Institutionalization of UX: A Step-by-Step Guide to a User Experience Practice, Second Edition (2014)
Part IV. Long-Term Operations
Chapter 15. The Future
The field is now mainstream, with ease-of-use being recognized as a basic business requirement.
The new market differentiators will be UX strategy, systematic innovation, and persuasive design.
The field will mature in process and capabilities.
The field will mature in staffing.
We will adapt to new technologies—which is not that difficult.
Today, if you want to be in business, you have to be able to make digital experiences easy and efficient. Usable digital channels and efficient, staff-facing systems are expected by the market. If you don’t provide them, your competitors will.
No matter which industry or vertical market you are in, a substantial component of your digital business will have to be optimized. And basic usability is no longer enough—the future will require strategic work, innovation, and persuasion engineering.
Symptoms of Leaping the Chasm
In the past, early adopters applied usability work. Following the model of technology adoption created by Geoffrey Moore , usability has clearly leapt the chasm and become a generally accepted approach: most organizations are engaging in some systematic usability efforts, and the laggards are at least interested in doing so. Even the most unintelligible applications are touted as “usable” and “easy.” The reality may not always match the marketing, but the motivation is there.
At HFI, we have witnessed years of early adoption behavior. Aggressive and visionary managers have completed thousands of isolated user experience design projects, usually with good results. It is common to encounter organizations that are interested in how to make user-centered processes a part of their routine practices. Experimentation is typical for early UX adopters. But while experimentation has played an important role in the development of user-centered design, UX is transitioning to a mainstream practice now. It is becoming large scale, process driven, repeatable, and supported with a solid infrastructure.
In general, when a technology takes the jump to wide usage, it is met with a tornado of interest. The mass market suddenly wants the technology, and there is not enough of it to go around. A bit of frenzy occurs until the market supply ramps up to meet this demand. We saw this kind of tornado in the late 1990s. The bursting of the dot-com bubble put a damper on the excitement, yet in the years that followed we saw a “usability tornado”—a period during which both excellent and weak usability companies were overwhelmed with projects and requests. Unfortunately, the recession in recent years has again slowed progress. As of today, however, we can clearly see renewed focus on user-centered design. Interestingly, there is a shift toward stronger internal user experience design teams. The global best practice is no longer having a bunch of vendors doing the work; it is now widely understood that bringing in outside contractors for individual projects results in a hodgepodge of impressive but incoherent designs. In response to this realization, almost every organization is building an internal user experience design capability of some kind.
Harley Manning, Research Director, Forrester Research
I haven’t noticed that people in general are getting smarter. I think what we’ll see is the continuation of the old story of the human race, which is that some people will get it and some people won’t.
We do a lot of website reviews—heuristic evaluations—and we meticulously track both the scores per question and the total scores over time. This is one way to approximate an average “goodness” number for websites of major corporations. And the average score has not been going up. Now, this could be a statistical anomaly because even 1500 sites is a small sample. Part of the analysis, then, is looking at the sites and asking, “Does this look like an improvement to you?” For the most part, we are still seeing some incredibly basic errors—even at companies that claim to be putting a lot of effort into improving usability.
For example, text legibility is criminal on many sites, just awful. And yet it’s so easy to understand what causes poor legibility, and it’s so easy to fix it. It costs nothing; it doesn’t require you to be a great designer. There’s little debate—nobody would argue that it’s a good idea to make your customers squint or make it hard to read some marketing communication that you’ve spent a fortune writing.
Clearly, no one would argue that poor legibility is a good thing, and very few people are stumped by the fact that the cure for poor legibility is increasing type size and increasing foreground/background contrast. But legibility problems don’t get fixed, even when you point them out to people.
Some companies really do get it; they do take usability into account and make very serious efforts to improve it on an ongoing basis. So, while the average website is not getting better, there are leaders who really are ahead of the pack and pulling farther ahead.
As user-centered design becomes even more mainstream, it is rapidly becoming mature.
The maturity of the software industry is something to envy. When coding began 40 years ago, the programming process was primarily an individual activity, completed by unique people who stayed up late and struggled to debug their creations. Their work was a function of flashes of insight and unique, elegant solutions. In a few decades, however, the industry has completely changed in character.
