What is UX design?
Ever since the term “UX” (User Experience) design started being used a number of years ago there has been a bit of confusion, especially with clients, as to what UX design actually means. We can explain the methods and processes that we use, but it has always been a bit of a vague description.
The main confusion tends to be that people think that UX design is just a fancy name for (UI) User Interface design. It’s very easy to see how this could seem the case. A lot of the deliverables that a UX designer produces can be very similar to that of a UI designer, but there is also a lot more work going on behind the scenes that is done to produce results that are not as easy to see.
How can we clear this up?
There is always a difficulty in creating a mental model of a digital product. Even with digital products that we use every day, such as email. We tend to default to the visual cues of the product, the email or the inbox, when describing its processes, even though there is a huge amount going on in the background.
One of the reasons for this is that digital products are intangible. We can’t easily lift open the lid and see how all the gears fit together, so this makes it difficult to describe how they work and what they do.
It is a lot easier to explain what a physical product does, because it’s a lot easier to show how it does it. It’s more straight forward to open the back of a clock and see how the bits fit together than to show someone code and explain how it fits together.
A better way to describe what UX design is, would then be to relate it to a physical object that everyone can relate to, and explain how the design of the product is changed to create an experience for the user.
Let’s take a bicycle. It’s a simple product that has been produced for many years and that everyone can relate to. When someone mentions the word “bicycle” or “bike” there is instant recognition as the shape of the product forms in the mind. No more information is provided at this stage, but with what limited information is available, a model is constructed.
The products components
As with any product there are different components that come together on a bike to create the whole. Some of these components the user interacts with directly, while others are there to allow the bike to perform its function. The user interacts with the handlebars, which turn the front wheel, which steers the bike. While the user does not interact directly with the wheel, the effect they supply at the handlebars directly influences the wheel, which causes a change of direction.
Using this analogy, the cyclist’s interfaces with a bike are all the areas with which they actually interact to perform the task of cycling. These include the handlebars, the seat, the brake levers and the pedals. The other areas of the bike are what could be described as the “back-end system”. These are the components that control how the bike actually works, and the tasks that it performs. Examples of these are the wheels and bearings, the forks, the gears and the chain or the brake cables and pads.
On a bike it’s very easy to see how all these elements connect together to form a whole product, and how a user can interact with the product to create their end user experience – cycling.
How can the experience of “cycling” be designed?
It’s easy to understand what cycling is, but quite an abstract concept to explain. There are lots of elements incorporated into the experience of cycling that go beyond just the experience of interacting with the bike as a product.
The experience includes the feeling of speed, the wind rushing past, the feeling of leaning into the turn going around a corner, the muscle soreness from pedalling and the feeling of cruising along a smooth piece of road. This experience is the culmination of a number of factors including the product, the cyclist and external factors such as the gradient, the type of surface and the speed at which they are cycling.
This means that it doesn’t make sense to say that we are designing “the experience” as much as we’re designing with the experience in mind. We want the experience to be positive, but we can’t force it to be.
Designing without UX
A product like a bike can be designed without using UX design. It would involve being provided with a brief from the client and creating it with the information available.
A designer could have seen a bike before, or cycled a bike before, or even designed a bike before, so they would have in idea of what a bike should look like, and how it should work. They would pull on that experience and create a prototype that fulfils the requirements set down and with which the client is happy. It has handlebars, pedals, a seat, wheels, gears, chains and brakes: everything that the user needs for the bike to work and for them to be able to cycle on it. The client makes a few changes to the design, and the prototype is created into a product.
This method of design can create a usable product, and can create the experience of “cycling” for the user, but we don’t know if the experience is a good one. There are a number of factors that were not considered and, as such, might mean the user having an unpleasant cycling experience.
Designing with UX
Some of what is mentioned above also applies to designing with UX. Once provided with a brief from the client, the designer may have a rough idea of what a bike could look like based on their previous experience. This would not, however, be the design that the client sees. There are other steps that will influence the design before then.
The first step is to ask the client why they want to produce a bike? Who are they making it for? Who is the target audience? What are the goals for the business when producing a bike? All companies need to sell their products to make profit so that they can continue to operate, although some have very different reasons for doing so.
For this example, let’s say that the target market is 16 to 24-year old males, and the company wants to make a profit by selling enough of their bikes, but they also want the target market to associate their brand with well-designed, solid products that perform at a high level. This information can be used to create “personas”, which gives the designer a reference point for all the design decisions that they make throughout the project. It is to ensure that they are designing for the user, not for the client or themselves.
