Who influences the user experience?

September 23, 2009

In the previous post we looked at some of the factors which affect the overall User Experience. In this article we’ll examine the people who affect it. The picture below shows some examples of the type of people involved.

Who Influences UX

It is a common misconception that the Creative people at the bottom are the only ones responsible for the User Experience. They may take the lead in this area but many others have a part to play too.

It is only through teamwork, sharing the appropriate information, and everyone understanding the bigger picture, that a good holistic User Experience emerges. Lack of collaboration between the bigger team can harm the experience no matter how great it was when first envisaged.

Creatives

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The most obvious people that directly shape the User Experience are the Interaction Designers, Information Architects, UX Designers (and the myriad of other job titles that cover designing the interaction between a product and the users).

Other creative people here are the Graphic Designers who produce the ‘look’, the CopyWriters who produce effective written content, and maybe Industrial Designers if there is a physical aspect to the product.

Technology

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The  Analysts elicit and organise the requirements. Developers build the software part of a digital product and often make many small design decisions that bring the product to life, hopefully in keeping with the designs of the Creatives.

Key architectural decisions in the implementation will directly impact the performance and reliability. These qualities are usually invisible to the user but it can be disastrous if they become aware of them. The architectural choices will also impact the maintainability of the product and how easily it can adapt and evolve.

Testers can give early feedback on initial designs and then ensure that the product reaches an acceptable level of quality before it is released. Projects will often have a Project Manager or Team Lead to plan and coordinate the work of the others.

Business

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Business Managers set the strategy for the business which will shape the products offered. They can massively affect the User Experience by encouraging an organisation that understands and values good design. Management support for design will ensure that it is given the appropriate emphasis and level of resourcing.

Product Managers own and plan the product roadmap, and agree the content of what goes into each release. The Business Operations people manage the product in use which may involve directly interacting with the users via a range of customer services. Sales and Marketing may also directly communicate with the user.

Users

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The Users can be a varied group of people with each bringing their own skills, experiences, environments, and expectations to the table.

We cannot design an exact experience for everyone as each person is unique, but we can design a product that meets the majority of their needs and interacts with them in an overall pleasing and engaging way.

Outside Influences

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The Competition could have similar products which will alter the perception of the product. The views of the Community and other Users will alter expectations before usage and can enhance the experience during its use. The quality of any third party products or services that are used in the offering will reflect on the product.

Do we really mean people?

Up until this point we have been talking as though these are specific people, but in reality nearly everyone is multi-skilled and may cover mutiple roles. People are all individuals possessing broad knowledge and skills in many areas and usually extensive capability in their chosen specialism. Despite this organisations often label and pigeonhole people into narrowly defined jobs, in the same way that I’ve done in the picture above for ease of explanation!

Small projects may have very few people, or even just one, playing all these roles. Large projects will have teams of people working in each role. Like people, projects are unique and each will need a particular mix of skills. We need a way to see which skills are needed in upcoming work and a way to recognise the level of competence of each person in different areas. This allows a flexible approach to team working and any gaps can be actively addressed. We’ll revisit this topic when we start to look at how to describe the way a multi-disciplinary team works.

Can you think of others?

We have seen that many people influence the User Experience. Perhaps the initial question should have been “Who doesn’t influence the User Experience?”, although that would have been a short article! Who else in your organisation impacts the User Experience?

What next?

Organisations who have a range of people with complementary skills have the potential to produce great products and experiences, but there are many pitfalls to avoid in getting them to work together effectively. This will be the topic of the next post.

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What influences the user experience?

September 13, 2009

Some discussions and descriptions of  user experience focus solely on the qualities of the product itself, yet this is only one part of the overall story involving the user. There are many factors that over time will influence the experience. The more that organisations can do to ensure they consider and coordinate all these factors the better chance they have of designing not only good products but providing a good overall experience.

See below for some examples of these influencing factors at different times in the user relationship. I’ve broken it up into a number of stages although in reality these will probably blur together. For simplicity I’ll use the word product but it could be a physical product, a digital product, a service, or combination of all of these.What influences the user experience?