The Future of Usability within a Government Agency
Sean Wheeler, Lead Usability Specialist, Social Security Administration
I think the recognition of and need for usability services will continue to grow. I believe that as we improve the business case for positive, powerful user experiences and then deliver that kind of experience, the public use of our website will increase. This is a critical part of the challenge for agencies like the Social Security Administration if we want more people to choose the information technology channel to contact us.
Quite simply, we must provide a Web experience that meets or exceeds the quality of the experiences that people get when they call our 800-number service or visit their local Social Security office. This was the challenge that our 800-number people faced when we first initiated that service. They had to answer those tough questions about how you communicate that sense of friendliness and provide service on the telephone when you can’t see the public visitors face-to-face and share documents with them across a desk. We learned a lot from that channel shift, and we are just now learning what the shift to Web-based service delivery means.
Today, software companies have well-documented processes, defined skill sets and programs to teach their methods to new employees, and tools and reusable object code to make the process faster and more consistent. They know how to accurately estimate and track the development effort for a coding project. They can assure the quality of their projects, and they continuously improve their process.
User experience design is making a similar transformation. While it is fun to be unique, user-centered design has to be made more uniform and manageable to be part of the business solution. You cannot rely on having one of the superstars in the field at your disposal: user experience design must become institutionalized.
Your Organization’s Maturity
There are many dimensions of maturity in user experience engineering, and organizations take many different pathways to reach them. However, over the years, we at HFI have discovered typical maturity levels for companies climbing the gradient to institutionalized proficiency. We developed a model that we use to help grow an organization’s user-centrality and to certify the level of its user experience design practice (Figure 15-1).
Figure 15-1: HFI’s Maturity Model
We are happy to report that these objective criteria tell us that many organizations are steadily increasing their UX maturity. The future of the field, it seems, is to have a mature practice in which user experience design work is routinely applied to projects, with resources being made available to do everything that needs to be done.
Process, Capabilities, and Staffing
As user-centricity becomes routine, there will be a growth in the field’s capabilities. We will see a shift to process-driven user experience design. In other words, the quality of design will no longer be dependent on the particular practitioner assigned to it. Certainly, there will always be elements of creativity and art in the field, but we will have a solid, repeatable process. This in itself is ground breaking. Ad hoc user experience design, in contrast, will make it difficult for us to get better in creating user-centered processes.
Think of shoes. At one time, shoes were made by cobblers. Shoe repair shops could be found everywhere because the soles would inevitably come loose. Today, however, soles don’t come loose—industrial operations have been refined to make sure of that. In the same way, the repeatability of industrial-strength user experience design will allow us to refine the process of UX. Thousands of small improvements will accumulate and result in a seriously improved operation.
The refinement of processes will drive the development of a more extensive UX design toolkit. We will improve our efficiency through reuse, remote operations, and investigative tools, and will find many opportunities to repurpose devices from other applications, such as sports cameras for observational research.
A Vision of the Future of Usability
Aaron Marcus, President, Aaron Marcus and Associates
I believe that usability groups will try to grow their organization and undertake new initiatives through some of the umbrella developments happening in the corporate world. One of these is the growth of user experience design and user experience engineering. Another growth area is universal design and universal access. A third is cross-cultural usability and the globalization of usability. All of these new concepts lead to new attention and new energy. Whenever paradigms change, it’s an appropriate time to move in quickly to obtain additional funding and human resources and to strengthen one’s core concerns.
By the way, to clarify: User experience design refers to making products and services that are not only usable, but also useful and appealing. Universal design refers to developing products and services that also meet the needs of the disabled and the elderly. Globalization refers to developing products and services that take into account localized needs and desires of a more diverse set of users. Users from different cultures may have very different values for and concepts of power struggles, gender roles, individuality, ambiguity, long-term time orientation, and so on. All of these differences have an impact on what makes products and services usable.
