Re-Rethinking The User Experience

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If I ran a bank that had a Customer Experience department, the first thing I would do is fire everybody in the department (I would, however, keep all the Web site designers).

Here’s what spurred that comment: Adweek recently ran an article title Rethinking The User Experience, in which the author writes:

In the interactive world, we have a discipline called User Experience, or UX for short. We’ve got a whole department of people that thinks about it. It’s the first phase of many online projects and it’s a part of every interactive RFP that any company receives. The first thing to understand when getting your head around UX is that it’s an umbrella term for different disciplines that have been converging and co-evolving for the past couple of decades. Less important than intimately understanding each subdiscipline is the idea that at the center of all of this is the user. Ultimately, UX is about fostering a deep understanding of the people who use your Web site, how it fits into their lives, and the empathy necessary to create design solutions that lead to great experiences.

My take: From what I’ve observed, much of what is passed off as UX is nothing but Web site design. There is little to no integration of the graphic design, information architecture, and human-computer interaction disciplines. Persona design is — this won’t win me a lot of fans — often just an effort to create yet another customer segmentation approach that comes no where near producing a return close to the level of investment needed to create it.

The author of the Adweek article wants us to rethink UX by recognizing that “UX and marketing a brand on the Web are inextricably related” and that we must “account for it in a methodical way.”

Honestly, I don’t even know what that means. If that’s “rethinking” UX, then I think we need to re-rethink it.

Specifically, what UX needs is not more graphic design, interface design, or information design. It needs some good, old-fashioned business process design.

Business process design — or business reengineering — is the missing piece to successful user experience. Too often — and this might sound heretical — site designers (oops, I mean user experience engineers) focus too narrowly on the customer or site user. What they fail to recognize is that what they’re “designing” isn’t just a Web site, but a business process. A business process that often exists in the offline world. And a business process that, even though much of it occurs online, still interacts with the offline world and the people (often known as “employees”) who execute that business process offline.

Reengineering came into vogue in the early 90s and went out of vogue by the mid 90s after it became synonymous with downsizing. That certainly didn’t do it any favors, but it still didn’t disqualify it as a legitiimate business tool. Beyond the connection with downsizing, though, the big drawback to the way reengineering was done in the 90s was that it was too internally-focused and often failed to account for what the customer wanted out of that process.

Today’s UX approaches are often just the flip side of the coin: Too externally focused, without the explicit recognition — and (re)design — of the underlying business process supported by the Web site.

Interestingly, despite the focus of the Adweek article on the integration of UX and marketing, the author does rhetorically pose the question “Shouldn’t the UX people be considering this possible impact on the company’s operations?”

The non-rhetorical answer is yes, they absolutely should.

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