User Experience: The Third Objective

December 06, 2010

Conventional wisdom holds that the true measure of your product success is in how well it meets your business and marketing objectives. But what about the third objective—user experience? Apple, for example, has developed a reputation very different from Microsoft. Which one would you say succeeds at setting and meeting successful user experience objectives?

How is a user experience objective different from a business or marketing objective? Common business objectives focus on increasing revenue or decreasing costs. Marketing objectives focus on increasing market share and deepening existing relationships. While necessary objectives, they focus more on the business and product. User experience is about managing the customer side of the equation.

User experience (UX) isn't a warm and fuzzy superlative such as "easy to use," or "delightful." A good UX objective needs to be much more specific and measurable, like business and marketing objectives.

Business, marketing, and UX objectives are complementary and support each other. Marketing objectives directly impact UX objectives in that marketing strategy defines target markets, which includes target customers and users of the experience. Moreover, UX objectives help refine the target market. And as much as business objectives guide marketing objectives, they guide UX objectives, too. In many cases, UX objectives refine both business and marketing objectives.

For example, we conducted research with a client to uncover ways they could attract their competitors' customers and identified a more lucrative and unmet need within the customer organizations, but not in the IT department, where all of the competitor products were focused. This new opportunity was closely related to the existing product offering and merely required a focus on a different user group. This new insight transformed both business objectives (reduce costs) and the marketing objective (attract competitors' customers). The company was able to change business and marketing direction, increase revenue by expanding an immature market-base, and now dominate their market.

Define your user experience objective

To create your user experience objective you must first have a clear understanding of your business and marketing objectives. There are plenty of books and articles on this subject. Decide on one key business objective and one key marketing objective when defining your first user-experience objective.

User experience objectives must align with your users' needs. Successful UX objectives are borne from a deep understanding of your users' environment. Applying proven user-centered design methods provides a straightforward approach to gaining insight that accurately defines your objective.

There are seven steps in defining your user experience objectives. While the insight that defines your objective can occur in any of the following steps, you never know which step it will be, or if separate insight from each step combine to form your objective. So you must commit to the whole process. But, don't go into analysis paralysis. At this stage, all you want are insights, words, metaphors, etc., that suggest what the key users' desired experience is or should be.

STEP 1
Don't ask, observe

Listening to your customers' suggestions may lead to incremental improvements instead of real innovative market solutions. Rather than asking your users via focus groups, interviews, or surveys, you will have much better results going out and watching them perform the tasks related to your product. It's even better when you observe them performing the task without your product as their task process may be modified to conform to your specific solution. All you end up doing, then, is automating their frustrations.

When users perform a task, not every action is verbally communicated to the observer, often because users perform tasks unconsciously, or don't see them as important, or think they, the user, are the problem. For example, your users may have created special information "cheat sheets" to do their job. These cheat sheets indicate something in the task domain is missing or too difficult to perform.

Sometimes when we solve a market problem, our solution may completely eliminate existing workflows, activities and tasks with a better process. In many cases, customers only know their way of doing things while we possess a broader perspective across many customers' processes and a deeper understanding of technology capabilities. An individual customer does not have our aggregated view of the larger market problem across multiple customers.

STEP 2
Define your key users (persona)

Based on your marketing objectives, you should have a clear idea of where to find your target users. Personas are a common tool to help define your key users. Personas are a stand-in for a unique group who share common goals. They are fictional representatives—archetypes based on the users' behaviors, attitudes, and goals.

You need to be more specific than your typical demographic-based customer description. You should be able to not only describe your users in terms of their demographics, but also be able to describe their cognitive and behavioral attributes.

Another way to think about your users is in terms of the various and more specific roles they perform. We all wear different hats. With each hat, we endeavor to achieve different objectives and bring varying degrees of task knowledge. Instead of looking at your users as a single person, describe them more specifically by the roles they assume when performing separate tasks.

Give the described user roles cute names to help keep the design team focused. In e-commerce projects, we've found three basic user roles:

Browsing Betty—who, without any specific objective, ambles through the mall looking at various shops and items.

Surgical Sam—who knows exactly what he wants, where it is, its cost, etc.

Birthday Bob—who has 40 minutes left on his lunch hour and $40 to buy a birthday present for his 6-year old niece. He doesn't know what 6 year-olds like or what his niece wants specifically, but he's got 40 minutes and $40 to find something.

