Friday's Great Outdoors of Design (GOOD) conference in London had a number of thought-provoking presentations and group discussions around design research.
We covered topics on organisations, social change, product and service innovation. What caught my interest was seeing researchers taking a business perspective to design.
Daniel Szuc from Apogee shared thoughts on emotional differentiation. He discussed how historically user experience was focused on function (does the system allow the user to do their job in an efficient, effective and satisfying way?) whereas now the success of UX is judged in emotional as well as functional outcomes.
The concept of emotional differentiation reminded me of the management tool, Resource Based View (RBV), which I picked up back in business school. RBV is used to help organisations achieve competitive advantage through identifying a company’s strategic resources. In order for resource to be considered strategic, they must first pass the VRIN test – Valuable, Rare, Inimitable, and Non-substitutable. If we translate this to product or service design, differentiation via functions or features is easy to imitate. We see this often in mobile handsets, and the onset of iPad look-a-likes. However, emotional differentiation is tacit, and therefore much harder to copy.
The world already has a pretty useful word that encapsulates this idea of emotional differentiation: brand. The idea of brand doesn’t get a lot of airtime at UX conferences, even though I think it’s an increasingly important aspect of the value that good user experience creates. This might stem from a misconception that ‘brand’ is a marketing word. Taking the Resource Based View, it’s actually a company word.
The best outcome of research and design is a powerful branded experience that creates emotional differentiation and provides a sustainable competitive advantage. If we focus more effort on this outcome, more companies will start to realise the role UX has to play within business strategy.