UI13: Difficult Steps to Becoming User Experience Company

by October 13, 2008

At the User Interface 13 conference in Boston, MA Peter Merholz walked through 16 (mostly) difficult steps his research showed were required to become an experience-driven organization.

  • There’s not much more to learn about designing Web sites. The focus is now on getting things into the world
  • George Eastman really simplified taking photos and as a result established the personal photography market. He took the 19 steps required to take a photo and was able to reduce it to 3 steps through film canisters. This focus on customer experience made Kodak successful for years.
  • 16 steps are difficult and may take 3-5 years to implement.
  • 1) Assess your organization’s experience maturity. Phase 0 organizations focus on shipping not on experience design. Phase 1 is user behavior organizations look at usability tests, analytics to track changes in user behavior. Phase 2 projects done actually contribute to value of company. Experience professionals are invited to strategic meetings. Phase 3 the design team provides value to the whole firm. In Phase 4 design is a direct competitive advantage. Very few firms in stage 4.
  • 2) Understand people as people. Companies historically consider their customers to be gullets for cash, sheep that can be herded, rational beings, or type A task oriented personalities. Human life is messy and complex. Understanding behavior, motivations, context, and emotions is important to understanding people. If you only satisfy people’s activities, you may miss out on emotional connections.
  • 3) Execute a quick win. Try to do something small that demonstrates your value in the organization.
  • 4) Evangelize success. Go from department to department stressing the work you do. Use posters, mailing lists, etc.
  • 5) Get an executive sponsor. Need thing to run top-down as well as bottom-up.
  • 6) Move up the product planning food chain. Go from designing and testing to selecting projects, identifying metrics, and identifying business problems & opportunities. Bring the understanding of users that you have earlier into the conversation.
  • 7) Connect your work to financial outcomes. Build business cases for design –get metrics that show the impact projects can have. Design is seen as a cost of doing business but it needs to be seen as something that creates value.
  • 8) Develop an experience strategy. Write down a mission that you can move toward.
  • 9) Communicate strategy with clear & compelling vision. Simple guidelines, concise, and compelling.
  • 10) Accept accountability. Designers need to take on responsibilities of success & failure.
  • 11) Thaw the frozen middle. Design team that gets it may be a few levels down in the organization and may have an executive sponsor that also gets it. Have to re-orient the incentives for the people in the middle of the organization.
  • 12) Choose projects objectively. Once you demonstrate you are valuable, you may get overwhelmed with work. Need to be transparent about how you choose with projects to do. Get design associated with things that matter.
  • 13) Engage in design as an activity. Design is not in the purvey of only designers. Anyone can engage in the activity. Designers are facilitators. Engage cross-functional teams to get design ideas out of them then work to hone and refine those ideas.
  • 14) Think in systems, not artifacts.
  • 15) Focus on the long WOW. Repeatedly create notably great experiences that are punctuated by moments of “wow”. Need to consistently deliver over time.
  • 16) Do not become a department. Departments silo things off and make it hard to integrate ideas into organization.
  • Only 8% of customers said that companies are delivering the right experience for them –Bain survey. That’s a big opportunity.