I first heard the term user experience (UX) back in 2001. I liked the idea that the experience of a user is more than the pixels on the screen, and that it should encompass everything from unboxing a product to phone support. The problem is that many people who call themselves experts at UX primarily focus on the User Interface (UI). Often when there is a problem outside of software, such as a business or process problem, it isn’t addressed.
Fading the departmental lines.
When I starting Raizlabs I worked with many very large companies that have UX departments that aren’t allowed to impact anything other than the software product. These teams aren’t truly advocates for a user experience, they’re advocates for a software experience. Software experience is a great start, but it’s not enough.
I love shipping five star apps, and it bothers me when someone gives a bad review because of something that was outside of the power of the team. I often turn to the client leads who will shrug and say… “Not my department.”
As software gets more complex it becomes more important to make the departmental lines of an organization disappear. Customers can't tell the lines are between Billing, Fulfillment, Operations, Retention, and Support. Most frequently we see retail and e-commerce departments have competing business interests:
“Why can’t I return this product in-store when I bought it online?”
“Why can’t I buy this in-store when I saw it on your app?”
“Why are the prices here different than the prices there?”
“Why are there four different numbers to get to customer service?”
These are issues typically not covered by user experience, but they impact the user nonetheless. Perhaps, then, user experience has been the wrong focus all along. Imagine if it were happiness we focused on from the beginning. If the price is wrong, you won’t be happy. If the size you want isn’t available, you won’t be happy. If the customer service representative is rude, you won’t be happy.
Happiness before features.
Users ask for features and it’s the job of UX professionals to figure out how to deliver the best versions of those features. The problem is that sometimes the best version of a feature is actually its absence. Sometimes the best version of a feature isn’t even good enough to be in the product.
Take Siri as an example - it’s an amazing technology. When it works it makes me extremely happy, but all of this happiness vanishes when it doesn’t work after two attempts. Great software will succeed even when conditions aren’t ideal. Great software consistently delivers happiness.
DropBox as another example removed most of the complexity around syncing folders and this led to happier users despite the lack of competitive features. The Nest thermostat is another example. It does a few things really well and that leads to happiness.
Companies should align themselves with building happiness instead of features. Features provide capabilities but capabilities aren’t improvements unless they also reduce frustration.
When I worked at Microsoft I was told that the top 10 feature requests for Office were already built into Office. That was true, and yet the team continued to focus on features. In that instance the right answer was to focus on discoverability or ease of use.
Happy customers will forgive or even work around the lack of a feature but if you have frustrated users then no amount of bells or whistles will help. Let’s build happy.