“Let your intentions create your methods, and not the other way around.” ~ Peter McWilliams
Now that you’ve been introduced to the idea of updating your website by Designing for Intention, you may be wondering what exactly is meant by the term “Customer Intention.” Further, you may be curious as to how you can get started bringing this type of thinking, and this methodology, into your business. One way to get the ball rolling is to start defining customer intentions for your website.
Before we talk about defining customer intentions, allow me to explain what I mean by the term “Customer Intention”. A Customer Intention is simply: a task a customer aims to complete when coming to a website. It may seem self-explanatory. In fact, it is. However, as you’ll see later on, the term can very often be misunderstood.
When going on to define customer intentions for your website, there is no way around it, you have to start by talking to your most loyal customers. This is truly the key to determining not only customer intentions, but many other facets of customer loyalty.
In regards to intentions, the key information from these conversations you’ll unearth include an understanding of how and when customers interact with your business (i.e. their touch points), and, more importantly, why they interact with each of these touch points. (For example, maybe you find out customers go online to gather research about your products, but they buy brick and mortar because of the customer service.)
After the conversations have concluded, you’ll need to gather and list out all of the website specific Whens, Hows and Whys. Once you’ve listed them, you’ll summarize the list into clear, mutually exclusive, bullet points which each finish the sentence “When a customer goes to the website they intend to…”.
It’s a simple list really. Here is an example we recently created for an e-commerce team redesigning their Dotcom site.
Customer Intentions for the Website
When a customer goes to website they intend to…
Buy an item
Stay up to date
Understand what makes
Understand what does
Find a retailer
Investigate / research a better solution
Return a product
Get questions answered
The list seems pretty straightforward, right? Of course this is what customers go to an e-commerce site for. But, be warned! Getting to the list above isn’t as easy as it may seem. Below is an example of what the list probably looked like before the team checked it against findings from conversations they had with loyal customers:
Customer Intentions for the Website — What Could Have Been
When a customer goes to website they intend to…
Buy an item
Sign up for the Newsletter
Visit the Blog
Update Account Information
Find a retailer
Investigate / research a better solution
Return a product
Get questions answered
Notice something different? Check out the bold items in the second list. Notice how subjective and feature specific they are.
It is highly likely you are going to try to put items like “Sign Up for the Newsletter” on your list. This is normal as often times business owners try to squeeze in feature specific items which represent the parts of the website they wish people were coming online to access, instead of being honest about why customers are really going to their site.
This is why it’s important to talk to your most loyal customers. There’s no disputing actually hearing these intentions first hand. Without this insight, your list will undoubtedly lean towards satisfying business goals, which means your website will be designed for business intention rather than customer intention. This means the odds of your website fostering customer loyalty go way, way down.
Knowing this, your final step is to review and edit your list with an eye toward, and an urge for, actual customer insights and extreme honesty. Your goal should be to keep your list of intentions as objective and non-feature specific as possible. How do you know you’ve done it right?
Ultimately, if your list of customer intentions reflects what you heard in your research, and, makes you a little (or a lot) uncomfortable, you know you’ve defined it well.
Once you have created an honest list of Customer Intentions, you’ve started the process of making your website a place that can assist in cultivating customer loyalty, instead of a place where you inundate customers with information you hope they pay attention to.
What’s next after you have the list defined? You can begin to design a user experience that meets, and hopefully exceeds, Customer Intentions, of course. And, you can be sure there is more information on doing so to come.
In today’s business world having a website is practically equivalent to being in business. There is no question in regards to IF your business should have a website. There is, however, still very much a question in regards to how best to structure and position that website and the information it contains for maximum business and customer benefit.
As an Information Architect, it is my job to help businesses understand purpose. More importantly, it is my job to help others understand how to structure specific information on their websites (and apps, and anything else that has information that needs to be communicated) to meet that purpose.
Recently, we have developed some interesting viewpoints in this endeavor. Before I share those with you, it is important to understand what I mean by the term “structuring a website.” It is also important to understand a bit more about how and why websites are structured today.
