processes we use in UX today were invented by the service-design folks decades ago I think this is why the pixel-pushers who think they understand UX get so flummoxed when they are asked to answer service-design questions. And as to strategy, well, there aren’t really “parts.” You either have a strategy or you don’t.
Also within that article, in which, really, there are a ton of great lines about the functions of a great UX design, you say, “the techniques you use aren’t the objective of your project, the solution of the problem in the less intrusive way is.” I think you really nailed it there, especially in that last part, about having a solution to the problem in a less intrusive way. With regard to that idea, then, what are some common examples of “intrusive” UX design, that should be avoided? In solving those problems, does it require a change of core strategy, different technologies, or something else?
Sadly, I see a lot of companies devote considerable time and money to learning “processes.” Some of these are occasionally useful, such as Scrum; others are just old wine in new bottles, like “design thinking,” which, simply put, means the creative process is iterative. Take a look at the photos that were taken while Picasso was painting his masterpiece “Guernica.” They’re all online. Picasso changed his mind about the composition and the individual elements dozens if not hundreds of times. That is how the creative process works. But to send a team to some “design thinking” workshop and to expect that everyone will come out “creative” is nonsense. A process describes a path to an outcome, but not the outcome itself. Hey, the process for playing a saxophone is to blow in one end and wiggle your fingers up and down on the buttons. Great. Are you now Stan Getz because you understand the process? Hardly.
As to “intrusive” design, there are actually two flavors of this. First, there is design that is flat out stupid, and secondly, there is design that merely gets in your way. Stupid design includes airlines that ask for your frequent flyer number when you try to check in for both your outbound and return flight. Why is the system so inept that it is perfectly able to connect a booking reference to two flights but not the personal data entered by the passenger for these same two flights?
And then there is “design” that gets in the way. Sometimes I appreciate fine gift wrapping, little extras from the hotel, a video of an upcoming feature on a movie-theater website. But what if I just need to pick something up quickly from the store, or I don’t want anything except a comfortable bed and some peace and quiet for a few hours, or I just want to buy a movie ticket – these “extras” can be both irritating and intrusive. Most of these “brilliant” ideas do not acknowledge that when it comes to UX, one size does NOT fit all.
The scene between Alan Rickman and Rowan Atkinson toward the end of the movie “Love Actually” is a brilliant case in point. Without getting into a lot of backstory, Alan needs to buy this necklace in a hurry and without his wife discovering that he is buying it – she’s elsewhere in the store – hence, his stress. Here’s a link to the scene.
You describe the three foundational steps within your method of creating valuable UX: discover, design, deploy. I’d like to focus on discover (or research), for a minute. This is especially interesting, since it involves some pretty deep stuff, like psychology and ethnography. Within your own research, what are some unexpected behaviors you’ve observed that caused you to cleverly up the game of your strategies to meet users’ habits? And consequently, did you discover any interesting psychological tricks to address them (or others), within the user experience?
Discover, Design, Deploy isn’t new to me – this is how every good design company has been working for centuries. Or at least that is how they should be working.
We focus on valuable user experiences. Not all experiences are necessarily “good” but our goal is that as far as possible, we provide value to the user. Is reading a terrorist handbook on the U.S. Department of Justice website a “good” experience? No. But it is enormously educational and thereby valuable.
But back to your initial question…
The past few years, the UX community has finally begun to talk about research although I have been very disappointed by many thought-leaders in the community that get some goofy idea into their heads and neglect to do the research. The key is to do research early on – even if you think you “know” the answer.
I heard a rather curious story presented during a usability workshop back around 2002. An “expert” was explaining how they were doing research for a music website. Late in the testing, it turned out that one of their respondents was more interested in classical music than rock or pop. Suddenly the proposed categories made no sense. The test protocol didn’t make much sense either as this person was looking for information on conductors, orchestras, soloists, etc.. Around the same time, Apple was discovering that their iPod Shuffle was pretty useless for classical music because listeners didn’t want Mozart interspersed with Bach and Sati. Seriously! Better preliminary research would have helped a lot.
