Delight and Excite

Mick McGee, CEO & President, EchoUser

Editor’s Note: EchoUser is a User Experience design firm in San Francisco and a member of the Oracle Usability Advisory Board. Mick and his staff regularly consult on Oracle Applications UX projects.

Being part of a user experience design firm, we have the luxury of working with a lot of great people across many great companies. We get to help people solve their problems.  At least we used to. The basic design challenge is still the same; however, the goal is not necessarily to solve “problems” anymore; it is, “I want our products to delight and excite!” The question for us as UX professionals is how to design to those goals, and then how to assess them from a usability perspective.

I’m not sure where I first heard “delight and excite” (A book? blog post? Facebook  status? Steve Jobs quote?), but now I hear these listed as user experience goals all the time. In particular, somewhat paradoxically, I routinely hear them in enterprise software conversations. And when asking these same enterprise companies what will make the project successful, we very often hear, “Make it like Apple.” In past days, it was “make it like Yahoo (or Amazon or Google“) but now Apple is the common benchmark.

Steve Jobs and Apple were not secrets, but with Jobs’ passing and Apple becoming the world’s most valuable company in the last year, the impact of great design and experience is suddenly very widespread. In particular, users’ expectations have gone way up. Being an enterprise company is no shield to the general expectations that users now have, for all products.

Designing a “Minimum Viable Product”

The user experience challenge has historically been, to echo the words of Eric Ries (author of Lean Startup) , to create a “minimum viable product”: the proverbial, “make it good enough”. But, in our profession, the “minimum viable” part of that phrase has oftentimes, unfortunately, referred to the design and user experience. Technology typically dominated the focus of the biggest, most successful companies. Few have had the laser focus of Apple to also create and sell design and user experience alongside great technology.

But now that Apple is the most valuable company in the world, copying their success is a common undertaking. Great design is now a premium offering that everyone wants, from the one-person startup to the largest companies, consumer and enterprise. This emerging business paradigm will have significant impact across the user experience design process and profession. One area that particularly interests me is, how are we going to evaluate these new emerging “delight and excite” experiences, which are further customized to each particular domain?

How to Measure “Delight and Excite”

Traditional usability measures of task completion rate, assists, time, and errors are still extremely useful in many situations; however, they are too blunt to offer much insight into emerging experiences “Satisfaction” is usually assessed in user testing, in roughly equivalent importance to the above objective metrics. Various surveys and scales have provided ways to measure satisfying UX, with whatever questions they include. However, to meet the demands of new business goals and keep users at the center of design and development processes, we have to explore new methods to better capture custom-experience goals and emotion-driven user responses.

We have had success assessing custom experiences, including “delight and excite”, by employing a variety of user testing methods that tend to combine formative and summative techniques (formative being focused more on identifying usability issues and ways to improve design, and summative focused more on metrics). Our most successful tool has been one we’ve been using for a long time, Magnitude Estimation Technique (MET). But it’s not necessarily about MET as a measure, rather how it is created.

EchoUser_User_Testing

For one client, EchoUser did two rounds of testing.  Each test was a mix of performing representative tasks and gathering qualitative impressions. Each user participated in an in-person moderated 1-on-1 session for 1 hour, using a testing set-up where they held the phone. The primary goal was to identify usability issues and recommend design improvements.

MET is based on a definition of the desired experience, which users will then use to rate items of interest (usually tasks in a usability test). In other words, a custom experience definition needs to be created. This can then be used to measure satisfaction in accomplishing tasks; “delight and excite”; or anything else from strategic goals, user demands, or elsewhere. For reference, our standard MET definition in usability testing is:

“User experience is your perception of how easy to use, well designed and productive an interface is to complete tasks.”

Articulating the User Experience

We’ve helped construct experience definitions for several clients to better match their business goals. One example is a modification of the above that was needed for a company that makes medical-related products:

“User experience is your perception of how easy to use, well-designed, productive and safe an interface is for conducting tasks. ‘Safe’ is how free an environment (including devices, software, facilities, people, etc.) is from danger, risk, and injury.”

Another example is from a company that is pushing hard to incorporate “delight” into their enterprise business line:

“User experience is your perception of a product’s ease of use and learning, satisfaction and delight in design, and ability to accomplish objectives.”

I find the last one particularly compelling in that there is little that identifies the experience as being for a highly technical enterprise application. That definition could easily be applied to any number of consumer products.

We have gone further than the above, including “sexy” and “cool” where decision-makers insisted they were part of the desired experience. We also applied it to completely different experiences where the “interface” was, for example, riding public transit, the “tasks” were train rides, and we followed the participants through the train-riding journey and rated various aspects accordingly:

“A good public transportation experience is a cost-effective way of reliably, conveniently, and safely getting me to my intended destination on time.”

To construct these definitions, we’ve employed both bottom-up and top-down approaches, depending on circumstances. For bottom-up, user inputs help dictate the terms that best fit the desired experience (usually by way of cluster and factor analysis). Top-down depends on strategic, visionary goals expressed by upper management that we then attempt to integrate into product development (e.g., “delight and excite”). We like a combination of both approaches to push the innovation envelope, but still be mindful of current user concerns.

Hopefully the idea of crafting your own custom experience, and a way to measure it, can provide you with some ideas how you can adapt your user experience needs to whatever company you are in. Whether product-development or service-oriented, nearly every company is ultimately providing a user experience.

The Bottom Line

Creating great experiences may have been popularized by Steve Jobs and Apple, but I’ll be honest, it’s a good feeling to be moving from “good enough” to “delight and excite,” despite the challenge that entails. In fact, it’s because of that challenge that we will expand what we do as UX professionals to help deliver and assess those experiences. I’m excited to see how we, Oracle, and the rest of the industry will live up to that challenge.

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