Understanding “User Experience” and How it Defines Your Brand
In the late 1970’s, Apple Computer’s CMO Mike Markkula wrote as part of the company’s newly formed manifesto that “People DO judge a book by its cover….We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software, etc; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities”: Words to live by, never mind instructions on how to build a better computer company.
As for how these principals helped shape one of the most admired brands of our time, you probably know the rest of this particular story – “Embattled visionary sets tone for complete overhaul of the way we view the personal computer’s roll in our daily lives”. What we want to talk about today is the collateral impact of that digital “shot heard round the world”; how mastery of the user experience across all forums, from cars to computers, plays out on something like twenty two billion screens across the globe, every single day. How, as more and more of our lives are connected to the network, consumers expect, cleaner, smoother, faster, and more importantly, intuitive interactions out of the brands they rely on every day. And finally, how state-of-the-art digital environments have shifted from being considered high-end marketing tools to business essentials, with the companies that excel at adapting and providing these well executed online market places being the ones winning the digital race.
Mastery of the user experience across all forums, from cars to computers, plays out on something like twenty two billion screens across the globe, every single day.
Here, we are going to introduce two terms; twin pillars of a sort, that while not native to the digital arena, are most commonly used to explain how human beings interface with it. Those are “User Interface”, or (UI) and “User Experience”, or (UX). Though the phrases have respectively different meanings and are, without a doubt, each their own discipline, we think it’s sufficient enough for the goal of this post to know that both pertain to how potential customers experience and engage your brand, most significantly through online technologies including your website, downloadable applications, search functions, checkout, etc…..
So how does your customer’s experience with these online portals translate into bottom line results for your business? First, let’s demystify the “tech” side of this and maybe get a better understanding of the playing field, at large. There are two important concepts generally applied to e-commerce (but which fit all business models, no matter the industry) named “acquisition” and “conversion”.
Acquisition, in short, is the process by which you break your customer out of the malaise of their daily grind and get them to pay attention to you and your product. You can do this in any number of ways with most being generally grouped under the umbrella of “marketing”. Conversion, by contrast, is the ability to get your customer to sign on the dotted line. The middle ground, the space between engaging your product and the decision to buy, is where your brand experience lives, and consequently determines how your potential customers regard you.
Brands are being made and broken and put back together again everyday through digital details as tiny as how a device powers “Off” and “On”. In fact, the smaller an issue gets, the more troublesome it can seem to your user. To get a more tangible grasp on how your company’s digital interface can effect purchasing at large, let’s take a look at some real life examples. Have you ever gone to a website and been so frustrated with the way information is presented or how the site performed that you just gave up? Of course! We all have.
This is a example of a negative UI/UX. The difficult part of these types of experiences is that not only have you lost a sale, but that bad UX is extremely frustrating, thereby creating a negative brand impression and making it unlikely that the customer will return at all; they now associate product “X” with the feeling of “frustration”. If all this sounds like pretty basic stuff, that’s because it is. The principals we’re talking about are something that you encounter every day: In shopping malls, and restaurants, and auto dealerships across the country, just applied to the digital world.
For a more positive look at how experience can effect your business, let’s take a look at your favorite websites. Really dig in and think….”Why do I love coming here?” Is it simple, direct, and easy to use? Is it busy or clean and simple? Can you find what you’re looking for quickly? What do the buttons look like? Are they rounded and contemporary looking or does this website use antiquated design cues? How does that design speak to your feelings about the product you’ll find inside? Would you buy a brand new Jaguar from a junk yard? You’re no more likely to do so from a poorly designed website.
Remember “if we present [products] in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod.” How information is organized on your new site or application can be just, if not more important than the information itself. Are you presented with small bite-sized pieces of information that prompt you to take action if you’d like to see more information about a topic you’re interested in, or is data plastered all over the page, making you feel overwhelmed just looking at it? All of these questions fit into the spectrum of UI/UX design and development.
While all of this can seem overwhelming, as small business owners here’s what you need to focus on. After you’ve earned your customer’s time, what are you giving them? Come at it from the perspective of the shopper and say, “where are the roadblocks in my purchasing experience?” Do my pages take too long to load? Does my website look choppy on mobile? Are my “call to action” buttons, “check-out” details, and products clearly labeled and easy to understand? Consider what exactly is it within any given experience that pushes your customers just over that cliff called “conversion”? What is the difference between….”sure, why not” and “not today”.
After you’ve earned your customer’s time, what are you giving them?
All of this, as you may have guessed, is a topic of great study and you can find a variety of experts making valid points, backed up by massive quantities of data about issues as small as what color a “checkout” button is. As person who is new addressing the UI/UX of your business’ digital experience, start with some of the basic questions we’ve laid out here. The important thing is that you train yourself to become aware of how you think. Pay attention to the looks, colors, experiences that excite you while surfing the web or even while out over the weekend, in brick and mortar stores. You may not even know immediately why something has appealed to you, but keep coming back to it, explore what makes it engaging, apply it to your digital environments, and you may find that customers spend more time with your brand.