Back when the web was first born, there was no rhyme or reason to what information was strewed across it. As more and more information was put on the web (NOTE: By the word “information” I mean content, videos, images… anything.), it became harder for people to find their way around. People not finding their way around meant that they weren’t able to connect with businesses in the ways they needed to become customers, let alone loyal customers. This not only frustrated users, but it was also not so good for business.
This issue birthed the field of Information Architecture. Started in large part by those who studied and worked in Library Sciences, Information Architecture was created in order to help organize all the information that was floating about on the Internet. Since then, Information Architects have been helping businesses figure out which information needs to go where on their websites. They have also been helping to organize and structure said information into nice, neat taxonomies. These taxonomies work to catalog each piece of a company’s information so it can easily be found on the web.
You may have worked with one of these people before, and evidence of their hard work is everywhere. One of the most popular examples, as of late, is the mega menu. Here are some screenshots of the mega menu in use:
These menus are organized to give each piece of a company’s information a “home” in the hopes that customers will seek out and find what they need.
There’s just one problem with these sites, and most other sites regardless if they have a mega menu.
These structures don’t allow the sites to be optimized for their necessary purpose. Instead of helping customers to meet their goals, the structure of the website is actually creating more noise for customers to sift through, which is bad for the bottom line because customers aren’t able to find the information they need in order to complete the transaction.
This brings us back to the customer’s intention.
Focusing on customer intention starts with considering what customers intend to accomplish interacting with a website. Instead of doing things the old way, i.e. designing a site by starting with all the information a company wants to put on their website and organizing a structure around it, we first think about the customer’s intent.
With these intentions in mind, we can then sort through all of the information the company has that can fulfill those intentions. This is ultimately the totality of the information that will live on the website. Being sure to leave out any extraneous company information that simply adds noise to the equation. Because, after-all, the last thing a customer needs in today’s world is MORE information thrown at them.
Structuring for intention is one of the very first steps needed in order to aim your website toward cultivating customer loyalty. The above looks to provide the basic outline of a much grander idea. There is a lot more to the process to share, and you can be sure that I will be doing so soon.
But for now, it’s important for us all to realize that the old way of thinking about what information goes on our websites and how that information is organized no longer works. Yes indeed, it’s time for a change.
There’s something troubling that I’ve noticed happening with many people (not all, maybe not even you) in our industry over the past few years. It’s something that I want to bring to light in hopes that A. I can be enlightened to the necessity or trivialness of this thing, or B. I can help others to enlighten themselves and stop the thing’s progress. So what is the thing? Simply… that we are stuck in our ways, and if we don’t start moving, our industry will never change. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Newton didn’t lie…
Our World, Today
The current state of where we are is not really a revelation to many of us. We are working doing design or architecture or web “stuff”. Some of us call what we do UX. Some of us claim UX doesn’t exist. Some of us wireframe. Some of us claim we don’t. None of this will be addressed in this piece, for this is what it is, and the arguments will rage on. Instead, I want to point out the bigger issue that I have seen. That is that many of us, no matter what side of the fence we are on in these arguments, HATE where our industry is. We hate our clients (“Two weeks for a complete overhaul of documentation that took us months to put together. #ClientsGottaLoveEm”). We hate our co-workers (“When can you get the UX wireframes done for this project? #UXIsntWireframes”). We hate our careers (“Hired as a UX Strategist, but they just asked me to make a screen ‘better’. #WhatsThePoint”). In short, we hate our state of being, and this causes us so many problems.
What’s the big deal?
First off, in many ways, we aren’t progressing as an industry. What does that mean? It means we spend so much time focusing on the negatives of doing what we do, that we don’t save brain space to focus on how to change the negatives into positives, and, therefore, change ain’t coming.
Secondly, all this negative energy actually zaps our ability to see that WE ARE THE TALENT THAT EVERY BUSINESS NEEDS TO SUCCEED. Obviously, we can’t do it alone, but come on guys, this is our TIME! Everyone wants to be the next Apple. Everyone talks about how facilitating great user experiences will make the business more successful. WE really are in control. But we have beaten the idea of our profession down so much that we believe that we can’t change our environments. We talk to our clients in words that mean nothing to them, and wonder why they don’t “get it”. We take jobs because they show us a glimpse of hope at being the real deal, instead of asking the hard questions that prove we’ll be doing the work we want, and turning down the gig if it’s not the work we want. We blame our lives, our clients, our coworkers, our cities, our companies for holding us back. And, we do this, simply because, we don’t have the energy and courage needed to do something about it.
