User Experience is everybody’s job

I’ve met lots of product teams who will tell you: “User Experience is a design thing.” They hire ‘User Experience Designers’ to design the User Experience, and generally assume that they alone are responsible for the overall UX.

I believe that simply assuming the User Experience is a ‘Design Thing’ is a very dangerous mindset, for three very important reasons.

UX is in the middle between Product, Design and Technology

Within a product, the overall User Experience isn’t delivered only through design.

Certainly a big part of the UX is the visual design, the interaction design, the brand design, and so on. But an equal part of UX is the implementation of that design through technology. The danger in assuming that UX is a ‘Design Thing’ is that it quickly leads to people from other disciplines disconnecting from worrying about the User Experience at all. Every technology decision has an impact on the User Experience, which makes every engineer who is making any technology decisions – (which is every engineer) – equally responsible for ensuring a great UX.

Too often I see product tradeoffs being made where teams decide to sacrifice the user experience in favour of saving time, saving cost, avoiding that refactor or simplifying that internal process. These are all terrible reasons to sacrifice the User Experience. Additionally, sometimes the best User Experience improvements come exclusively through technology improvements. For example performance improvements, which can have a huge impact on UX, often come from deep and complicated engineering innovation.

Engineers: The User Experience is your job, too!

User Experience is also about solving the right problems for the user, and solving them with the right priority.

The user will judge the user experience to the extent that it solves their problem. A perfectly executed product that doesn’t solve a problem for the user won’t lead to a great User Experience.

This is where Product Managers should feel in command of the User Experience: in making sure the problems you’re solving are urgent and pervasive within your market segment, and that the solutions you are delivering are differentiated and defensible. Make no mistake: this has the biggest impact on your User Experience – and the resulting product success – than anything else, so it makes sense that you should focus here.

Product Managers: The User Experience is your job, too!

The overall User Experience goes beyond just the app/website/service/widget that you’re building.

When we’re working as Product Managers on digital products, we’re all so concentrated on our app, website, widget or whatever, that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that your app is just one piece of the whole User Experience.

The overall UX starts the moment the user first hears about your product, and goes all the way to support, fulfilment, billing, etc. In other words, the User Experience spans the entire customer lifecycle.

We hire people with titles like ‘User Experience Designer’, but then put them to work designing user flows within single apps or products. To me, there is a difference between Interaction Design and User Experience design.

Interaction Design is concerned with the design of discreet experiences – interactions – within customer experiences. How does the user interact with this feature/product/widget?
User Experience Design takes a holistic view of the entire end-to-end user journey – from their first contact with the product via a marketing message, the app store or even a word-of-mouth recommendation, all the way to customer support, billing, delivery, etc.

But it’s not only the job of the User Experience Designer to think end-to-end. Everybody working on the product should have the entire end-to-end flow in mind, to understand the unique context of each user, why they are there, what problems they have and what they are hoping to achieve.

Marketeers, Support Engineers, PR folks, Delivery technicians, Logistics technicians, etc: The User Experience is your job, too!

Why this matters

Users have more ability to discover and switch to new services than ever before. Traditional lock-in effects like platform dependencies and data ownership are eroding thanks to open platforms and data portability, and there are great alternatives in every product vertical. The thing that keeps people using your product or service is the quality of the user experience, from end to end.

Companies that become great and enjoy great customer loyalty do so by developing a culture of unwavering customer focus. Sure, many companies say they are customer focussed, but actually being customer focussed is more than just a mission statement – it’s a deeply embedded culture that everyone lives and breathes from the CEO down.

