Tuesday, September 11, 2012

User Experience Gone Mild!

To some marketers, the term “user experience” or UX instantly brings to mind Hollywood-level digital theatrics--websites or mobile apps that all but sing and dance on the screen while imparting a sense of wonder to the user.  If you’ve ever sat through a UX meeting with marketing folks, you have heard at least one reference to a certain Tom Cruise movie that’s compelling 80% of the way through and then falls apart in the last reel.

No, not that one.  Or the other one.  Or the other other one.  This one:

Certainly, outstanding and distinctive UX schemes have their place.  A certain Cupertino-based computer giant stakes its reputation on beautiful UX.  At the other end of the spectrum, however, Google still owes much of its dominance to the plainest screen ever.

We’ve all seen over-ambitious UX schemes that frustrate the user (ahem, every timesheet program EVER).  It’s easy to overdo it.  So, when should a marketer go with “Minority Report” and when should he or she go with “Not-So Risky Business?”

In my usual oblique fashion, I’ll make an analogy.  Imagine that you’re an executive chef.  You create your own kind of UX, the kind that people eat.

If you work at a formal restaurant, you cook a certain kind of food--the kind that people savor while enjoying the fawning of an accommodating staff.  However, if you work for McDonalds (yes, they do have an executive chef), you have a different kind of food in mind.  Your customers expect a different kind of UX--something quick, satisfying and consistent.

Sounds much better when Mark Knopfler sings about it

As any parent of grade-school-age children can tell you, there’s a time for fancy restaurants and there’s a time for Mickey D’s.  Accordingly, marketers should distinguish between the time for a wild UX scheme and the time for a mild one.

Naturally, the choice comes down to one of goals.  What does the marketer want the UX to achieve?  In many cases, the marketer has a simple goal, such as to collect customer information, create a sales lead or drive a sale.  In that case, simple generally works best.  Even a cool product still benefits from a straightforward UX.  If the product dazzles, generally the UX should get out of the way and let the consumer get to the product sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, sometimes, a distinctive UX enhances the product.  More to the point, the UX may be part of the product.  For an entity that lives online or in a mobile app, UX means everything.  Recall, for instance, the hue and cry that rises every time Facebook changes something.  UX makes up a large portion of what people think about Facebook.  Thus Facebook needs to think more “Minority Report.”

Where does this criterion leave brands who think they need to have a cool UX scheme, even though they offer tangible products?  Does a car company need “Minority Report?”  Does a liquor brand?

My take: a highly qualified “probably not.”

Most of the time, consumers find your site to answer a specific question, such as “what kind of gas mileage does it get?” or “how can I make a whiskey sour with your brand?”  A fancy UX that the visitor will have to learn will most likely get in the way of that visitor’s goal.

That said, if the marketer wants to immerse the visitor in a special brand experience, such as a game or a highly-developed application, then a full-on “Minority Report” experience makes sense.  Naturally, each brand would have a different take on “Minority Report;” while Svedka can get away with slick and techy, Jack Daniel’s probably can’t.

Make sure your brand has...WAIT FOR IT... “All the Right Moves.”

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