Now that we know who target market, and the business goals for the product, we can start to research what the target market want from the product, and how competitors that already have the desired brand image have achieved that goal.
User research with the target market will discover that a large number of 16 – 24-year old males are interested in mountain biking. This includes cross country, trail and downhill mountain biking that can be done all over the country, and also at specific specialised areas in forests and national parks.
The competitor analysis of other companies in the area shows that those who produce quality, high-performing products use strong, solid and light materials, and have put their products through rigorous tests to prove that they perform at the highest levels. Research into these products give the designer an idea of what designs have proved to work successfully, and can influence the product that they are creating.
Using this information, the designer can begin to create a prototype that is tailored to the target market and the task identified, is using the appropriate materials, and is using known effective design solutions. The designer will also pull on their own experiences from previous products that they have worked on and incorporate them where appropriate.
This prototype is then tested with users in the target user group and in the environment where it is most likely to be used. It is unlikely that the first design created will be the most optimal, so the feedback provided from this testing is fed back into the design followed by further cycles of testing and design iteration until the design is the best that it can possibly be. Only then will the design be put into production and the final product created for sale.
However, this isn’t the end of the product life cycle. The designer should take feedback from those who have bought and used the product extensively to see how it can be improved, and release regular updates to the product, creating versions 2, 3 and beyond, getting closer and closer to providing the best cycling experience for the cyclist.
Just like riding a bike
It’s clear that the bike produced using the non UX method will create a bicycle – it will have handlebars, a seat, wheels and all the other components that make up a bike, but if it was used in the same scenario as the one that was produced using the UX design method, then the experience for cyclist will be very different.
So, UX is just like riding a bike, but the experience can vary quite a lot depending on the bike.
What do you think? Leave a reply below or contact me by email with your thoughts.
A different take on GDS’s Performance Platform
The “observer effect” states that whatever you observe, by the very act of observation, it changes. Developing tools to measure the performance of a digital transformation – such as the GDS Performance Platform – is a key step of any transformation journey itself, as it can accelerate the process and guide it to bear positive outcomes.
The act of measuring is change itself
In science, the term “observer effect” refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner. A commonplace example is checking the pressure in a car’s tyre: this is difficult to do without letting out some of the air, thus changing the pressure.
The GDS’s Performance Platform
Started as a simple dashboard to display web traffic data on gov.uk, the Government Digital Service (GDS) Performance Platform has now become a key tool that gives departments the ability to monitor the performance of their digital services in real time, aggregating data from a range of sources including web analytics, survey and finance data.
The digital by default service standard – a set of criteria for all government services to meet – now mandates the following four key performance indicators (KPIs): cost per transaction, user satisfaction, completion rate, digital take-up. These KPIs can be used to measure the success of a service and to support decisions and planning of improvements.
Similar to the tyre pressure, the very act of measuring those indicators is influencing and accelerating the transformation process, focusing the departments’ attention to delivering efficiency and quality of service to citizens. This is a key enabler of any transformation journey and it will be interesting to see how far the Performance Platform will go in the coming years.
(Note: although this example is specific to the public sector, the above is easily applicable to private organisations too – this will the subject of another blog post).
Where next? The difference between performance and evaluation
Performance measurement and evaluation are complementary activities. Evaluation gives meaning to performance measurement and performance measurement gives empirical rigour (evidence) to evaluation.
Performance measurements do not question the objectives themselves and, therefore, stop short of any final judgement as to whether the programme or activity was good or bad – only if it was successful (or not) within the narrow confines of its mandate.
The current debate on Gov2.0/Government as a Platform is precisely around the purpose of governments in the 21st century, with two schools of thoughts arguing that it’s the profitable thing to do or, well, it’s the right thing to do.
Although a clear approach on how to evaluate the impacts this approach will have on the wider society is not yet agreed, tools such as the Performance Platform can and will inform and support this discussion.
What do you think? Does this capture the distinction between programme evaluation and performance measurement – or is there a lot more to it? Is your organisation measuring the performance of its transformation? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.
Customer Experience (#CX), Customer Service, Customer Journeys, CRM, multi-channel – these are all complex, modern day challenges that current businesses face. There isn’t a single business today that doesn’t mention the ‘c’ word somewhere in their offices, in their stores, on their website or in their brochures – the customer is king, long live the king! And, throw in social media (word of mouth to the uninitiated), and we all know a company’s brand can be enhanced or destroyed based on the most trivial of vignettes or sound bites.