A couple of examples:

  • Facebook prioritises the customer experience over everything. Facebook understands that their business model depends on gaining more and more users who each spend more and more time using Facebook. Their business is cultivating user attention. Everything else in the business comes second to user engagement.
  • Amazon is another company which was founded and grew on the fundamental premise of making the experience great for the customer. When Jeff Bezos launched Amazon.com in the mid 90s, he knew that the key to scaling massive consumer adoption extremely quickly was an unwavering focus on a great customer experience, and he considered the customer the most important thing in the business. He built this customer-first attitude into the company’s DNA from day one, and every innovation they have delivered – from 1-Click ordering, to personal recommendations, to the Kindle eReader to the voice-controlled Echo – has been about making a great customer experience and making it easier to shop and interact with your content.

A few ways to make sure you’re thinking end-to-end about UX

  • Do you share a common set of User Personas across all departments, including tech, QA, product, design, marketing, comms and support? Having a common set of personas ensures that everyone has the same user in mind when designing their solutions.
  • Does your QA team test the entire acquisition and on-boarding funnel? It’s important, but insufficient, to focus your QA efforts on the app/website/etc. You need test coverage of the whole end-to-end experience. If you don’t QA your marketing or your support functions, you should consider doing so. For example, you can test your support team with the ‘secret shopper’ approach.
  • Consider a ‘Stop the line’ policy for the User Experience. It’s a familiar concept to your engineers – certain situations within the build environment, such as test coverage dipping below a certain level, or open bugs exceeding a certain threshold, will trigger a ‘stop the line’ where no new check-ins can occur until the situation is resolved. What if you did the same for User Experience? What if you gave everybody in the product team – from Product Management and Design, to Engineering, QA, Marketing, Comms, Support, etc – the permission to Stop the line? To put a pause on building anything new until the UX issue is resolved? What impact would that have on your customer focus?

Ultimately, the User Experience is the culmination of every touchpoint you have with your customers. This experience can, and should, be designed from end to end. But it’s not just the ‘job’ of Design to get it right.

UX is everybody’s job.

Is it Google’s plan to index the world’s information, or to curate it?

I just heard (via @montymunford) that Google will start ranking mobile websites lower in search results when they use a “download our app” popup on the page. Read about it here.

One of Google’s justifications is that the experience of seeing a pop-up banner may be ‘disruptive’ to the user experience.

Is it Google’s job to play User Experience police to the whole internet?

It’s one thing to deprioritise sites with poor or duplicate content. But to de-rank sites based on user interaction decisions of the developers? Isn’t that taking it a bit too far?

Some argue that it’s a good thing… that it helps us find better content. Maybe that’s true… but where would it end? What if Google started de-ranking sites because the navigation was unclear? Or because there was no ‘about’ page?

It’s a slippery slope.

Google already controls access to a huge proportion of the internet. They are the gatekeepers… the ones who decide what we get to see, and what not. To me, consolidating all of this power in one gate puts the freedom and openness of the internet at risk.

A brief memoir of my days as a barkeeper (and why ex-barkeepers make great employees)

Cocktails
Cocktail Group – by kurmanstaff.

Over the years since I finished high school I’ve had the immense good fortune to work with a handful of remarkable people who have inspired me deeply; who have mentored me and taught me an incredible amount about myself.

The first of these was not a CEO or a VP; he had, in fact, nothing to do with the technical career I was then aspiring to pursue. He was a barkeeper.

A cocktail maker in fact; “Chief Cocktail Maker”, if such a title existed. His name was Ted; he was in his mid fifties then and had worked in the same piano bar in Sydney’s inner southern suburbs for something like 20 years.

The cocktail bar was part of a large lounge and bar complex, filled to overflowing with glittering poker machines and rowdy teenagers. In the midst of this sea of lights, noise and excitement, Ted’s little cocktail bar was an island of quiet and still.

There were many bartenders working at the club; maybe 40 or 50 at any one time. Ted was feared by some, awed by many; and respected by everyone. Something of a legend in the cocktail business, his skill with a boston shaker and hawthorne strainer was renowned.

