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Experience Design

The need for a broader perspective in user experience design

UPA 2011 Designing for Social ChangeLast week, I attended UPA 2011. The theme this year was Designing for Social Change. The opening keynote speaker Paul Adams, Global Brand Experience Manager at Facebook, shared his research (an earlier version of his presentation available on Slideshare) into social networks. Among the many insights of the presentation, his research showed that the change agents today are not the thought leaders or the “influentials,” but regular people connected in clusters of individuals who themselves are linked to other clusters (see slides 93 and 9). A single, regular person had the potential to reach millions people at the Friends of Friends of Friends level.
But the real challenge is not to connect individuals to the world, but connect individuals more richly to their own networks and in turn connect those networks in a way that influences social change. The potential of social isn’t that I can read 1000 reviews by strangers, but that I can read reviews by people I trust already in my network, strengthening my trust in the product or service and prompting me to spread that trust to other members of my networks. It comes down to relationships.
This points to a growing need to rethink the way that we design. The term “user experience design” (UXD) has gained currency, but is still being defined. Work is still needed for UXD to reach its full potential to deliver richer experiences to increasingly sophisticated and demanding users.
A picture of a road leading to mountainsFirst, we need to consider what it means to design for networks. Adams noted that people belong to networks. When we consider how those networks influence each individual within them and also how the networks themselves change over time, we quickly realize how limited our design approaches are. Dana Chisnell comments on the limitations of usability testing when considering the social implications of design. User experience does not happen in a vacuum.
UXD also needs to consider design over time. Relationships develop over time, so products that build on relationship need to consider long term implications. Product design, in general, doesn’t always factor in time in a meaningful way. Most of the time, we design snapshots, moments in a larger experience. Although we may consider levels of users that represent the novice to experienced users, we scarcely consider a single individual’s experience with a product or service over time. Even if we had the tools, we generally lack the time to research a single user experience over a significant amount of time.
Finally, we need to have the opportunity to consider long-term outcomes of any experience. The tactical reality of focusing on immediate goals measured by time to market and quarterly number too often trades-off a strategic perspective that consciously drives toward a true user experience. UXD at this level requires looking beyond just the interactions of a product, but points to brand experience, social engagement, and all aspects of customer interactions with the organization providing the experience. This becomes the total user experience.
The total user experience, then, turns snapshots experiences into a continuous stream, allows for social connections to grow the experience, and constantly changes over time as the user changes and need new outcomes to motivate interest in the relationship. What kinds of changes to UXD are needed to address that kind of rich experience?
The usual list of companies to look to for inspiration include:

  • Amazon, which has a history of slow, methodical evolution of its user experience.
  • Disney, which has a strong identity – brand, yes, but also much more – that permeates each facet of the Disney user experience.
  • Apple, which designs whole systems of support as well as cultivate identity beyond brand.
  • Google, which allows time for creativity and innovation and embraces even failures as part of successful design and growth.

And we look long and hard, but the lessons can be elusive. Imitators and their failures have shown that copying the results of these companies does not turn into instant success for other companies. Now throw in the wrinkle of needing to really articulate design in terms of relationships and for experiences over time, and you start to see how much farther UXD has to go to make a consistent contribution to the total user experience. Adams shared useful insights into designing for social networks and for relationships, but there is still much to be explored.
Adams’ insights into social networks and their influence on how people act and interact reinforced my growing belief that we need to rethink our design tools and approaches. This post frames some of the challenges and considerations. In future blog posts, I will share my own musings on ideas that I hope forward the discussion and help evolve UXD. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Do you agree that design needs to evolve or are the tools we have up to the task? What other considerations should be made for UXD to encompass the total user experience?

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Karen Bachmann

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