Why UX Matters
UX design will be the key differentiator for businesses in the next 5-10 years. I will admit that I am not the first one to propose this idea. In fact, it is something a lot of established designers have been suggesting lately and why some big companies, like GE, IBM and unexpected companies, like Comcast, are investing in UX. Regardless, it is a belief I have held from the first day I started studying the profession. It is why I left a promising legal career for one in design and why I take business classes in my spare time.
Design makes the difference. As revered UX guru, Jared Spool, talks about in this Forbes article, design contributes to the bottom line. Design involves synthesizing business strategy with user needs and ensuring that both obtain the desired result, Spool says.
Using Apple and Amazon as examples, Spool points out that the key factor is that both companies streamlined their “delivery” process to consumers. They narrow down consumer needs and serve them up as painlessly as possible. This contributes to the bottom line. It is designing by putting user experience first, getting the relevant product to your user at the place, point and time he or she needs it, and of course, in the format he or she prefers. If you succeed, users easily digest whatever you are serving, return to the company and those returns increase revenue. This is the philosophy many new companies follow, and why innovative companies like Hipmunk make UX a priority.
UX also relates to the business model. In fact, as Soren Petersen writes in his recent Huffington Post article, “[d]esign, being the hub of new product development, offers the opportunity to ensure alignment of stakeholder interest through the process from business model to final delivery while securing design cohesiveness.” There it is again, design makes the difference, synthesizing marketing, sales and consumer needs and delivering a product and/or process that suits all three.
Moreover, beyond maintaining and employing this comprehensive approach to meeting consumer and business needs, a designer needs to implement. In UX, part of that is building a process to ensure content, messaging, interactions, emotional reactions and brand perceptions are consistent across the various touch points with a consumer. When you build this into your business model, you increase your chances of success.
Streamlining physical processes and delivering relevant products are the goals but the UX philosophy should be paramount. This is where the person who set me down the UX path, Whitney Hess, articulates it best, “a true user experience designer sees conflict between the internal mechanisms of the company and the external audience it wants to reach, and aims to bring greater truth to the interaction between the two, creating deeper meaning for the business and for the customer.” There it is, the key differentiator, UX designers must strive to resolve the business/ consumer conflict, advocate for both while maintaining the connection between the two. The same principle applies to civic organizations, government entities and educational institutions. If we can find that business/ consumer balance, we are guaranteed to make an impact.
I took the photo below while sitting in a marketing class where the professor was demonstrating a common marketing paradigm to calculate consumer attitudes towards a product. The user first prioritizes six product features, then the user rates how important it is to him or her for the product to have those features. Second, the user rates how the product performs in each category. You then sum everything up, plug them into a formula and get an “attitude” value.
In this case, we used the iPhone. Text messaging, speed, storage, reception, battery life, and size/shape were the user feature priorities. Your subjective opinions may vary, but, in sum, on a scale from one to five, five being the highest, each feature was given a four or five, indicating that the those features were “must-haves.” Interestingly, however, in the second part of the test, the students claimed that the iPhone actually performed at a 4 or 5 level, meeting their needs. In essence, the students were saying the product delivers the features they want and performs to a level they would expect.
My guess would be if you held a Samsung Galaxy up to the same test, you would get the same result. Actually, you can apply this test to most of the products you use and likely reach the same result. For example, cable television providers all basically deliver the same channels, internet speeds, on demand services etc. Modern consumers no longer make selections based on features, they choose one over the other based on how well those products connect with their lifestyle and experiences. That is UX at work.
If you do not like the cable television example, look at your bank. The evolution of online banking and virtual check deposits is a product of user experience. I mean, they all hold your money, right? The key differentiator is the quality of your experience in getting to it.
The point is that we are nearing the horizon, the even playing field where product features, capability, power, speed strength, etc. will not separate one company from another. In 5-10 years, all companies will have relatively the same access to the same technology at a low cost. Some companies may continue to employ the same age-old paradigm we see today and try to differentiate through traditional marketing. While marketing, price, etc. will, of course, all still play a role, my bet is that the companies that make user experience a priority, both in their internal business process and model, and externally in their interactions with consumers, will reap the greatest benefits.