CEO Wants a Great Customer Experience: Now Don’t Fall for UX Fads or Half-measures
The first edition of this book included a long section on how train wrecks were needed to alert executives to the need for good user experience design. I tossed it out. Today’s executives are very much aware of the need for good customer experiences. Indeed, they often get very excited about it. But then what do they do? They usually go through a somewhat predictable set of attempts to move their organization toward effective user experience design. Let’s go through some of the more common pitfalls.
Relying on Good Intentions
Many top executives start with this approach because it is attractive, not to mention cheap. It seems logical to think you can tell staff members to “Put the customer first” or “Be customer-centered,” and then expect them to just be able to do it. The problem is that they can’t “just do it.”
Creating usable designs takes far more than good intentions. Today, everyone in the development field wants good usability, but usability is hard to achieve. The proof for this statement is painfully apparent in the awful designs that are so commonplace. Even highly motivated professionals often create usability disasters.
Simply motivating people won’t result in good user experience design. In some cases, a manager taking this path needs to see a whole project built under his or her well-intentioned motivation, only to find that UX has not been greatly improved.
While the manager reviewing the designs may immediately see that the designs are unintelligible, it takes a serious application of usability engineering technology and methods to ensure that an organization’s program will be successful.
Relying on Testing
Sometimes companies get the idea that all they need to create a good user experience is usability testing. It is good to be able to test, but testing alone is not enough. Testing pinpoints problems in the design and its usability that can be fixed. But to be successful and to institutionalize user experience design, companies need a complete methodology including concept development, data gathering, structural design, design standards, and so on. While testing is important, by itself it’s not a long-term solution.
Relying on Training
It makes sense. You have smart people who know the domain and technology, so you think you can just give them some training in usability, and things will be fine. If you pick a good program, training will help, and the staff will learn a good set of basic skills.
The key word here is basic. You will probably give people 3 to 10 days of training. In this time frame, they are not about to become doctors of user interface design. Instead, they will be paramedics. The trained staff members will see the problems clearly. As a result, they will create better designs, but they will still feel frustrated. The corporate culture won’t have changed enough to value UX, and there will be no plan for user experience design in the corporate system development life cycle. There will be no design standards. Organizational channels won’t be provided for testing with users. There will be no one to call with questions and no repository of examples and templates. The staff members will know when something isn’t quite right, but they probably won’t know how to fix it.
Relying on Repair Jobs
Repair jobs try to fix user experience design problems at the last minute. This is inefficient and creates only limited potential for improvement. Ideally, UX work should start when requirements are defined. If you bring UX engineering into the process late, you can improve small pieces of the design, such as the wording, layout, color, graphics, and control selection, but there will be no time for more profound changes such as standardizing user interface elements, the flow of logic, or other major elements.
Relying on Projects by Ad Agencies
Another common response to addressing UX concerns is to bring in the advertising agency with which the organization already works. Unfortunately, ad agencies currently have few real UX specialists on their staffs. While the agency will be able to help with branding and perception issues, advertising is a different skill set than user experience design work. There is some overlap, in that both advertising and UX staff members are focused on the customer, but the goals of the ad agency and the goals of the UX team are not always the same. The methods and processes each group uses to complete its work are also very different. Moreover, bringing in an ad agency will not spread user experience design throughout the organization, and it may not delve deeply enough into navigation structures to improve task usability on even a single project. Usability focuses on whether users can perform certain tasks with the technology product. Advertising concentrates on capturing and focusing attention, communicating brand information, and influencing behavior. Advertising and usability efforts should work hand in hand, but they are not the same.
Hiring UX Consultants
A common response to a wake-up call is to hire a consultant to review a site or application. This might be a good starting point and will probably help with a particular project, but it won’t address the problems of the next application or website. That is, bringing in a consultant on one project will not disseminate usability engineering throughout the organization.
These consultants can be expected to do a good job and can be cost-effective. However, hiring consultants still leaves the client company without internal capabilities. The company may see the value of the good design work, but it will have to call the UX team back for each new project.
Some user experience design consultants try to transfer knowledge to the client organization. Following this practice does help company staff see that good UX practice makes a difference. Realistically, though, without training, standards, and tools, this approach leaves little behind that is useful over the long term.
Hiring New UX Staff
With a clear understanding of the competitive value of user experience design work, managers sometimes make the substantial commitment of hiring UX staff. This is laudable but, unfortunately, it often fails. The manager may not be able to find or screen for experienced UX specialists. Some people looking for work in usability believe that experience on one project that involved UX qualifies them to be a user experience design specialist. In reality, becoming an effective UX practitioner takes an educational foundation (e.g., cognitive psychology), specific training in usability work (e.g., expert review, structural design), and a period of mentoring by a seasoned expert. After attaining a master’s degree in the field, it generally takes three to five years of mentored experience before totally independent work is advisable.
It is all too easy to hire people who need a lot more experience, training, and mentoring before they will be effective. Hiring one such staff member is time-consuming enough—you don’t want to end up with an entire usability group whose members are immature or inexperienced.
Typically, a manager hires one or two people to start. Even if the new hires are experienced, having only one or two people often means that the “group” is quickly besieged and rendered ineffective. The team members may soon be so busy that they can’t get design standards in place and may not have enough resources to provide training.
In these types of situations, it is best to have many of the initial activities completed by outside consultants who have an established team that has specialized skills in training and standards development and can work quickly and successfully. The consultants will be seen as outsiders, and employees may be more willing to have an outsider dissect the flaws in their designs. Outsiders can say things that an insider has left unsaid. The consultants will be there to get the internal UX staff headed in the right direction and can hand over their knowledge and expertise to help the internal staff become established and ready to take on projects on their own.
If you install a user experience design team, your efforts should include more than simply hiring the people to staff it. Making the team members effective means putting them in a position to be an integral and harmonious part of the organization, establishing clear roles and authority, and addressing the integration of the usability team with the other parts of the workforce.