Third, and perhaps worst of all, we isolate ourselves from other disciplines and industries. This is the gravest problem of all because it means we don’t educate ourselves about what information or context these other disciplines and industries need to really understand where we can be of use. We don’t learn about business (yuck, suits), and then wonder why we get screwed in negotiations. We don’t learn about company process, then wonder why our ideas are labeled as being outside of the process. I can go on.
Four, this all means we perpetuate our cycle (wait did I go back to number one again? That’s meta.) The crappy jobs keep getting resourced with talent (us) that is too good for the jobs. The crappy companies keep getting resources (us) that are too talented and smart to work with people that don’t want to hear how we can help. Then we blame the company, the clients, the co workers for the crappy jobs existing… and the cycle persists. We continue to hate the work that we are supposed to love, and live in misery complaining to each other how bad we have it.
But fear not dear reader, there is hope! And to inspire this hope we turn to none other than Sir Isaac Newton (you may have heard of him). As many of us may remember, Newton was a famous physicist who is known for proving three laws of motion. For our troubles to be cleared, I’d like for us to remember Newton’s first law of motion:
An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
Put more simply. Things won’t change unless you act, unless you exert some kind of force. Try this… an object at rest (let’s say the environment we work in, our industry, your clients or your co-workers) will remain as it is unless acted on by an outside/unbalanced force. Here’s the secret… you have to be the force in order for your luck to change.
Now, you may be thinking, “But, wait, what if I don’t WANT to change.” Or “But I have to take these crappy jobs I have a family to support.” Or “I’m not you, Lis, I don’t have the people skills to do it.” Or whatever other argument you can think of. But, I’m here to tell you that all of these are invalid, yes even the family one. Why? Because the definition of the force is flexible. Doing any one of these things can change the environment:
Ask more questions during interviews to discern if the job meets your goals. Things like “How often do you do usability testing and why?”, “What does user centered design mean here and how is it implemented?”, “Does, and how does, my role help bring a user centered focus to the company?” will help you know if they are for real.
Network more with people like you to let people know that you are an awesome person. Go to industry and non-industry events that spark your interest. Talk to people about what it is you want to be doing with your knowledge and skills even if you aren’t doing them “for real” at your current job.
Choose to interview or work for companies whose mission you believe in, and whom believe in a user centered mission. If those companies aren’t in your area, at least start to follow companies whose mission you believe in and try to meet others who work at them when at the next conference or event. Ask these other employees, designer or not, how they got the gig, or get advice on how to manifest your career in the same way.
Choose co-workers who are awesome like you. Obviously we can’t choose who we work with, but we can choose who we cooperate with and provide favors or extra help to, etc. Prop up those co-workers that you see as awesome.
Choose to believe you have a choice in your career, because we are all free beings, and we always have a choice.
Insert any other type of force here.
Further, if you are thinking about how you have already exerted force and created change, but it hasn’t worked… then I would argue that you need to exert a different type of force in order to manifest change in a different way. I’m by no means assuming that none of us are acting, but instead hoping to give you ideas on how to exert force, or act, if you currently are not exerting force, and if you are exerting force and it’s not working, giving you ideas on how to exert force differently.
The main point I want to make is, it’s not all about completely throwing away every part of your career and starting fresh. Instead, it’s simply about using whatever amount of force you can use to affect change in your environment. Even a little force will create some change (it’s a law of physics, remember?!). Of course, Newton’s second law says that the greater the force the greater the change, and that is to be expected. But, the happy news is, the laws of the universe tell us that as long as we are exerting a force, no matter how small, there will be a change in return. Anyone can assess the level of force they are able to exert and then start manifesting change, no matter what your situation is. Newton said so!