So, these are all modern day challenges in the 21st century – right? Well no ,you’re wrong! Every tradesman or business has had to deal with these same challenges since……the year dot actually! When the very first man (and it probably was a man!) decided to exchange something he had made, raised or grown for some form of currency, these same challenges existed except they didn’t have the same buzz words that we use in business today.
In 1996 Dr Christian Grönroos, a leading Finnish academic, published one of his seminal papers about a merchant in ancient China, which encapsulates all of the above.
“In a village in ancient China there was a young rice merchant, Ming Hua. He was one of six rice merchants in that village. He was sitting in his store waiting for customers, but the business was not good.
One day Ming Hua realised that he had to think more about the villagers and their needs and desires, and not only distribute rice to those who came into his store. He understood that he had to provide the villagers with more value and not only with the same as the other merchants offered them. He decided to develop a record of his customers’ eating habits and ordering periods and to start to deliver rice to them.
To begin with Ming Hua started to walk around the village and knock on the doors of his customers’ houses asking how many members were there in the household, how many bowls of rice they cooked on any given day and how big the rice jar of the household was. Then he offered every customer free home delivery and to replenish the rice jar of the household automatically at regular intervals.
For example, in one household of four persons, on average every person would consume two bowls of rice a day, and therefore the household would need eight bowls of rice a day for their meals. From his records Ming Hua could see that the rice jar of that particular household contained rice for 60 bowls or approximately one bag of rice, and that a full jar would last for 15 days. Consequently, he offered to deliver a bag of rice free every 15 days to this house.
By establishing these records and developing these new services, Ming Hua managed to create more and deeper relationships with the villagers, first with his old customers, then with other villagers. Eventually he got more business to take care of and, therefore, had to employ more people: one person to keep records of customers, one to take care of bookkeeping, one to sell over the counter in the store, and two to take care of deliveries. Ming Hua spent his time visiting villagers and handling the contacts with his suppliers, a limited number of rice farmers whom he knew well. Meanwhile his business prospered.”
As you read through this story, I’m sure you will have recognized some familiar themes – the importance of having a direct dialogue with your customers, understanding your customers’ needs, delivering a service that meets “their” requirements, multi-channel, keeping records on your customer preferences, and delivering a differentiated and reliable service that ultimately provides value to your customers.
So, businesses today face the same challenges as businesses did in the past, which is somewhat reassuring given how easy it is to get lost amongst all the jargon of our day!
Digital transformation offers a range of benefits for your organisation’s C-Suite and their business areas. However these stakeholders will also have legitimate concerns about its implementation.
It’s the role of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to empower and support the following senior managers to address the people, process and technology challenges to maximise the chances of success.
Chief Finance Officer: For a CFO, digital transformation offers a potential “rapid” return on investment because it delivers benefits incrementally versus a big bang approach. This Agile approach also helps spreads organisational risk because it drives ownership of digital across all business areas.
However, accounting for rapid service change can be problematic because it’s hard to distinguish CapEx and OpEx budgets from each other (is website optimisation a transformative or business as usual activity, for example?). Consequently it can be harder to trace financial/bottom line benefits to such change – an issue further exacerbated by limited benchmarks and other evidence being currently available about successful digital transformation. Is it all true good to be true?
To address this, the CDO should take ownership of the strategic benefits case for digital transformation in collaboration with the Chief Finance Officer and be responsible (and accountable) for ensuring its effective realisation with the whole of C-Suite.
Chief Marketing Officer: A CMO will want to use capabilities enabled by digital transformation to deliver (big) data powered personalisation of products and services to customers. This blending of customer and user experience design together creates responsive aligned sales channels that should increase competitiveness in disruptive uncertain markets.
Such transformation may require a costly re-branding exercise and the organisation itself may not be able to move quick enough to deliver these benefits before competitors start imitating such innovation and steal market share. Furthermore, social media customer engagement poses reputational risks that if mishandled could damage the organisation’s brand permanently.
The CDO should be constantly selling (evangelising?) the benefits of digital for customers and employees to drive buy-in of digital transformation from C-Suite. Key to this is the CDO using social media to personally spread this message (and commitment) constantly, consistently to market and internal stakeholders. In addition the CDO should proactively lead service and product innovation to help the CMO maximise the full benefits of digital.
Chief Operating Officer: The COO will like the way digital transformation empowers employees at all levels to deliver greater organisational efficiency and effectiveness. This includes the required breaking down of business and IT silos to realise new ways of working using digital technology. These strategic benefits include the design and implementation of a future proof operating model that can meet further market disruption and technologies.
