3 Ways to Sabotage Experience Design

“It's not denial. I'm just selective about the reality I accept.” — Bill Watterson

While the new web experience has undeniably gotten better with more simplified web content, more appropriate interaction design, and even more deliberate font choices, there is much that happens that still sabotages a great customer experience. Even with all of the best digital talent in the world — best tech, best creative, best thought leaders — it is still possible to spoil a great customer experience by doing a few very human things. 

Saboteur #1: Assumptive Thinking

In experience design, assumptive thinking comes from what you choose not to validate through observed behavior. It’s a choice. Someone decides not to investigate further. An assumption in UX is a lot like taking a lie too far. At a certain point you start to believe it, and when you believe it, you are more persuasive to others. Unknowingly, you convince others that there is a false truth for which you are designing.

Equally, casting assumptive blame is an even more common and dangerous game. "The treatment was all wrong, that’s why there’s no traffic,” “the tech is too slow, that is why no one converts," "the UI should be more like my favorite mobile app, then people will finish their profile," or the famous, "the application form is too long, hence the abandonment." In reality, it may be something else entirely — people just want to call a person. 

Things to Consider: How far do you go to be sure an assumption is valid? Do you have the right tools to move fast enough? Is assumption-validating part of your process or a random occurrence? 

Saboteur #2: Isolationism  

It's much easier to make decisions quickly when you separate the decision makers. This may work well in other industries, but in the experience design business, it’s disastrous. There are often at least six different agendas happening on any large digital engagement — developer agenda, creative agenda, media agenda, business agenda, client agenda and the bottom-line agenda. Aggressive timelines cause teams to break up the work and make decisions away from each other.

A simple solution for isolationism is to create just one agenda. The Customer Agenda. All decisions will flow accordingly and everyone will get what they need, especially the customer.  

Just as damaging is "point-in-time" evaluation. Deciding what is good for a specific interaction without accounting for the surrounding interactions is a problem. How users arrived at your interaction is just as important as the interaction itself. All the messaging, treatment, and functionality leading up to the interaction have already formed customers’ expectations for that interaction, and will ultimately impact their likelihood of conversion.

Things to Consider: Are you evaluating multiple touchpoints collectively? Are you testing across audience types? Are you merely checking those who convert without distinction? What works for one audience may be a frustration for another. A clear understanding of audience priorities is critical for making the right decisions about an experience design.

Saboteur #3: Poor Cultural Alignment

“You have to put in many, many, many tiny efforts that nobody sees or appreciates before you achieve anything worthwhile.” — Brian Tracy

Building a foundation for refinement isn't easy. Companies often support a "set and forget" marketing culture, simply because in the past they were forced to do it. Measurement used to be slow and difficult. Today, with all of the lightning-fast, tool-driven measurements available to us, it's a sin not to pause and validate the right path for design decision.

Things to Consider: Does your organization have the wrong attitude about UX testing? Is it a valued part of design, a luxury, or worse, a nuisance? Do high-level individuals rush testing the process? Do you have permission to assume you are wrong? Are you free to acknowledge when you are being assumptive without pushback? How deep do you go? How often are you checking? Does someone on your team own this crucial step in design?   

How to Protect Your Experience Design from Sabotage

Start with customer-led agenda, meaning decisions are made for what will benefit your most valuable customer first, and then continue with a combination of observation and measurement.  

Be sure to mix your qualitative observation with real behavioral data. Nothing will highlight experience gaps like measured behavior, but qualitative understanding should be blended with the quantitative view. These are not mutually exclusive, you need both to have clarity. Observed customer behavior can be overlaid with behavioral data. Be methodical, not random. Without structure or clear process, it’s too easy to get lost or miss something important. 

Tomer Sharon, a Senior User Experience Researcher at Google Search, has some good examples of validating assumptions through observed behavior techniques.

Two favorite techniques are "Fake Doors" and "Wizard of Oz." Of course, the tried and true A/B testing will also get you moving in the right direction. However, be sure to find an analytics buddy, because you are going to want to know how long you’ll need to wait for real results.

Things to Consider: Are your working teams between analytics and creative sufficiently blended to accommodate this kind of work? Do you have enough qualitative understanding to match up to the measured behavior you are tracking?

In the end, we all want to create the best customer experience possible. By avoiding these 3 saboteurs: assumptive thinking, isolationism, and poor cultural alignment, it’s easier to spend more time on what we love, being innovative and keeping the right customers engaged with our brand experiences. 

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