Awareness

Initial feelings and expectations can be set by how easy the product is to find, how it is marketed, and how other people talk about it. Good initial awareness of a product or brand helps ensure that you are considered at the next stage when the user starts to make a choice from perhaps many possible solutions.

Choice

When someone is deciding which product to pick they make decisions based on the information available and how desirable it appears. Independent reviews and comparisons can hold far more weight than the views of the provider of the product especially if it is in a competitive market. The price being asked will also set certain expectations with the customer about the functionality, quality and reliability of the product.

Obtain

A slick shopping and purchasing experience, whether online or in a traditional shop, will often go unnoticed unless exceptional. A bad shopping experience though will not necessarily stop the user in their tracks but it will set a bad tone just before the important first contact with the product.

First Impressions

There may be certain expectations built up already and these can be heavily influenced when the product is first unboxed and turned on, or installed and used for the first time. This first contact may only be a small proportion of the overall time one spends with a product but these first impressions are strong and will be remembered. Designing to make a good first impression will make the user far more positive and forgiving towards the product in normal usage. Obviously the opposite is also true.

Usage

Assuming the product has made it this far then it needs to be usable and meet the needs of the user. Emotions are often overlooked here and the experience will be heightened if it proves a pleasure to use. Can the product make the user smile? Can it continue to impress the user over time, and not just at the beginning?

Problems

Ideally problems in using a product are anticipated and prevented as far as possible. If problems  do occur however then how they are dealt with can have a huge effect on the experience in a positive or negative way. If the problem is dealt with badly or unresolved then it may be then the product may simply not be used any further. If handled well it can lead to a far better trusting relationship with the user than if there had been no problems at all.

Finish

The end of a relationship with a product is often an area that is neglected and yet like many stories the beginning and the end are the most memorable. If someone has decided to stop using a product then a clean and polite uninstall process, or upgrade path, can make sure that related products are considered in future or even recommended to others.

Loyalty

If the overall experience has been a good one for the user then this will have a positive effect on their attitude to the company, other current products, and other future products. If the experience is exceptional then it is likely that this will affect not only the actual user but they will champion the product to other people in their network and spread the delight!

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Lining things up

The more all the influencing factors line up and reinforce each other the greater the effect. Conversely one part can let the whole side down and taint the overall experience, and we all know how bad news spreads easier and quicker than good news.

Most of this should be familiar to us as consumers of products everyday and not many people would argue that you shouldn’t be designing consistent experiences across all these stages. Many companies struggle to design and implement these good holistic experience for their users mainly due to the fragmented nature of their organisation. Those that do stand out from the crowd. They don’t just have happy users, they are usually the most successful companies.

What next?

Who influences the user experience and what can we do to help this holistic view take place in organisations? Sounds like a good topic for the next post!

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Connections

June 8, 2009

I’m just starting to get this blog up and running and have created a simple banner inspired by the London Underground Map. I grew up in London and have always had the underground map as my mental model of the city. It also has so many ‘connections’ with the kinds of topics I want to explore on this blog, particularly the somewhat amorphous but maturing area of User Experience.

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I chose to focus in on Green Park station, a central part of the map where three lines join. The station is highlighted in orange to focus on the magic (or often the pain!) that can occur at the intersection of my three alternative lines of People, Design, and Technology!

If you are interested in the history of the design behind the London Underground map then carry on reading for some notes I’ve made on the subject. There are a few pictures so you could just see the quick 5 second graphical summary just by scrolling down quickly!

Design of the London Underground

Frank Pick was put in charge of publicity in 1907 and five years later became the commercial manager of the London Underground. He put in place many changes to the overall design and look of the system which in it’s early days was quite confusing with commercial advertising all over the place.

Frank wanted to create a modern, clean, consistent and  purposeful system through the unity of design. He did so by coordinating all aspects of the design including the station architecture, interior design, fabrics, logos, typeface, posters, etc.

The Logo

The Roundel logo was used from 1908 and first consisted of a solid red disk with a blue bar across it. These signs were used consistently on all stations and gave them a clear identity, distinguishing the station from all the other competing advertising clutter.

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Afterwards the typographer Edward Johnston adjusted the Roundel Logo to be the bullseye symbol that is used today a hundred years later and has become not just symbolic of the London Underground but of the city itself.