In the aviation industry, there is a phenomenon known as “planned continuation bias.” Typically, a pilot has chosen a course of action that initially looks sensible but is actually flawed. And even though small clues emerge to tell the flight crew that this is a bad course of action, they continue down a doomed path – and they often pay for this with their lives. UX professionals rarely have to face these kinds of life-and-death decisions. But what is key is that “planned continuation bias” is usually something that lasts for mere seconds, minutes at most.
I’d like to propose a related, but different, phenomenon I have termed “The Belief Principle.” Here, intelligent people ignore facts discovered through research when:
– they are close to a deadline
– the planning has been in effect for a long time.
Additionally, they sometimes trust their own gut instincts to such an extent that they skip the research altogether.
Quite simply, the longer you have planned something, the less likely you are to change your plan, even though the evidence points in a different direction. This differs essentially from “planned continuation bias” because of the radically different timeline. Here, as a deadline approaches, people are unwilling to admit that the situation has changed to such an extent that they need to seriously reevaluate things. Unlike aviation accidents, these are not decisions based on a few seconds of thought but often from months of planning or having heard false or misleading information over a long period of time. Here’s a case in point:
The British Field Marshal Montgomery had this idea of breaking through the German lines in Holland in September 1944, capturing nine bridges, and pushing back the Germans. Thousands of airborne troops, infantry, artillery, tanks, engineers, sappers, etc. – a very complicated plan called “Operation Market Garden.” However…
The Dutch resistance reported that recent German Panzer (tank) movements would thwart Montgomery’s attack. And the British codebreakers at Bletchley Park confirmed these movements. In short, the research clearly showed that Montgomery’s plan was doomed to failure. Yet…
Montgomery went ahead with his attack. It cost over 15,000 Allied casualties, including over 500 Dutch civilians – because Montgomery refused to believe the research. And it achieved nothing.
Alas, I see the same kind of foolhardy actions taken by so-called UX researchers who blindly believe nonsense they’ve read on a blog somewhere, or organizations that think that what they have done successfully for the past 10 years will also be successful the next 10 years – despite overwhelming evidence of a dramatically changing market. The automobile industry in particular is struggling with this these days.
And, like the above question, do those details within the strategy change throughout industries? For example, let’s say you’re designing an experience for an e-commerce store selling wall hangings, and also for a B2B software company. Would you employ the same set of “tricks” for different industries, or would you tweak them slightly, if not entirely?
As UX professionals, we have knowledge of a variety of processes. And we have a toolkit containing everything from interview models to personas to user-journey maps and blueprints. But like any toolkit, you only use the stuff you need to solve a specific task. If you needed to drive a nail into a wall, you would probably use a hammer, not your drill or saw or screwdriver.
My favorite process is DWYNTDTGTSD – Do What You Need To Do To Get The Sh*t Done.
In terms of content, there’s no denying that it plays a huge role in a positive, effective UX. It’s one of the only tangible things a user is aware that they’re experiencing when they go through your site. You wrote an article called “Riffing on the Content is King” Metaphor”. In the article, you describe the most essential elements that make up effective content within UX. You break it down as: King = Content, Queen = Understanding, Kingdom = Context, Jester = Usability. That’s a really fun perspective. Could you go into more detail about how context is the kingdom, and how that is seen, or felt by the user, in a real world, practical setting within the user’s experience? Or, if it’s easier, could you give an example of how a lack of context might have a negative effect?
I think I must have been in a slightly snarky mood when I wrote that – it really does stretch the metaphor much further than it deserves. However, context is indeed the kingdom – it provides the framework that helps us make sense of the individual content elements.
For example, when we travel in countries where we don’t speak the local language, we look for context to provide understanding. In Hungary, if you saw the word “szendvics,” would you know what that meant? But if you saw it as a sign at a roadside snackbar, you would have a much better idea. And if there was a picture of a sandwich next to the word, you would not be in doubt at all. So, context is the kingdom.