It Keeps Getting Better
And, guess what? The more we see the change, the more energy and ideas we’ll have to exert more and better force. It’s a cycle that gets better and better. Then the more force we exert, the more change will come. We’ll venture out and learn more about other disciplines and industries and become better integrated into cultures we like. We’ll stop with the cycle of taking crappy work, complaining about that work, leaving that work only to find more crappy work. We’ll instead force better jobs, ones where we can actually use our talents, to be created. We’ll force jobs that have a better understanding of the help we can provide, thereby using our talents to the fullest. Best of all, with all of us exerting force, our industry gets better. We don’t do it alone! By all of us exerting even a little, itty-bitty bit of force, we are all, in culmination, exerting a lot of force. And, that means, we’ll all see a lot of change and reap a lot of benefits. It means we can finally help in the ways we’ve always known we can.
In the end, it really is about taking responsibility of our fate, and then taking action to change that fate if we are unhappy with where the object is at rest. It really is just about not being the object at rest, if we don’t want to be, but instead being the force that moves that object in the right direction. And once the object is moving, it can’t be stopped… unless, of course, another force is exerted on it :-).
This summer has, so far, proven to be a very busy one (music to an Independent’s ears!). I had the opportunity this June, to travel to 3 different cities, present 3 different talks, and, in the process, I got to meet, interact with, and learn from many different people.
My first trip was to San Francisco for the UX Strategies Summit. There, partner in crime Donna Lichaw and I, unleashed our Adaptable Product Roadmaps workshop. Although the workshop is one that we prefer to give as a full day, we were able to successfully present our points and exercises to an eager group in a 3 hour format. The workshop is one that we use to help both clients and practitioners alike, to figure out new products, features, updates to old products, etc, in a prioritized, organized, and engaging way.
My next stop was in Chicago for ConFab for Nonprofits. There, Donna and I teamed up again, but this time to present our Storymapping: A MacGyver Approach to Content Strategy talk. This is also something we usually present as either a full day, or a few day workshop, but at this event we presented an overview of our method, how it works, outputs from a real-life case study, and then, of course, fielded some great questions. This talk also seemed to be a big hit with the group, and we learned alot from all the feedback.
Lastly, I headed over to Las Vegas for Future Insights Live!, where I debuted my Why I’m Sick of Calling Myself a UX Designer talk. I was extremely excited and nervous for this one. Luckily, I got the intended response from the crowd. That being, an ongoing conversation about the validity of our job titles, and how the topic as a whole effects this industry. I look forward to, hopefully, sharing this talk with many more groups in the future.
So, if you’ve been wondering where I have been for the past month or so, wonder no more. Apologies for not keeping up the writing, but there will be more to come later on this Summer and Fall. What am I going to do in the meantime? Well, I finally realized just how exhausting all this travel stuff is. So, besides working on some awesome projects that I hope to write more about in the near future, I’ll be looking to catch up on some sleep. I do hope that you all get to do the same!
And, lastly, here are some slides for your viewing pleasure. Thoughts are, of course, always welcome.
As I pour through my spreadsheet of blog ideas, I keep happening upon (probably not by accident) ideas that I have had over the years around the term UX Designer and, more specifically, whether or not the term makes sense (I.e. means something). Now, I realize that the title UX Designer DOES in fact “mean something” to many people. I think what has sparked this flow of ideas for me, however, is that the title means so many different things to so many different people. This space between the meanings is where I’m finding both internal and external conflict around the title’s purpose. Today, I want to dive into this even further, and, hopefully, get your thoughts and feedback as well (Yes, I’m adding another log to this fire. So, all you old school UXers can stop rolling your eyes now.).
This topic is nothing new. Most of the known digital technology industry walks around having a firm belief in the validity of the term UX Designer. Many people think things like “User Experience is, of course, the most important part of the product AND you need to have a UX Designer to have a ‘good UX’”. Or, other people think things like “UX Designers. Those are the people that make sure the product’s UX (but really they mean interface) is great!”. Or, they may think “UX Designers. Those are the people that are glorified visual designers.”. Whatever anyone thinks, it’s obvious that the title UX Designer is something that exists in a myriad of ways. In the digital design community, many times it’s a lauded profession; one that you acquire after knowing everything there is to know about “the UX” including interaction design, information architecture, visual design, and more. For this last point I can admit that I have also thought that UX Designer was a lauded profession. I bought into this concept… hell, I built a business around this concept! But today, I wonder, is the title UX Designer really all I, and many others (those that think it’s the *ish title), have made it out to be?
