This month I travelled to Dublin for Interaction 12.
One of the emerging themes that struck a chord with me was the changing context of use for which UX professionals now design interactions.
Evolving user expectations and technologies
It used to be that a UX designer’s job was effectively to mediate the interaction between one human sat at one computer carrying out tasks, to make the experience as painless as possible.
Years of observing users in observation labs mean we have become pretty good at designing for these task focused 1:1 situations. And, if we apply good design principles, we often don’t need to carry out user research.
However, this is no longer the world we live in. As Rachel Hinman nicely illustrated, technology has evolved and so too have users’ expectations of and relationships with technology. Computers and the myriad of mobile devices are no longer simply used to complete tasks but increasingly enable us to connect with the world around us and explore content via natural user interfaces.
Amber Case predicts that augmented reality applications like Geoloqi are the first step towards the interface disappearing and our personal devices becoming a remote control for reality.
Users now expect consistently rich and enabling experiences across a whole manner of devices and touch points and as UX designers we need to deliver on this expectation.
Rethinking our approach to experience design
So how can we create these exceptional experiences? At IA12 Andrew Hinton, Dana Chisnell and Rachel Hinman all independently proposed that we need to start by rethinking our premise of interaction design being all about devising interactions based on predefined user tasks and goals.
The industry now understands that, due to the way our minds work, the majority of the time users don’t really have clearly articulated goals in mind and any goals we may have are constantly evolving based on context, relationships, decisions and behaviours.
To design and test these new experiences we need to get out of the lab to understand the wider context of the experiences we are designing for.
Humans are social creatures and we rarely behave in isolation of others. So, in reality, much of what we design, intentionally or not, is increasingly human-to-human interaction mediated by technology. We should therefore look to identify and understand those relationships in our research. For example, when researching how people use a holiday booking website it would be beneficial to include the user’s partner in the research.
Initiating organisational change
Convincing companies to re-think the task-based model and use a combination of research methods like ethnography and analytics to understand the relationships and ecosystems in which their products/services sit is, however, only the first step.
Even once we have translated our research insights into solutions which provide a unified, engaging and empowering experience across multiple touch points our job is not complete. As Jonathan Kahn pointed out, the current siloed nature of many organisations means it is often not feasible to implement these types of solutions.
Instead of just throwing designs over the fence and hoping at least part of them gets implemented in a somewhat recognisable form, UX practitioners need to work together with organisations to overcome their siloed constraints. This means, rather than continually working on a series of unrelated tactical projects across an organisation, we need to step up a level.
By designing holistic customer experiences we can help organisations create a shared vision which will enable them to design and deliver truly exceptional customer experiences.