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The Typeface

Edward Johnston designed this clean, easily legible,  sans serif typeface in 1916 especially for the London Underground.

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  • The ‘O’ is a perfect circle like the logo
  • The dot on the ‘i’ and ‘j’ are diagonal squares
    (similar to the diamond station symbols first used on the tube map 20 years later!)

The Map

The tube map defines a shared mental model of London for the people that live here and for those that visit. It is often the first map used to plan journeys rather than a traditional physical map and so it is the User Interface to the city to aid planning.

The first maps were just normal maps with the position of the underground lines superimposed. As the underground system grew this became more difficult to represent in an understandable way. The example below is from 1908 and is one of the earliest maps to show how the various services connect.

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Harry Beck

Harry Beck had been working as an electrical draughtsman for the London Underground and was out of work when he produced the first sketches of the map that we are familiar with today. He was only 29 and worked in his own time on his own initiative. When he first offered it to the management it was rejected as being too radical, but he persevered!

Harry understood that the order of the stations and the connections were the most important things and that the actual geography and distance between stations is less important when you are travelling underground.

Harry was used to drawing circuit diagrams like the one below.


CircuitDiagram

It is no surprise then that when Harry applied his working knowledge of circuit diagrams to the tube map that he came up with the wonderfully elegant schematic map. Below is a picture of Harry Beck with his map.

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Here is a closer view of his breakthrough map in 1933

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A Design Classic

The map has managed to evolve and adapt to change as needed and is still used relatively unchanged over 75 years later. It was recently celebrated as part of the Royal Mail – British Design Classics stamp collection in it’s modern form.underground_stamp

BBC Design Classics Documentary

The following BBC documentary tells the story behind the London Underground Map.

Influence on other underground maps

Nearly every underground map in the world has taken inspiration from the ideas in Harry Beck’s 1933 design and can also be seen in other transportation maps, such as trains, boats, planes, etc.

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Inspiration for representing knowledge

The Great Bear

The artist Simon Patterson created the rather playful work of art called The Great Bear in 1992. The title refers to the constellation Ursa Major while the map has his own arrangement of “stars”. The lines represent different kinds of people such as Philosophers, Actors, Artists, Politicians, Footballers, etc. The fun really happens when you look at some of the people that exist at the interconnection of the lines.

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Web Trends 2009

iA Japan have for the last four years produced a map of Web Trends. Their latest map for 2009 can be downloaded from here.

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Guardian Map of Music

The Guardian Newspaper produced a similar map for musicians. The full map can be downloaded here.

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Inspiration for art

Animals on the Underground

Paul Middlewick first started to spot Animals On The Underground in 1988 and the number is always growing.

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Poster for The Tate Gallery

In 1986 David Booth created this poster for The Tate Gallery depicting the map as paint being squeezed out of tubes.

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The art world has also taken Harry Beck’s tube map as a source for inspiration and taken it in many abstract directions. They are often used on the cover of the free paper pocket version of the tube map available at all stations. Here are a couple of examples.

Cornelia Parker

Cornelia Parker produced Underground Abstract which took as a starting point the poster above and then imagined it folded in the style of Rorschach Inkblots.

CorneliaParkerTubeArtDavid Shrigley

One of my favourite bits of art based on the tube map is this spaghetti version by David Shrigley.

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Connections

Well that’s some of the connections that come to mind when I think about the London Underground Map. There must be many others.

What are your favourites?

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Alpha Post!

June 21, 2008

Welcome to my new blog about the connections between creativity, art, design, software engineering, and many other domains.

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I spend my working life consulting in software engineering process, typically mentoring individuals, projects, and organizations in improving their “Way of Working”. I see a large and ever growing need in the software industry to bring the ‘Creatives’ and the ‘Developers’ together, but I mostly see them working in their own worlds with not a lot of appreciation of each others work. I am on a personal mission to bridge this gap (or at least nudge it in the right direction!).

I hope to use this blog to capture my thoughts in progress for integrating the creation of a good user experience into software development practices and I openly invite collaboration from the many talented people out there from the different communities.

I also hope to share some of the fun things I come across on the way. The first of which is Wordle which I used to make the funky “Word Cloud” above. Have a play!

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