THE ONLY THING CONSTANT IS CHANGE
Approaching the design of a new product with the goal of creating an experience that makes things “easy to use” is a losing proposition, and the wrong way of thinking about UX in today's world. The expectation people have of software today is much deeper and more intertwined with the other aspects of their life. Especially when you consider how people expect to have access to almost anything, anytime. People now assume the products they use will fit into the context of their lives and be ready to help whenever they have the need or a few minutes of free time.
AS DESIGN THINKERS WE ARE THE ONES THAT MUST UNDERSTAND PEOPLE AND THEIR GOALS, THEIR CONTEXT, AND THE CONSTRAINTS WE HAVE TO OPERATE WITHIN IN ORDER TO DESIGN EXPERIENCES THAT WIN.
TIME MACHINE, PLEASE
In the last 10+ years we have seen the mindset toward user experience change substantially. My first UX job out of grad school in 2001 was conducting user testing for Don Norman on the newly formed startup learning portal Cardean University. It's hard to believe, but I spent more time convincing people their product needs a great UX than I did actually designing back then. But the goal was clear: design software that didn't confuse people and which allows them to easily complete their tasks. Today the expectation of the digital products we use is much different, and we need to change our approach to match.
TARGET YEAR: 2016
Let's consider this example provided by David Edelman of McKinsey & Company recently on Think With Google:
YOU ARE TRAVELING AND YOU ARE TIRED AND JUST WANT TO GET INTO YOUR HOTEL ROOM WITHOUT HAVING TO WAIT IN LINE TO CHECK-IN. WITH THE STARWOOD APP, YOU CAN CHECK-IN RIGHT ON THE APP. AS SOON AS YOU ENTER THE PROPERTY, BEACONS RECOGNIZE THAT YOU'RE THERE. YOU VERIFY YOUR IDENTITY WITH A FINGERPRINT (IF YOU’RE ON AN IPHONE), THE APP PROVIDES YOUR ROOM NUMBER, AND THEN YOU SIMPLY HOLD YOUR PHONE UP TO THE ENTRANCEWAY TO THE ROOM, AND GO RIGHT IN. THAT'S AN AMAZING WAY FOR A BRAND TO HELP YOU IN A MICRO-MOMENT.
I love this example because it does a great job of telling the story of how the core principles of people, content, and context must work together in harmony in order to deliver a great experience. It also does a good job of focusing on the WHY.
ONCE WE UNDERSTAND THE STORIES THAT DEMONSTRATE HOW PEOPLE INTERACT WITH A PRODUCT, WE CAN DESIGN A USER EXPERIENCE THAT FITS THEIR NEED.
LAST STOP, FACEBOOK
Let’s take a look at someone doing it right - the juggernaut that is Facebook. I know I've declared publicly on more than one occasion that I would like a shot at improving the design, but what designer wouldn't? Tehan+Lax demonstrated they were certainly interested in the challenge when they closed up their shop and joined Facebook this summer. Astonishingly, Facebook had 1.55 billion monthly active users as recently as the third quarter of 2015. That't right BILLION. Even more interestingly, on average, each of those users spends 20+ minutes on Facebook per day. Say what you will, they are indeed doing something right.
HOW DO THEY DO IT?
When you join Facebook, finding and interacting with interesting content on your timeline isn't a task that's easy to learn - it's already being done for you. According to Zolli, the team at Facebook is studying how our capacities for conflict, compassion, respect, trust, and empathy are expressed digitally, and based on these findings, they’re reworking the UX to encourage more humane relationships.
While I fully admit that I have been suspect of some of these testing practices in the past, this level of user experience concerned me. However, an interesting podcast from RadioLab in February of this year called "The Trust Engineers" put me at ease. Leaving the moral discussion of manipulating users for another time, the point is that the team at Facebook is providing an engaging experience that serves a real purpose in the lives of many people.
This is just one example of the litany of product companies working hard to understand content, context, and their user's needs in order to design great user experiences in today's world.
WE CAN DESIGN BETTER USER EXPERIENCES TODAY BY CONSCIOUSLY APPROACHING DESIGN NOT FROM A "MAKE IT EASY TO USE" STANDPOINT, BUT RATHER FROM A "HOW CAN I MAKE IT MOST USEFUL" APPROACH INSTEAD.
Randy Fisher is a Partner and leads the design team at DeveloperTown. Follow him on Twitter at @randyfisher8.