It's not uncommon for users to start in one role and then switch to another, thus switching hats. Betty may find a pair of pants and then realize that the belt she saw at another store would go perfect with the pants, so she switches from being Betty to being Sam.

The task objectives and knowledge basis of each role is different enough to warrant a different design perspective and therefore a different UX objective. But you cannot design for all three simultaneously. You must focus on a single user role (for now, anyway).

STEP 3
Define your customers' triggers

Every task begins with a trigger event. Wouldn't it be nice to know your target customers' triggers? That's why observation is so much more informative than self-reporting mechanisms. Most users are not aware of what triggers an activity. They more often describe what triggers them to use your product, but the real trigger event often occurs much earlier than perceived.

Good design is about managing user expectations. Expectations are a key component of the trigger event and may point to a user experience objective. The appropriate focus on this objective allows you to manage your users' expectations.

STEP 4
Understand your customers' desired outcomes

Users turn to your product to solve a problem and have a solution in mind. Typically that solution is just a part of the desired outcome. For example, buying flowers online is not the desired outcome. Getting out of the doghouse because you forgot your anniversary is. These end-result outcomes are one of the more predominant factors in defining your user experience objectives.

The desired outcome rarely has anything to do with your product. It is more likely related to something generic to the users' needs. The trick is identifying what those needs are and how your product can serve those needs.

STEP 5
Define tasks

Users perform a series of tasks in order to achieve an objective or desired outcome. While this step can be rather involved, you need to describe the key steps of the task domain from a 10,000-foot level to get a handle on how users' perceive their tasks.

You should be able to describe their tasks without specifying your solution, again to avoid automating their frustrations. Too often we see high-level task analyses justifying a company's solution rather than describing the user's problem domain.

For example, our first step in designing what has become a very successful online florist website involved observing men buying flowers at flower shops, not online. What we learned from our observational research of the high-level tasks was that the triggers, outcomes, and task drivers were very different from what was supported by the online florist sites at that time. This ensured we were not going to merely automate the current frustrations.

That observational insight led to the design approach that supported the highest average conversion rate on the web!

STEP 6
Understand your customers' metaphors

People typically use shorthand terms to discuss their tasks. Rather than telling someone to "open up the word processor, choose the XYZ Corp Memo Template, using Times New Roman, 12 pt. font, write a memorandum to the engineering group regarding this decision." They simply say "draft a memo to Engineering." These shortcuts are often metaphors and metaphors suggest objectives.

Understanding your customers' metaphors helps you understand their objectives from their perspective, in their language. Knowing their language is especially important in the next step.

STEP 7
Two words

This is the hard part. Your user research provides information to derive a two-word statement that clearly defines your key UX objective. Why two words? Because it forces you to be very specific. Vague objectives drive vague results. Your objective must be a direct and concise target, not a mission statement.

For example, a recent medical device client was experiencing lackluster sales of their large-scale blood screening systems. Our research identified the system was composed of various dissimilar and techie products and interfaces. In the process of testing blood samples, lab techs have to endure a dozen quirky interfaces. Errors were common, and though recoverable, they created doubt in the validity of the test. If in any doubt, the sample had to be rerun, wasting time and money. When the lab director signed off on the test results, she was putting her license and potentially someone's life on the line. She had to trust every result before signing off on it. This client's UX objective became "Generate Trust."

This two-word objective guided our design efforts. One design decision revolved around whether to reduce the time to complete the task or to increase the accuracy and eliminate errors. Designing for speed often involves the tacit agreement that errors will occur. In the case of generating trust, errors were not an option, so we instead opted for a design paradigm of ensuring accuracy—sometimes at the expense of speed.

What two-word statement best typifies your objective?

Summary

User experience is about managing the customer side of the equation. A good UX objective needs to be specific and measurable just like good business or marketing objectives. To create your user experience objective you must have a clear understanding of your business and marketing objectives and align with your users' needs.

There are seven steps in defining your user experience objectives. While the insight that defines your objective can occur in any of these steps, you never know which step it will be, or if separate insight from each step combine to form your objective, so you must commit to the whole process when defining a successful user experience objective.

At NASA, during the 1960's, you could ask anyone—an astronaut, a flight surgeon, a janitor pushing a broom down the hall at 3 am—what they were doing there and they would all answer "going to the moon." When everyone on your team shares a singular focus (your two-word objective), great things are not only possible, but probable.

 

Categories: Roles & Activities

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