Re-Rethinking The User Experience

If I ran a bank that had a Customer Experience department, the first thing I would do is fire everybody in the department (I would, however, keep all the Web site designers).

Here’s what spurred that comment: Adweek recently ran an article title Rethinking The User Experience, in which the author writes:

In the interactive world, we have a discipline called User Experience, or UX for short. We’ve got a whole department of people that thinks about it. It’s the first phase of many online projects and it’s a part of every interactive RFP that any company receives. The first thing to understand when getting your head around UX is that it’s an umbrella term for different disciplines that have been converging and co-evolving for the past couple of decades. Less important than intimately understanding each subdiscipline is the idea that at the center of all of this is the user. Ultimately, UX is about fostering a deep understanding of the people who use your Web site, how it fits into their lives, and the empathy necessary to create design solutions that lead to great experiences.

My take: From what I’ve observed, much of what is passed off as UX is nothing but Web site design. There is little to no integration of the graphic design, information architecture, and human-computer interaction disciplines. Persona design is — this won’t win me a lot of fans — often just an effort to create yet another customer segmentation approach that comes no where near producing a return close to the level of investment needed to create it.

The author of the Adweek article wants us to rethink UX by recognizing that “UX and marketing a brand on the Web are inextricably related” and that we must “account for it in a methodical way.”

Honestly, I don’t even know what that means. If that’s “rethinking” UX, then I think we need to re-rethink it.

Specifically, what UX needs is not more graphic design, interface design, or information design. It needs some good, old-fashioned business process design.

Business process design — or business reengineering — is the missing piece to successful user experience. Too often — and this might sound heretical — site designers (oops, I mean user experience engineers) focus too narrowly on the customer or site user. What they fail to recognize is that what they’re “designing” isn’t just a Web site, but a business process. A business process that often exists in the offline world. And a business process that, even though much of it occurs online, still interacts with the offline world and the people (often known as “employees”) who execute that business process offline.

Reengineering came into vogue in the early 90s and went out of vogue by the mid 90s after it became synonymous with downsizing. That certainly didn’t do it any favors, but it still didn’t disqualify it as a legitiimate business tool. Beyond the connection with downsizing, though, the big drawback to the way reengineering was done in the 90s was that it was too internally-focused and often failed to account for what the customer wanted out of that process.

Today’s UX approaches are often just the flip side of the coin: Too externally focused, without the explicit recognition — and (re)design — of the underlying business process supported by the Web site.

Interestingly, despite the focus of the Adweek article on the integration of UX and marketing, the author does rhetorically pose the question “Shouldn’t the UX people be considering this possible impact on the company’s operations?”

The non-rhetorical answer is yes, they absolutely should.

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10 thoughts on “Re-Rethinking The User Experience

  1. You hit the proverbial nail head. Whenever I design a web app, I don’t think about the Zen of how the app and user converge. I think about the business process the user is trying to accomplish and making that as intuitive as possible. Maybe we should add UX to BS Bingo.

  2. I agree to a point. UX is definitively over-rated.

    I would say that business process is over-rated too. What you don’t want to do is take a business process from a branch operation, and automate it. A typical business process is often found in a form or series of forms. These offline forms can duplicate information, even the customer name.

    So whatever the word is the business process needs to be automated based on thinking about what is already known, and the simplest flow of information that makes sense to the user.

  3. We don’t have a UX department, but we have hired a UX consultancy. They seem to have a good handle on the business process side, though they are often irritated when we tell them that our underlying infrastructures won’t support the great experiences they are designing!

  4. “isn’t just a Web site, but a business process” … that’s the key right there man. The sales funnel is everything and companies should pay more attention to it and stop thinking along the lines of, ‘it’s just a website’…

    LOL…Ebay and Amazon are loving that, I’m sure…!


  5. Very good thinking! One of those business process considerations would probably be my personal pet peeve, namely the multichannel reality. I.e., for any channel to take into account the fact that customers interact with the company through many channels.

    On the web that may mean that customers come there because they have been in the store before or received something by mail or viewed a TV commercial.

    But it will also mean that their goal isn’t necessarily to buy/register/act on the web site. They may jump offline again, to touch the product or try on the pullover.

    Alas, this post of yours reminds me of one setback that I suffered recently with my Multichannel Marketing book that was published in April this year. Namely, I tried to find the book at my local Barnes & Noble, and on which shelf should it turn out to be? On the “Web & Design” shelf. Arghh….

    Not sure how it got stuck there. I’d be glad for it to be on the business process shelf.


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