Monday, 31 January 2011

The social and mobile impact on online user experience (UX) development

Social media is a phenomena and I'm sure you don't need me to spew out the stats to remind you of this (I suspect we are all getting bored of hearing about them anyway(?). Mobile phone adoption, and now mobile internet usage and the use of applications in fulfilling functions once exclusively internet based has also grown, gradually at first but much more rapidly over the past 5 years. Rather than talk about these opportunities themselves I'm just going to spend a couple of minutes writing down how I feel they are or should be impacting the user experiences (UX) we develop, and perhaps how we develop them.

A short potted E-history first (my version of it anyway)...

In the early days screen real estate, end-user bandwidth and generally what was possible meant that E-Business professionals had to be become ruthless at prioritising content. This required both 'horizontal & vertical' information architectural challenges to be overcome. Especially as users seemed to be predominantly lazy and or reluctant to spend a long-time waiting for something to load if it was put behind a link.

This apparent immediate laziness coupled with impatience when put in-front of new technology is understandable - the challenge for this sort of technology is after all to make our lives easily easier.

As a result of this there were actually many examples of great user experiences in the early years but in around 2000 things started to improve and the increased adoption of user centred design (UCD) techniques and dramatically improved web analytics started to push the user interface (UI) boundaries and we started to explore smart ways of presenting content, and generally helping users to get to their goals (or more importantly persuade them to get to our goals).

Then the band-width opened up for most people and the screen real-estate we had to play with also increased. This meant we could do even more than before and once again start to push the boundaries even further.

And then it seemed to start to fall-apart or fragment (in my opinion). Lots of 'cool' individual or one-off pieces of interaction could be found on different sites but there were very few completely polished experiences and a lot more usability challenges than ever before. This coupled with the fact that users expectations increased even further as they gained a wider peer group or reference set meant that we were now more often than not further away from delighting the customer than ever before.

Now multi-channel service opportunities have started to be properly realised and expectation has once again grown. And now most businesses really are playing catch-up.

So, social and mobile, how is this impacting UX online?

The widespread use of social media and mobile internet / application usage has now started to shape users needs and expectations even more.

Social media offers users the ability to communicate with a wide range of people efficiently and as a result has exponentially increased consumer power. People are now referring to their network for advice and recommendations as well as providing this service themselves, and for most they are doing this more than ever before. This means the user experiences we create have to tap into this way of consuming information and products, and hopefully we can form a trialogue with our consumers (to truly do this there must be a quid pro quo - another article perhaps). This also means that the interfaces we create need to offer similar interactions and functionality where appropriate. This is because these sites are the grazing ground of the internet and no matter how frequently we get a customer to buy on our website, for example, they will probably still be spending more time in their social media spaces.

The impact of mobile use is slightly different but has had an equal impact on needs and expectations. For a lot of consumers the mobile is a 24/7 always on device and it is also a way of staying connected and using their social media spaces to full effect. They are also increasingly using it to browse and even buy over the internet. All of this means that they are used to interacting with the web in a new and different way.

Given the screen real-estate (even on the largest smart phone screens this is relatively limited) E-Business professionals have had to become even better at prioritising content, but this time even better at breaking down the information and/or interactive stages of a path-to-goal process into optimal & efficient chunks. There are some great examples of very complex processes actually being made even easier than they were on the full website versions. And perhaps this is another benefit of facing the challenge & opportunities the mobile internet offers - we just need to be ruthless and focused sometimes!

How has or should this impact the UX development process?

Firstly, I feel there is a need to understand the usage and impact these things have had on our visitors and customers. Some good old analysis and research would therefore be a good starting point.

We perhaps also need to explore these elements in things like our persona based exploration of the UX. And importantly bring this perspective in to every UX development step.

It is also vital that we explore this in user tests (depth interviews, remote studies, focus groups etc.) where appropriate.

We also perhaps need to practice the idea of designing for mobile usage and social interaction first or at least in a separate work-stream. That way we can challenge the traditional perspective some might have on what makes an optimal user experience but equally we can prove its benefit or optimise it through our user centred design process.

By taking this one step further, or to its logical conclusion, we perhaps have the opportunity to better understand our customers and optimise content, and to a certain degree experiences, for mobile as well as computer based internet use. This will increase our chances of achieving an optimal mobile, social and overarching online UX. Surely that must be an appealing prospect?

Also posted on: The Viewpoint

Monday, 24 January 2011

Thought for the week

“Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without the will to start, the enthusiasm to continue and, regardless of temporary obstacles, the persistence to complete.” American businessman Waite Phillips (1883-1964)

Monday, 17 January 2011

Planet Water Foundation (PWF)

A friend, Mr Nick Hill, is the Executive Chairman of the Planet Water Foundation. And I'm writing this blog entry because I feel that what they are doing is important and I want to help spread the word.

This is an organisation which works to alleviate waterborne disease, illness, and death through providing access to clean drinking water and improved sanitation facilities in Asia's most disadvantaged communities.

The PWF website provides far more information on what they are doing and how you can help. Here's some extracts to get you thinking...

Over 60% of the world’s 1.1 billion people who don’t have access to clean drinking water live in Asia. Issues include:
- Inadequate supply
- Increases in urban population
- Pollution
- Poor infrastructure
- Corruption

The situation is worst for Asia's children, where:
- More than 125 million children under five years old live in homes without access to clean and safe drinking water.
- Each and every day, 450 of Asia's children die namelessly without public comment with most people unaware of their daily struggles for survival and of the vast numbers of impoverished people around the world who lose that struggle.

The Asia Development Bank warns, “If conditions do not improve, Asia will face a water quality crisis unprecedented in human history”

With the PWF solution, just $20 can provide a person safe, clean water for life! Inclusive in this cost is the water supply and purification system, water access / hand wash infrastructure, and basic hygiene education, with funds left over for maintenance and spare parts.


Thought for the week

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” British author J.K. Rowling in an address at Harvard, 5 June 2008

I wholeheartedly agree that we all have the power to imagine better. Unleashing that power is often a big part of my job, and it never fails to amaze me that when you give people the opportunity and the right motivation they will always give you back great ideas that really do change things for the better.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Thought for the week

“Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.” British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

Monday, 3 January 2011

Thought for the week

“You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” Yiddish proverb