Ted had worked in that dimly lit bar behind that lotus-green marble countertop for as long as he could remember, and as far as I know he’s still there now, mixing up his classic appleseed martini. And yet I learnt from Ted a few fundamental things that have stayed with me through my career as a Product Manager and helped define who I am and how I work.

How?

Firstly, Ted taught me the value of understanding the customer experience. When you come into his bar, you are not there just for the drinks. What you pay for is the end-to-end experience. This is something any good restaurateur understands: the quality of the meal itself is only as good as the quality of the experience surrounding it.

The same is true of software products. When you pay for a piece of software (either with cash, or with your attention), it’s not just the source code that you obtain – it’s an experience. And the experience doesn’t end with the user interface of the product. The sales process itself is part of the product, as is the customer support line, the warranty process, the packaging, and so on. And the user’s perception of every part of this experience influences their perception of everything else.

Ted taught me about this experience. The guest’s experience starts when they enter the bar and see how the room is lit, how the chairs are organised, what music is playing. It continues when they order their drink: the menu, the options. How a cocktail is prepared and presented to the customer is almost more important than how it tastes; in fact, mixing the ingredients in the right way is the easy part – the true artistry comes with the flair with which it’s prepared and the quality of the presentation in the glass. (The artistry involved in creating new drinks is quite something else, but that’s another story).

This brings me to the next critical skill I learned under Ted’s tutorage: attention to detail.

Cocktails
Red Stools – by Jack Zalium.

Ted was obsessed with orderliness, and every stool and every table needed to be perfectly positioned and perfectly aligned. He was known for walking through various parts of the club with a ruler, measuring the distance between the chairs and tables, as well as rigorously enforcing other standards of excellence, such as ensuring coasters laid out on the table were positioned so the text would be the correct way up for the seated guests, or that every bottled product served to a customer should be served with the label facing the guest (something actually every bartender knows and continues to do intuitively when placing bottles on the table, long after their bartender career has ended).

Details come in all forms great and small, and the ability to keep your eye on the details while maintaining the end-to-end view is, I believe, one of the chief virtues of incredibly successful people.

To understand the impact of these two things, consider the packaging of an Apple product, whether an iPod, MacBook or an iPad. Every aspect of the package has been considered; the colour, the use of images and type. Bold in its modesty, an Apple product stands out among the clutter through its thoughtful minimalism and stark beauty.

Attention has been paid to every aspect of the end-to-end experience, from what the product looks like on the shelf to the experience of taking the product out of the box and using it for the first time.

In every product I work on I come back to that which I learned during those long evenings in the Skyline cocktail bar. But Ted taught me more than that.

Cocktails
Library Bar – by ZagatBuzz.

Ted’s obsession with orderliness didn’t end at the alignment of the chairs and tables. If he saw a dirty table, he’d be the first to grab a rag and a spray bottle and he’d be off to clean it. If an ashtray had ash in it, he’d empty it, or if there as litter on the floor, he’d pick it up.

It didn’t bother Ted that he was actually the bar manager. He could have called the cleaners; he could have delegated to a more junior bar staff member. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t his job: if something needed doing, then he’d do it.

Ted, of course, expected nothing less of the people who worked for him, and the result was a culture where “not-my-job” thinking just didn’t exist.

Every team has issues that don’t get resolved as quickly as they probably should – old, un-refactored code, unanswered customer support queries, lingering bugs. But when these things start to stack up into ever-increasing piles, I’ve found that it’s often due to an established “not-my-job” attitude, and changing this attitude once it’s ingrained in a team is very difficult.

On top of all that, my time in Ted’s cocktail bar taught me that hard work is rewarding work. It might sound like a socialist slogan, but when I fell into bed at 4am after making cocktails all evening, I fell asleep exhausted, but fulfilled. I’d had fun at work, I’d learned something (which I did nearly every day), I’d met interesting people and helped serve an experience to our guests that they appreciated and told their friends about.

You might not believe it, but it’s truly amazing what you can learn in a bar.

Cheers!