We’ve all been there before, living through experiences that seemed to be the opposite of optimal. Whether in the real world or the digital realm, as consumers, we are constantly bombarded by these suboptimal interactions and experiences. From using ATMs to purchasing tickets for the Zoo, we are forced to interact with software that was seemingly designed in a vacuum by over-caffeinated software developers concerned only with checking a feature off a scrum board. As users we’re left scratching our heads at some point, wondering what to do next. We are embarrassed when we choose wrong, but it’s an embarrassment that turns to frustration and sometimes genuine anger at the absurdity of the flow we are led—or more pointedly, not led—through.
Why are there so many bad user experiences? The answer lies in the clash of design versus user experience. It’s the result of great ideas, wireframes, and comps falling victim to real-world execution. Only recently have disciplines like User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX) come into the collective consciousness. In years past, you might have run across one lone UX Designer on a team of many, practicing their dark art and evangelizing the way to achieve interaction nirvana. They were often given the thankless job of representing the user or customer, fighting to see some element of interaction common sense make it into the final product. Unfortunately, their feedback was often only given lip service, with their good ideas falling prey to project pillagers like budget concerns, scope creep, and deadlines.
At Gauge Interactive, our products are often large custom eCommerce implementations built on industry-leading platforms like Magento and Shopify. Depending on requirements and long-term goals, the complexity of a project can vary wildly from project to project. What doesn’t vary, however, is the importance of keeping the end user in mind—in our case, the customer’s customer.
This is something we have to constantly reiterate to ourselves and to each other, in meetings, design sprints, and even around the coffee maker: We exist to provide world-class shopping experiences not for our customers, but for our customer’s customers. It’s an important distinction, and one we try to emphasize heavily both internally and in meetings with our eCommerce business partners. We are not designing experiences for ourselves, not even for our customers. We are designing for our customers’ customers. So while the collectively deep design experience of our team is hugely valuable, and while the specialized insight of our partners is massively important, when we’re designing a new experience the most important element is the actual users—the people logging on to a website with their phone, tablet, or laptop in search of a great buying experience.
Delivering value for our partners’ customers is at the core of why we exist as a company. As a project manager, I try to make sure these concerns about customer experience act as a constant thread running through every interaction and tying every decision back to our ultimate goal. Here at Gauge Interactive we try to bake these concerns into our collective DNA. Obviously there are many suit-and-tie ways to adopt and institutionalize ideas, but we go with a less soulless approach: Required reading.
We identify heavily with what the crew over at Basecamp (previously 37Signals) has written. We are avid readers of their blog, signal vs. noise, as well as their many titles. One of the first books we ask all new employees to read, and encourage everyone to re-read, is Getting Real. It’s all about building successful web apps. At Gauge our “web apps” are responsive eCommerce websites, but so much in this manifesto applies to how we do business. It’s a treasure trove of advice born of experience, including some valuable information about designing for customers. Definitely give it a read if you haven’t; the link above goes to a free PDF offered through their website.
Keeping the customer at the center is why we only build responsive websites, why we design using the mobile-first methodology, why we design the interface before programming, why we go onsite to dig deep into our customers’ businesses, why we listen to our partners and their customers. Do we always get it right the first time? No, but that’s ok. We’re not carving experiences in granite blocks here; we are building in digital bits, bytes, and pixels, and those are easily changed. Maybe the most important lesson here, and the one to take away with you, is simple: Listen deeply to your product’s customers and never stop listening. Keep them at the center, and the design will lay itself out from there.