Why Lis, Why?
Why am I even pondering beating this dead horse? Well, as I was pouring through said blog idea spreadsheet, I found an idea I had back in early 2013. Seems I was scouring the web (read wasting time) and I found this quote, and I realized I needed to get this thought out of my head.
Although this quote was not targeted at the field of UX Design, it still stopped me in my tracks and caused me to reflect on the profession. Why? Because it brought to the surface, again (at least for me), the question of whether or not an experience can be designed. Of course, this quote that I found is not based on scientific or academic research (although if you have some to share I’d love to see it!), but the meaning of it felt true to me. So I’m going to move forward in this post assuming it is true (this, dear reader, is what is called fair warning).
The debate on whether or not an experience can be designed has been raging on since, what feels like, the beginning of the field. The following are just a few of the many pieces out there on the topic:
The way that I see it, is that each side is looking at the User’s Experience as one of two things. Those that agree with the idea that an experience can be designed often conceive the user experience as an input into a product or service. It is something that happens before the product or service is created and a user uses it, i.e. something they “do” to make a product or service better – “I do UX!”. On the other hand, those that say that experience can’t be designed, but can be designed for, see that the user experience as an output of the product and service, i.e. something that happens because of using a product or service – “How can you do something that happens later?”.
I’ve somehow found myself a part of this debate, and, have recently realized that I firmly agree with the latter, UX is an output NOT an input. Meaning I believe that the user’s experience exists when a user uses a product or service; i.e when they undergo it. I don’t think it can be argued that, to an extent, we can predict when a user will have a better experience if everything and everyone shown here has been accounted for in the creation of that product or service the user is using. However, I no longer believe that User Experience is something we inject into the creation of said product or service.
Given this new realization, I asked myself: If UX is an output and not an input… can the title UX Designer make sense? Can there be someone whose job it is to design the user’s experience IF the user’s experience it not something that goes into the product or service, but something that comes out of it.
I would argue that No, this title does not make sense (I.e. mean something) given this point. And, to be honest with you, I don’t have much more to say on what my new viewpoint means (so I suppose my good friend Donna Lichaw might say that this piece is a cliffhanger).
And Now It’s Your Turn
Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions in the battle that never ends. Do you think the UX is an input or an output? Given your opinion does the title UX Designer still make sense to you and why?
Whew ok folks there you have it. Another piece of wood added to this fire. Let the flames rage on!
I keep a list of ideas, buried deep in Google Drive, of blog posts that I mean to write. This is a great way to ensure that I never lose a spark of inspiration. However, this list only works if one takes the time to go back and look at it (which I rarely ever do). But, today I did take the time to go back to that list and I found an idea from almost two years ago that happened to catch my eye. And, even though I have written about this topic before, it has been etched into my brain so deeply, that I decided to write about it again today. What is that idea? That Information Architecture is, and always has been, about creating for the user’s experience.
This idea may not be new to many of you (I hope). UX has been the new IA for some time now, and all of us who started out by calling what we did Information Architecture knew that it involved the user’s experience. Problem was, at least for me, we just didn’t know how to describe it very well, or did we?
Is it IA, or is it UX?
Like what happens to most everyone, when I meet new people they often ask me what I do. For a long time I told them I practiced Information Architecture. Then, as the UX tide came in, I started to surf as a User Experience practitioner. But, more and more I have found myself back riding the Information Architecture wave. I tell you this not to show you what a flake I am, but to show that it’s obvious, and has been obvious, that something was missing in IA before, that enabled one to confidently say “I do Information Architecture which means I model user experiences.”.
And so, two years ago, I think I found that missing statement. I logged it in the back of my mind, as well as in my ideas for blog posts to write, and it has been festering ever since. And, although what I’m sharing with you today about Information Architecture is not all together new, I did want to share the link with you, to hopefully implant the idea of what Information Architecture is in your brains so that it festers and grows.