These days, the content professionals are talking about Information 4.0 (and please don’t ask me what Information 2.0 and 3.0 were – I haven’t figured them out yet and I’m not sure I care as “information” doesn’t really come in version rollouts). But I digress…
With Information 4.0, larger pieces of content are cut into smaller chunks that can be reassembled as needed to create other pieces of content in other contexts. This, of course, is not a new idea. The brilliant content-management specialist, Ann Rockley, was talking about this back around 2000. But now the concept seems to have gained some serious traction thanks to more sophisticated CMS software that can do all kinds of cool stuff. But…
The problem remains that every time you take a piece of content and cut it into smaller pieces, some of the context disappears. And this is where metadata comes in. Metadata is “data about data.” Alas, most content creators hate writing metadata (keywords, descriptions, administrative information, etc.). Hopefully, artificial intelligence can help provide the metadata we humans are too lazy to produce. Of course, AI doesn’t have a particularly good track record at this point, but one hopes the results will get better in time.
In the description of what you do, you highlight that your work “creates better user experiences through online and offline communications and personal service”. Related to that, you shared a personal story in one of your articles. In that story, you described an experience you had when replacing your beloved Timbuk2 bag, in which you had a very positive experience with the company. In the article, you make a direct connection between the user and the customer experiences you had. Even more specifically, you said that you “treasured” the approach the company took on “service design”. How did you make this connection between a UX and service? How much importance does the CX have on a properly functioning UX overall?
This was a FatDUX blogpost written by our amazing associate in Munich, Borislav Kiprin many years ago. I cannot speak to the specifics of his experience beyond what he already wrote. But clearly, the Timbuk2 folks were accessible, responsive, and efficient. These are the three lynchpins of customer service: Access, Response, and Care.
As I said earlier, service design is perhaps the most visible part of UX and service design and customer experience are pretty much synonymous. So yes, CX, customer experience, is a very visible part of UX, user experience. And CX is always going to have a huge effect on the overall UX experience.
That said, I think our industry is in trouble these days. Everyone wants to invent new buzzwords. The CX people think that UX is a little corner of what they do (and the pixel-pushers who think UX only happens on a screen only serve to promote this foolish viewpoint). The pedants don’t like the word “user” for various absurd reasons (“Users”? Like in “drug users”? This is a very negative term.). And the trendsetters want us to use the word “human” instead (“But we are talking about people! Humans! Kum ba yah!”). All of this merely serves to confuse the business community.
My cat is a “user” of his cat food because he eats the stuff. I am the “customer” because I buy his cat food; “customer” implies a financial transaction. There are certain brands he doesn’t like, which I interpret as poor user experience on his part. And that means I don’t buy those brands, which translates into poor customer experience.
The thing is, I think we are all designing some corner of UX, but any group that tries to take ownership of the entire UX discipline is going to step on the toes of someone else. And considering all the infighting I’ve seen these past years, I’m not surprised that so many business professionals are happy to chase the latest, shiny buzzword. Sadly, after a lot of wasted time and money on the part of the business community, the focus will eventually return to UX, but probably under a different name as this term is so routinely abused by amateurs and opportunists.
Finally, if there is just one thing you could invent, right now, that would make the development of a high functioning UX better, what would it be?
I would invent a “Magic Taser” that I could point at people and zap them. I want the UX charlatans (who play at this and spout clever-sounding jargon but don’t really understand the full nature of UX) to vaporize on impact. I want the so-called UX researchers (who don’t actually do their research) to disappear, too. And I want well-meaning clients to exercise a greater degree of common sense when choosing their UX partners and making decisions along the way.
UX is not rocket science. But it is difficult and takes time. It requires thought, insight, intuition, and experience. And those companies – businesses and consultants alike – that understand this and invest sensibly in time and talent are going to make money.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today about your experience in this space Eric. We truly appreciate your taking the time out of your day to do so. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Eric, you can follow fatDUX on Twitter or head over to the fatDUX website here.