Dev: “Without the system, the experience is nothing.”

Me: “Without the experience, the software is only a bunch of calculations.”

Dev: “The software is the system that runs the pipeline.”

Me: “No, the users run the pipeline. The software is just a tool.”

This is an excerpt from a conversation I recently had with one of our senior developers. It could have been an excerpt from any one of a number of conversations I’ve had over the years.

This conversation is one that’s more important than it seems… the idea that people are the operators and the system is just another tool is a perception shift for people who build software. Right?

Well, hold onto your hat, because here are a few more zingers:

  • Products are experiences, not products.
  • Experiences should be designed.
  • You can’t create an experience without a user.
  • Satisfying users is just a baseline.
  • Know the user, and you are not the user.

Let’s discuss:

Products are experiences, not products

When you buy a car, what are you buying? A collection of parts? A pile of materials? If all you’re buying is a product, why have a preference?

Here’s the thing. Users (including us, btw) make choices based on the experience and the emotion, not the products.

In this article from Forbes, Welcome to the Era of Design, the author makes the point that successful companies understand this principle and are applying it more broadly than ever before, with greater results.

No surprise, this is well known by advertisers and marketers everywhere. Check out 5 Consumer Behavior Secrets on YouTube – reason #3: People buy for emotional reasons.

Experiences should be designed

Experiences happen whether they’re designed or not. What experience do you want your users to have? We’ve all endured those products or software whose experience is so bad that we rage quit. In fact, I’m betting that as you’re reading this, you’re reliving that particular experience.

Here’s some “not news”:

  • Companies focused on customer experience design outperformed the S&P by a 10-to-1 margin. (Peer Insights, 2007)
  • Design is a key determinant to building online trust with consumers. (Sillence, Briggs, Fishwick and Harris, 2004)
  • Primary motivations for purchasing online: Convenience - 43%, price - 15%, Selection - 13%, Other - 8%, Don’t know - 21%. (Investor’s Business Daily, 2000)

You can’t create an experience without a user

An experience without a user is art. We don’t make art – we make software.

In the Pleasure & Pain blog, Whitney Hess, a contributor to organizations like Forbes, the New York Times, .net Magazine, CNET, TechCrunch, etc., makes the point that you can’t call yourself a user experience designer if:

  1. You don’t talk to users.
  2. You can’t identify your target audience.
  3. You don’t define the problem before trying to solve it.
  4. You can’t articulate your users’ goals.
  5. You design in a vacuum.
  6. You make design decisions based on your personal preferences.
  7. Etc.

We don’t make art – we make software. For people.

Satisfying users is just a baseline

The bar is rising. Our users are becoming more and more sophisticated, and their expectations are changing. In the olden days, satisfying users was the ultimate goal. Now, satisfying users will just about get you a chair at the table, but it won’t help you win.

The currency now is delight – designing for specific good emotions. In his column at Boxes and Arrows, Parrish Hanna (VP of Experience Planning for Arc Worldwide) makes the point that positive perceptions are increased every time users experience delight – that is, every time our software goes beyond their needs and exceeds their expectations. This makes software competitive.

Gaming companies have known this for years. Valve Software is a is a well respected, well known privately owned gaming organization whose revenue is in the bazillions and whose ENTIRE CATALOG is the game equivalent of a platinum record. Their New Employee Handbook talks about how the company actively behaves ONLY in the best interests of their customers. If a change isn’t better for the customer, Valve asks the customers and repeals the change.

BTW – on that note, Valve just announced that it’s porting its games to Linux, making it the first major game player in that platform. Read the comments from the Welcome post to soak up the delight!

“Know the user, and you are NOT the user”

Arne Lund, UX Industrial Innovation Lab Manager, GE Global Research

For a fantastic explanation of how knowing the user affects the bottom line, check out Satisfying the Cat on YouTube.

And then… when I googled “know the user and you are not the user,” here are the first few hits I got (I removed a bunch of hits that are pretty much a repeat of these):

This is a tough one – more for some folks than for others. But it’s worth it. Do the research – know your user.

The Four Magic Questions

Well, not really magic – these are the four questions that guide our user-centered design process:

  1. What are the business goals?
  2. Who are the users?
  3. What are their goals?
  4. How does our solution help them meet their goals? (HINT: this is where all the development gets done.)

And in Conclusion

Think about your project… who are you building for? Do you know? If not, why not?

If you want to know how to find out who you’re building for, contact me (or anyone else in Online Business Systems’ UX practice): We’re here to help.

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