Of course, all of the material is interesting, but the line that stuck out to me, and that began my road back to IA was this:
“Information architecture relates to science as its models draw on insights and theories of cognition. And its models relate to art as they aim to create a meaningful experience.”
Whoa. There it was, again, in black and white. Information Architecture models aim to create a meaningful experience. Duh! How could I have forgotten this in my aim to describe what I did while saying I practiced Information Architecture? You see, those practicing Information Architecture create models which aim to create a meaningful experience for the users of those models. Brilliant!
Thus, all those years ago, when User Experience came on the scene and sounded so much easier to describe than Information Architecture, I abandoned my IA post for the promised land of UX. However, I realize that the words I was looking for to describe my value were right in front of me all along.
I share these thoughts with you today, dear reader, in the hopes that you begin to understand this:
The User Experience is not an input or a discipline, but is, instead, the result of modeling information in such a way that creates meaning in an experience.
AND, That modeling of information… that’s the job of someone who is practicing Information Architecture.
I love being a consultant because I love the freedom to choose my work, the freedom to choose when I work, and the overall ability to meet and work with so many different teams. Given all of these positives, there are still downsides to consulting. One big downside is that I don’t always get to see my work come to life because I’m not inside the company helping to push the work through. However, with Light & Motion, a client that I worked with last year on their site redesign, I was able to see my work come to life! The team pushed through and, two weeks ago, released the new version of lightandmotion.com. Of course, the design and photography are beautifully done, but the reason that this is the Most Beautiful project (or at least in the top 3 projects) I’ve ever worked on is not due, in my point of view, to either of these characteristics. The beauty, dear reader, is in the way the information is architected. Allow me to explain.
The Problems With the Old Site
“I feel like you should be wearing a cape or some sort of super hero outfit. The title Information Architect makes me think you are here to save the day.” Those were the words of my client when we met for the first time in the airport in Monterey California. I had flown across the country to help Light & Motion to redesign their site, and, as you can see, they needed help pretty badly.
Besides the look of the site being dated, there were some other major issues they were facing. First the navigation, and the way information was organized on the site made it hard for users to find what they were looking for. Second, and perhaps more important, was that the way the site was setup did not properly reflect Light & Motion’s core mantras, nor did it allow them to properly showcase the extent that their product could be used. Instead it segregated products into Dive, Bike, and Outdoor. These categories gave users very little idea of all that the L&M lights could accomplish. Third, customers usually were segregated into one of the three categories, however, L&M wanted to bring customers across the categories to see the power of the products. This just wasn’t possible given the old site setup. Lastly, the site’s product pages, and in fact the site in general, didn’t support the way users shop for lights. This meant that the site wasn’t suited to get users to purchase. This was a big ecommerce no no.
From there, Craig hired me to help come up with a concept of what the site should be, how it should be laid out, and what the features & functions would ultimately need to be to support the L&M vision.
From our meetings with the L&M team, I could tell right away that they were a different company. They were passionate about their products and their users. They had sketches everywhere of the lights and the accessories that their users would need to participate in the activities they loved. They had a 3D printer onsite so that they could test their concepts. They were invested in, and passionate about, their line of products in a way that I had never seen. They did 95% of their work onsite in Monterey (including creating and shipping the lights!). It is a special company indeed.
Thus, I took great care with this project. I took a good amount of time to use Craig’s (amazing) work and research to create the right concept model for the site (this defined the entities of the site at a high level and how they related to each other. i.e. Products, The Company, The Activity, etc). From that really abstract level, I started to narrow down into the details of what information needed to be on the site, and how that needed to be constructed to meet L&Ms goals. From what Craig put together, it was so easy for me to see that the site needed to be all inclusive. People do a LOT of research when buying these types of lights because for one they are not cheap, but also these users are centered around the activities they use the lights for. Biking to work, diving photography, mountain biking… these are life mantras for the people that L&M’s products service. They care a great deal about the activities, and thus the lights that go with the activities.