There will also be a major shift in staffing. A class of executives will emerge whose profile makes them candidates for the CXO position. While they will not necessarily be practitioners with deep skills in applied psychology, they will be leaders, with leadership training, equipped to deal with the strategic issues around optimizing an internal user experience design practice. The growth of the field will also certainly be fueled by increasingly focused and effective educational programs.
The staffing of user experience design work will continue to rely on generalists who have master’s degrees and certifications. In addition, the field will include a growing body of specialists, such as persuasion engineers, cross-cultural specialists, and domain/technology experts. For example, whole careers may become focused on optimization of the customer experience in call centers.
Strategy, Innovation, and Persuasion
Basic ease-of-use will most certainly not be enough for the user experience design practice of the future. Currently, most teams focus on usability: getting the detailed human–computer interface design right. They spend all their time on wording, layout, color, highlighting, and control selection—but they really don’t look at the bigger picture. Are you designing a usable wrong thing? It is commonplace to find a siloed team working on a mobile application that does not fit with the rest of the channels the customer sees. For example, one bank offered customers “telephone banking,” “cell phone banking,” and “speech banking.” Without a comprehensive, cross-channel design, the customer is presented with a confusing mess. It might be a usable mess, but it is a mess, nonetheless.
Designers need to avoid being tasked with the design of a wrong thing. In addition, practitioners should find new, innovative, correct things to design.
The pace of change has been accelerating exponentially in recent years. In turn, that means the old strategy of being a “fast follower” will no longer offer a path to business success. Failure to innovate can put the entire organization at risk.
In the arena of innovation, there are really three distinct approaches. First, there is the technology approach, in which new capabilities are developed in the hope that someone will want to buy them. Second, there is the business approach, in which we look at the business models that will be profitable. Third, there is the user experience design approach, in which we study the customer’s ecosystem and invent what the customer needs. Ideally, all three methods should be functioning simultaneously, in a synergistic and systematic operation. This is very different from asking individuals to “be innovative.” There is nothing wrong with that vague direction, of course, but a serious organization needs serious, industrial-strength innovation. The user experience design team gathers models of the customer and the customer ecosystem. This knowledge then defines the opportunity points that can be addressed with the innovation work. Finally, the user experience design team helps assess the value of each innovative concept based on the customer’s needs (both task based and psychological).
Aside from strategy and innovation work, the user experience design team will often need to carry out persuasion engineering tasks. Team members will need to develop a persuasion architecture, defining the overall plan for how to motivate customers to convert and to return. They will need to apply persuasion tools to create the desired emotional response, trigger conversion, and develop habits. The importance of persuasion varies, depending on the type of organization that is being supported. In an extreme example, companies that make slot machines really deliver nothing more than customer experience; not surprisingly, slot machine companies invest heavily in user experience design [Schüll 2012]. In other cases, there is much less focus on persuasion—in a company that delivers bulk chemicals to business buyers, for example. However, even those buyers will be susceptible to methods of persuasion. Consequently, virtually all teams will eventually have to demonstrate some level of persuasion engineering capability.
As the information age progresses, the user-centered design field will encounter new challenges. There will be a wave of wearable information appliances, including those that are physically embedded in users (under the skin or in a tooth). Information technology will be applied to new domains and user populations. Each of these domains will present new and interesting challenges. While user experience design professionals will continue to use the same basic methods and insights, they will have to master some new challenges.
The user experience design field will also speed the progress of technology evolution. No longer will we create new offerings, only to have them rejected as impractical and awkward. User experience design work will soon smooth the introduction of new ideas.
Looking forward a decade or two, user-centered design will become so routine that it will no longer be a differentiator because all companies will apply a solid process. Today, users do not really clamor for software that performs calculations correctly. Instead, they expect software to work correctly the first time and every time—and if the software does not calculate correctly, they are furious. The same dynamic will occur with user experience design in the future. Users won’t clamor for products that are usable because they will expect them to be usable. If products fall short of this expectation, customers will be furious. The interface quality today will draw derisive laughter from customers in the future. They will expect usability; it will just be one more requirement to stay in business.
The time for this transformation, this maturing of user-centered practice, is now. For-profit companies and nonprofit organizations alike are making the serious investment to build such a practice and integrate it into their very DNA.