But the COO may find such change highly challenging because it probably means a fundamental redesign of parts of the whole organisation – a major pain point could be the existing IT legacy systems that have to be adapted or worse yet replaced to enable such capabilities. Further problems could also arise from having to deliver high, unrealistic expectations for big data and analytics. Other people and process issues may also present blockers to success (for example incumbent teams having to transition from Waterfall to Agile).
In response the CDO needs to take a thought leadership and implementation role in the design and realisation of a new digital operating model with the COO. Part of this role is providing “hands on” management consultancy capabilities required to successfully implement a model that addresses these technology, people and process challenges. This will make the CDO a critical friend and partner with the COO in delivering successful digital transformation.
Chief HR Officer: Like the rest of C-Suite the CHRO will want to realise the people benefits of greater employee empowerment, integrated working and building of internal capabilities. Not only should digital transformation increase market competitiveness, it should have a positive impact on employee development opportunities, morale and performance.
Yet given the immaturity of digital transformation such business change could be problematic – existing employees may lack the skills and confidence for it to be successful. Training such resources may also be costly and set unrealistic expectations for their performance. Recruiting for new specialist roles (like Data Scientist or Agile Coach for example) could be challenging as there is limited supply right now in the labour market for these resources and high demand is pushing up/inflating salary expectations.
Both the CDO and CHRO need to have a deep understanding of these business change and HR issues. Key to addressing them is having the CDO apply market insight to help find the right best practice approach to up-skilling and training while also leveraging networking contacts to help find the right resources. The CDO must play a material positive supporting role to the CHRO to get people in the right place to deliver Digital Transformation.
Chief Digital Officer – potential benefits for C-Suite:
- Digital strategy and benefits management/ownership
- Evangelist driving buy-in and innovation
- CX/UX target operating model design and implementation
- HR and business change in-house consultancy
How can a CDO maximise the benefits of Digital Transformation for your organisation?
If you would like to find out more about the role of the Chief Digital Officer in C-Suite please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.
Six months ago, when my children told me I was “great to bounce on”, I decided to sign up at the local CrossFit gym. I’d heard from friends that it was a good way to get in shape fast. CrossFit has a reputation for being somewhat tribal, with participants enthusiastically cheering, back-slapping and wearing garishly coloured clothes, so it was with some trepidation that I signed up for the induction to my local ‘box’ and set myself on a course to…
Forge. Elite. Fitness.
Two days later, it hit me hard. I couldn’t bend down far enough to put my socks on. Even brushing my teeth hurt! My head was full of acronyms such as WOD, AMRAP and EMOM and strange expressions such as “I totally RX’d Linda today, but I know I can lift more on the clean.” In short, I was a confused and broken mess. But something inside me clicked. I liked it and strangely, I embraced the pain. I was hooked.
I gave myself a week to recover and then bit the bullet and stepped back into the fray, partly because of what it could help me achieve over the longer term. I knew results wouldn’t come quickly, but with perseverance I was sure I could reach my objectives.
As weeks have turned to months, I’m still going, getting fitter, faster and starting to become a little less bouncy around the midriff. It still hurts, but I push past this and keep going because the will to succeed outweighs my desire to be a children’s trampoline.
For me, IT Service Management sometimes feels the same.
Bonding through adversity
It can get pretty intense in the box. Everybody is competing against themselves and the pain is very real even though the barriers to success are often more psychological than physical. A strong spirit of gym camaraderie is essential in getting the best out of everyone. Encouragement and praise is plentiful and audible; this helps maintain commitment and energy levels even when the going gets really tough.
It’s the same in an operations team that works in a fast paced, high pressure environment; a strong team spirit is essential in maintaining throughput of work and ensuring the team does not burn out. Give support to your colleagues, whether it’s a pat on the back, a well-timed joke or a few beers, it can make the difference between a team coping and falling apart. Get to know one another, trust each other, and enjoy working together.
Speaking a foreign language
“What on earth is an AMRAP?! You jerked what?! Your favourite Girl is Nicole?!” Such are the musings of a CrossFit newbie, as the acronyms and bizarre phraseology make CrossFit initially impenetrable.
IT Service Management (ITSM) can be just as bad. To the non-initiated, the fact that an issue is not the same as an incident which is not the same as a problem can be something of a conundrum. ITSM has an abundance of acronyms, abbreviations, and terminology that means nothing to your average developer, let alone the Chief Finance Officer (when you are trying to explain why you need £10K for that critical but under-performing SAN array).