Therefore, I was able to discern that the ability to shop both by product line/name AND activity was a key component that was missing from the old site. Further, making sure that both the products and the activities were all inclusive, content and information wise, was hugely important. And, lastly, making sure that all of these connected back to L&M’s presence in the industry, and that their mantra and passion for lights shone (pun intended) through was a huge deal.
You can see from the product and activity pages on the new site, how these relationships play out. And the beautiful thing about the IA that was created (and executed to!) is that it’s seamless. A user can move from activity to light, from light to activity, from light to company information behind why they light was created, and more without leaving the site, getting lost on the site and definitely without getting bored!
To bring it all together, L&M hired the Bkwld team to execute the design, and boy did they! Their work is not only beautiful BUT it’s, more importantly, designed for the IA. They did a magnificent job of taking the direction that the Information Architecture laid out in both information and concept, and creating a design that enhances that direction.
After meetings and arguments and successes between all these parties, what L&M released two weeks ago is a thing of beauty for lighting purchasers across the world. It is a site that is delightful, informative, representative of the company, and indulgent of user needs. I’m extremely proud of the work that everyone on the team has done (especially L&M for sticking with us and pushing the work through), and I look forward to hearing the successes that come from it!
By valuing Information Architecture, and not just the “little” IA of the navigation, but the “big” IA that helped to lay the foundation and structure for the site, I’m sure L&M will see huge lifts in not only their sales, but in the passionate and loyal customers that reflect the company itself.
Some time ago, I was sitting in a client meeting, reviewing the QA version of their website’s check out flow. The development team had just finished putting together all of the changes that I had designed for checkout, and I was looking through to make sure everything matched up. Luckily, many of the items that I had designed were accounted for, and the QA site was looking great. On the flip side, I found a few, smaller items, that had been missed. When I asked the technology lead about them, he replied that we didn’t have time to go back and fix them, and since they weren’t core functionality, we could put them on the backlog for later. This got me thinking ‘How many times have I heard this before?’, and then I thought ‘I know these items would enhance this flow a thousand times over, but I know that they’ll never really get done. We never actually go into the backlog’. Then I got to thinking… why?
Why is it that we forget about the little things? More importantly, why are the details of our designs and ideas being overlooked and missed? I have been in this profession for over 10 years now. This is a trend I saw when I first started, and I still see it today. Those building out our designs, often don’t see every detail, and when we point the smaller details out, they are often not important enough to fix. I don’t know how our current state still includes a lack of getting into this detail.
And not developing and designing to the details causes us some problems. First off, the details are usually where the “delight” of a product is. Follow a site like Little Big Details and you can see all of the many small details that make products so much better to use than their competitors.
The second problem we see when we over look details is that these small details do not usually take a lot of design or development time to make happen. In fact, if we took the small amount of extra time to design and develop the details, we’d see a tremendous payout with the user’s experience with our product. Thus we are forgoing this return of user delight, in order to make a schedule, or stick to a development process.
The third problem is our product experiences are not progressing at a rate that they should. I believe that missing these details is what is stifling experiences across the web. It’s not just the big product ideas that set a website apart. Most times it’s simply the UI and flow around that website that makes the difference. But without the details, and holding others accountable for designing and coding them, we are missing out on our own progression.
The thing here is that I don’t know why this is still happening. Why do we allow designers and/or developers to miss the details? Obviously there is more than just the UX team in play, and it’s a technology community problem, but I’m just not able to see why I’m having the same conversations from 10 years ago still today.
Therefore, I write this piece as a question to all of you. How are we still here, and how do we solve the problem of detailing out delight, and still not seeing our details being designed to and developed for? What am I missing that you are seeing out there in the world that can help me, and all of us get there?
Ultimately my goal is to stop getting these small “enhancements” put on the backlog or “shelf” and to start having my teams get it right the first time. I believe by doing so the products we all work on will be much better off, and our work can progress exponentially because we won’t keep coming back to the same old conversations.
Thus, what are your thoughts on how we can move forward from where we are to getting our details designed and developed correctly the first (or even second) time around?
