Dachis Group Social Business Summit 2010 Preview; Karen McGrane on User Experience

by Bryan Menell 03 Mar 2010 Blog Post

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karen-mcgraneKaren McGrane has spent the past 15 years working with clients to help them see their customers as users of their digital products. She is Senior Partner at Bond Art + Science, and will be speaking at the Dachis Group Social Business Summit 2010 to explain how UX Will Make Or Break Social Business.

How can a great user experience (UX) can make a big difference in a business?

Every company is now in the digital product design business. Banks, retailers, publishers — they’re all creating interactive products and services that people have to use. Many customers, partners, or employees now interact with the business extensively (or even exclusively) through digital interfaces. Which means that in the user’s mind, the experience of using the product IS the business.

It’s shocking how long it has taken for many businesses to catch on to the fact that they’re now digital product designers. Most companies don’t have the talent, the processes, and the insight about user behavior they need to design great user experiences. Successful businesses treat the user experience like their biggest competitive advantage, and it is!

What stops businesses from investing in UX when there are clear business benefits (and expensive failures)?

I think there are three big stumbling blocks. The first, fundamentally, is a lack of empathy, an inability to imagine the experience from the user’s perspective. Companies can be self-centered, highly attuned to their business goals and internal values systems, but have trouble seeing themselves through their customers’ eyes. So when a UX designer points out that users have difficulty understanding how to use a digital product, businesses respond with self-serving justifications about why it “needs” to be that way.

The second reason is that too many companies still think their digital products and services are “technology” and they equate the user experience with “features.” Without a solid understanding of user expectations, needs, and behaviors, it’s hard to make informed decisions about how to design a product. Instead, businesses fall prey to “Shiny Object Syndrome” and think that if they bolt the latest gizmo onto their website, it will magically make for a better experience.

And finally — and most problematically — most businesses do not have organizational structures, processes, and cultures that support good product design. Really, in many projects, the design is the easy part. For a designer to sit down at a desk and craft a better experience than what most businesses provide today is not that hard. What’s hard is getting a large, decentralized organization with many competing business units to review, critique, approve, and launch a better product. Show me a digital product that’s hard to navigate, and I’ll show you a business with an equally convoluted organizational structure.

How does the social nature of business make these issues even more important?

Social business could make matters worse. You see it all the time: a company decides it can achieve business value through being more social, and equates that to adding new social features to its products. Those features might be hard to use, or they might not fit with the user’s mindset and workflow. By adding new social tools without understanding user goals and expectations, companies run the risk of making the user’s experience even more complicated and confusing.

For social business to succeed, it will require a change in behavior. Customers, partners, and employees will all have to change the way they engage with a company (and with each other.) Design can help make that behavior change happen, but only if companies see social business initiatives as user experience initiatives.