I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Sometimes it helps to feel you belong to a private club that shares the same goal and interest. Having a common language helps us talk in a consistent and professional manner.
Scaling enables continuous output
At its most basic, scaling is the use of tools or alternative techniques to make CrossFit exercises easier and is particularly useful when you are starting out. Many routines (such as pull-ups) are beyond the reach of most mortals, so anything that makes the job a little bit easier is a godsend. It’s not cheating; it simply allows you to progress at your own pace and, most importantly, maintain it.
Going lighter isn’t the enemy to CrossFit. Stopping mid-workout is.
This is equally true of ITSM, where the ability to consistently deliver and maintain throughput is key to successful operations. Overburden a vital function and you might as well rip up that forward schedule of change.
We need to scale our operations. The use of tools to automate processes can pay massive dividends through the release of resource. If a process is slowing you down, make it more efficient. This doesn’t have to involve full blown Lean-ITSM. The removal of just one redundant step could mean the difference between getting that change deployed on time and missing the deadline. Consistent throughput of work though the removal of constraints is the key here.
Again, but faster
CrossFit is about getting stronger, faster, leaner and tougher. Athletes achieve this by performing an activity, analysing their performance, and then seeking to improve on this the next time round. CrossFit continuously encourages you to try to go that little bit harder, push that little bit more and find that last little pocket of energy you didn’t even realise you had.
ITSM should be like this. We face criticism for being overly bureaucratic, cumbersome, expensive or ineffective. These criticisms are not without merit and, like my ever-expanding waistline before CrossFit, are often the result of apathy and a reluctance to look introspectively for the source of the problem.
Continuous improvement processes should strive to first understand the baseline. Once this has been established, they must analyse the system to find out what can be added, removed, refined or improved to accelerate the flow of work. Then rinse and repeat. The team should always be challenging itself to go faster and improve performance but not at the expense of the overall machine. The value chain is only as efficient as its weakest link, so focus on the least efficient components first and make sure that when you cut out the fat, you are not losing some of the muscle with it.
“Having arms like Arnie won’t help you run any faster!”
Shout it out
“There’s only one rule of CrossFit and that’s that you never, ever, stop talking about CrossFit!”
CrossFit people can get a little obsessed and it does have a tendency to border on the intolerable for non-CrossFitters.
In my career I’ve come across a lot of ITIL* evangelists; hardcore supporters of the cause, unwilling to accept that there may be other ways of working or that, just perhaps, full blown change control isn’t required to reboot that printer in the lobby. But ITIL and ITSM is something to get passionate about. When I first found ITIL it was nothing short of a revelation. Here was an approach that allowed IT organisations to shine, add value and actively demonstrate, with meaningful metrics, how and why they were doing a good job and making a difference.
ITIL has come a long way since then, and now has global support in industry, but we shouldn’t be devout followers, deaf to all criticism. ITSM practices need to adapt if they are to keep pace with cloud, digital, and similar emerging technologies.
We have built ITIL and helped to promote the ITSM movement that has radically transformed the way that businesses have operated IT and it’s just as relevant now as it ever was, if we keep it fresh.
That is some achievement and, just like CrossFit, I think that is worth shouting about.
What do you think? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.
(* ITIL – formerly known as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library)
Rudyard Kipling is an unlikely candidate as a guru of Insight Advantage. But as a Nobel Laureate for Literature, he understood the role curiosity plays in firing the imagination. Both curiosity and imagination are as important now as when Kipling was at his creative peak and wrote “I keep six honest serving-men” – essentially his recipe for creativity.
In our white paper on How to Improve Business Performance with POST-Digital Capabilities, Elliot Howard, John Batchelor and I outlined the importance of customer curiosity, a term first coined by Elliot. We wrote:
“Customer curiosity extends beyond simple customer centricity, it incorporates constant focus on improving insights into customers so that why they behave as they do is as well understood as the more easily identified what, where, when and how elements of behaviour. It requires a culture of experimentation. Experiments create new data and new insights. And ultimately customer curiosity is about creating an increasingly rich data profile for each customer.”
In essence, customer curiosity boils down to asking questions – more importantly, asking the right questions. And while customers are the most important stakeholder group a business has, they are not the only one. Insight Advantage stems from curiosity about each stakeholder group – how they can be better served and gain created as a result.
The second article in my series on Insight Advantage describes how you can blend Kipling’s honest serving-men with stakeholder theory to identify the questions that you should be asking, rather than simply asking the ones that you know can be readily answered.
What do you think? Leave a comment below or contact me by email.