I just returned from the Interaction 14 conference in Amsterdam, and I’ve been reflecting on the information I learned there. I was honored to be facilitating a full day workshop, Interaction Design Beyond the Wireframe, at the conference. I love and hate facilitating this particular workshop. I love it because I believe in the content and approach, and it’s great to see this affect other designers lives. I hate it because sometimes it feels as if the concepts are old and no longer useful. But, after last Wednesday’s workshop event I realized that this information is still very much useful. Also, as I was watching the participants go through the activities I was reminded of a question that fellow UXer, and friend, Nathan Gao asked me some months ago. He said to me “Do you ever look back on the work you did, and just hate it?”. “What do you mean?”, I asked. “Well I mean now that you have learned a lot more, and you have done a lot more, do you ever look back and realize that the work you did was ugly, not technologically as advanced as it could be… stuff like that?” I paused and thought about this for a moment and responded “Honestly, no. And let me tell you why.”
In this world of UX and Interaction Design, we so often view our work as a work of art. We think of it as a blend of science and art, reflecting both best practices as well as internal purpose, aesthetic, and opinion. It was even mentioned during IxD 14 that we are both science based and art based. I always thought it was interesting to view our work this way… interesting and problematic.
The issue that arises when we think of ourselves as artists, is that we think of our work as art, and this causes pain points. First, we judge and critique our work as art. We judge the “look” of the deliverables, and the savviness of the interaction. We judge the emotional response invoked by the deliverable or the sketch or the prototype or whatever it is we, the interaction designer, provides.
But, at least from my point of view, my solution, which is reflected in, but not defined as, what I deliver, has nothing to do with art, unless I am actually designing the visual look and feel (which I personally don’t do). Strictly speaking of non visual design deliverables then, I see no art reflected in them. Everything that I have included in them is based on factual evidence of either user need, business need or technological constraints. If a user needs a way to view search results by date… I add a sorting control. If they need to find a way to company contact information… I add a contact us link. I also don’t view my wireframes as the final layout and product, I view them as information design. I.e. their purpose is to inform the interface by showcasing information relationships and priorities. Basically I don’t care about how it looks in the end, just that the right information and controls are present. Therefore, nothing I add in my work is based off my own opinion or internal narrative, so I don’t judge my work as art.
Going with this argument then, judging our work as art, means that we must be, in same ways, adding our own opinions and narrative to our work. And, if we are doing that, then we aren’t doing user experience design or interaction design, we are doing art. So the biggest problem with thinking of ourselves as artists is that we think of our work as art and add our own opinions and narrative to it as opposed to keeping it strictly about upholding user needs and business needs.
In order to avoid this problem, then, and to create work that is representative of our user needs, business needs and technology constraints, I believe we need to take the art point of view away for a minute. I KNOW this is going to cause a tear in the universe, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about and wanted to write about for some time.
So, I implore you dear readers to help me to see if I am on the right path with this thinking, completely mad with this thinking, correct with this thinking, or somewhere in between. Is there a cross over between Art and our UX and IxD deliverables (sans visual design), and if so, where is it?
Last Fall, Paul McAleer and I were talking a lot about our Mapping Business Value to UX workshop. In fact, we were talking about it so much, that I even wrote about it on the Keeping It Real About UX blog. I’m extremely attached to the subject, not just of the workhop, but of what this workshop, the presentation Paul and I gave at UX STRAT, as well as our work on UXmatters.com represents for the UX community. That is a trend in not only talking about our business and technology partners as our users, but also bringing real work outcomes and discussions to our conferences and events.
All this being said, I wanted to take the time to point out that all of our talk is not just for talk’s sake, but that from it we have created an activity that other UXers can take and use in the hopes of establishing better communication of the value of UX with their organizations. The Mapping Business Value to UX framework is just that, a framework that others can (and we hope do) utilize and customize to make their own, in order to describe the value of UX to their businesses.
Thus you can download the PDF of the framework with step by step instructions of how to employ it. You can also re-read our UX Matters articles to get more information on how we used it, what worked for us, and what didn’t. Hopefully you can use the #MBVUX framework in your own work, and if you do we’d love to hear back about how it went. If you have questions in the meantime… you know where to find me.