2 years, 11 months ago 0
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Why designing for the user might be the wrong thing

I recently attended a talk by Tom Rideout at a PSSIGCHI (Puget Sound special interest group on computer-human interaction), entitled,  ”It’s not all about the user – tailoring experience design to your business.” I thought it was a somewhat provocative title for user-experience related presentation. Given that product strategy and product management is increasingly customer-centric, and that UX design is a key element of that, I was wondering—“what’s up?”

The key premise/take-away of Tom’s presentation was that the “customer(s)” and the user may, in fact, be different people. And, designing for the user without understanding the customer is a recipe for failure.

In the late 80’s, HP developed a GUI called, New Wave, which was an object-oriented graphical desktop environment and office productivity tool for PCs running early versions of Microsoft Windows. New Wave allegedly made working with files and data/objects easier. Tom’s group worked extensively with end users to craft the system, and ensure it was easy to use, provided appropriate functionality, etc.

They pitched New Wave to a company that was looking for a platform their agents could use to run their company software and book customer reservations. The IT manager who was tasked with evaluating programs and platforms asked whether his agents would be able to access and use other programs in addition to the reservation system. “Of course,” was the answer. “Why would we want to do that,” he replied. “We want our reservation agents making reservations. Not playing Solitaire.”

The point that Tom was making—which I see frequently in the context of product management (and less so in the arena of UX design)—is the idea that there may be a wide variety of people involved in a purchase decision. There is the economic buyer, there are gatekeepers and other decision makers who may play a role in evaluation or purchase.

This is bread-and-butter stuff for most Marketers, but not intuitive for many experience designers. And, the key take-away for those in UX was: Every required participant in the business system is a candidate for the experience design discipline.

I take this to mean that if an IT manager is a gatekeeper in the purchase decision for a specific product—then the designers who are tasked with designing the product need to understand their concerns and to specifically address them in order to earn the sale.

To understand this issue, answer these questions:

  • Who must benefit for the product to succeed?
  • Who choses it among alternatives?
  • Who pays for it?
  • Whose experience needs to change to deliver the value:
    • Throughout the business system?
    • What do they need to be a willing participant?
  • What experiences will be attributed to our company and brand? Which will have the biggest impact on the business?

You can create an awesome end user experience, but have a complete business failure unless you understand, and design for all the people involved in the decision-making process.

It just goes to reinforce that old, annoying saying that’s trotted out by every other sales person I’ve ever met:

Everyone is in Sales

Yep, ‘guess so.


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