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People-centric experiences

nick-jones-gartnerDevices continue to evolve rapidly, and in the future will include features such as flexible screens, pressure-sensitive touch, new sensors that will provide new interaction opportunities and additional clues to context. New styles of experience will also be required by wearable devices such as smart watches, which will likely prove useful for “glanceable” information such as notifications. Consumer technologies such as beacons will be adopted by enterprises, enabling new experiences and applications. The fast evolution of consumer-oriented mobile apps is also creating a growing ‘experience gap’ between consumer and corporate mobility. Faced with these revolutions taking place in the mobile UX domain, organisations must address several challenges:

Becoming a more experience-aware and literate organisation

Most organisations don’t need to become experts in leading-edge mobile UX, but equally, most organisations will need to become better at mobile UX design to (a) understand what’s possible; (b) exploit new and sophisticated UXs when appropriate; and (c) understand when specialists should be called in.

To achieve these goals, it’s necessary to build a hierarchy of UX design skills varying from universal awareness of the issues through to a few staff who may be professional full-time designers.

From a mobile UX perspective, organisations should strive for universal design awareness in all staff, universal design literacy in the IT organisation, plus some professional UX designers capable of design thinking. For most IT organisations, leading edge design practice is better handled by external partners. Achieving these goals requires a mixture of self-education, formal training and recruiting.

To acquire skills in design thinking and perhaps advanced design practice takes time and some aptitude; many organisations won’t be able to train existing employees, so recruiting and sourcing will be key components of the mobile UX strategy. Organisations that can’t justify full-time teams capable of the most advanced UXs must work with external partners such as digital marketing agencies. It’s likely that many organisations will need to ramp up their UX design capabilities, so CIOs should plan to recruit staff with the necessary skills.

However, recruiting alone isn’t enough. UX specialists need to be integrated with the app design and delivery life cycle and must have the time and resources needed to achieve their goals; handing an existing app to a designer and telling him/her to create a better interface isn’t enough. We have seen situations where UX experts had little or no impact on an organisation after they’d been hired because they didn’t have the time or influence necessary to do their work, or weren’t involved early enough in the design process.

Justify new and better mobile experiences

Sadly, most IT organisations under-invest in UX because there are few incentives to provide better experiences for employee-facing apps. The average CIO is seldom directly measured on UX, and much of the third-party software that the IT organisation buys delivers a poor level of experience, so many employees have low expectations of internal apps. Furthermore, many organisations find it difficult to value UX investments, which contributes to the growing experience gap that I already mentioned.

Poor experiences are most common in employee-facing apps. However, consumer apps and app stores are setting expectations of good experiences that, combined with the need to deliver more mobile and multiplatform apps, can be a catalyst to help organisations highlight the need for increased UX investment. In most cases, this will demand a multipronged campaign. Tactics include:
Evangelising: Organisations that are design-aware and design-literate are more likely to appreciate the opportunities and value of UX investment, so our previous best practice will contribute to this goal. In some cases, user satisfaction surveys can highlight the deficiencies of current app interfaces. Any organisation delivering customer-facing apps through app stores should monitor app reviews and comments for issues related to UX and use these as evidence to justify investment. Great UXs are in a sense self-evangelising, so organisations wanting to justify better internal experiences should concentrate on improving a few high-impact applications that will hopefully generate a demand for wider investment.

Explain the value of a better mobile UX: Metrics are a powerful tool to highlight UX deficiencies and poor user satisfaction. Link new UX principles to key business goals such as efficiency and effectiveness or reduced error rates. Lobby key stakeholders to create demand for more effort in the mobile UX area. Suggest ways that consumer technologies such as wearables and beacons can be exploited internally. Develop prototypes of improved interfaces to generate awareness and demand, especially from internal business users.

Position UX as a quality process, not as an ROI: When the organisation finds it difficult to value UX investments, it may be helpful to position UX as a quality or risk reduction measure rather than an ROI measure.

Adopt development approaches that encourage better UXs

We’re motivated by what we’re measured on, so metrics will play a role in the adoption of new styles of UX design. Therefore, adopt app design approaches that encourage the use of experience metrics; for example, metrics are fundamental to approaches such as HEART, which require that designers define and measure key app satisfaction metrics and then optimise them through iterative development. Metrics aren’t just for use during development, but will increasingly be deployed in the form of monitoring tools tracking user behaviour and technical performance of applications in the wild. Such application performance monitoring (APM) tools can identify performance bottlenecks and report on how successful users are at achieving tasks using an app, so they can help quantify the value of UX innovation.

Another dimension of UX optimisation is testing; however, conventional mobile app testing approaches tend to be poor at assessing “soft” metrics such as user satisfaction. Consider using test approaches such as crowdsourcing, which can sometimes be better at identifying usability and user satisfaction issues than internal testers. In cases when the UX is both novel and critical to app success, consider approaches such as focus groups.

Monitor and evangelise emerging UX technologies and principles

I noted in the introduction that mobile UX will be a fast-moving area driven by new features in mobile devices, new types of devices such as wearables and by new goals in UX design such as influencing emotion and behaviour. Because UX design is a craft or art, it’s also something of a fashion business subject to trends – for example, the enthusiasm for skeuomorphism spawned by early versions of iOS has fortunately faded. However, some trends will deliver new forms of value, and the fast-moving mobile technologies we described in the introduction will continue to create new opportunities involving new types of interactions. So it’s important for organisations to keep abreast of developments in the space.

Monitor UX-related technology and design principles: IT organisations should monitor device features, new devices and new UX principles, many of which will emerge first in consumer apps and devices. Consider circulating a periodic “weather report” to both IT and business staff suggesting how these might benefit the business. This can be a part-time activity requiring only a few hours a week so it doesn’t take much effort, but it pays back both in terms of increasing the design awareness and design literacy discussed above and establishing IT professionals as thought leaders in the UX area.

Consider prototypes and showcases: UXs are easier to demonstrate than to explain, so when time and budget permit, consider developing prototypes of key innovations. Some organisations go further and create more complex showcases, such as “branch of the future” or “store of the future” scenarios in banking and retail.

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