‘So called User Experience’

Our industry frequently entertains debate around process and opinions. Often they are polarised and lead to valuable debate.

As a long-term listener of Unfinished Business, I've always enjoyed the discourse around creativity, design and advertising, especially in episode 73 and then in episode 75 of The Web Ahead.

I'm a UX designer by trade and probably wouldn't, sadly, be top of a list of suppliers for Stuff and Nonsense given the discussions recently: UX can damage the big idea and how testing and validating design decisions is damaging creativity.

I wouldn't try to change their mind, I respect their opinion too much for that. But I do think the topic has helped me vocalise why I can sometimes have a scepticism of advertising and marketing activities.

Specifically I think:

BIG idea

A few years ago, my agency of the day was engaged by a marketing team to develop a suite of design applications for developers of their mobile platform.

The kickoff involved an invitation to a client attended focus group lead by the marketing team. It was quickly clear that the facilitator was asking leading questions intended to provide the right answers to the client. My own research proved that their was already a popular solution in the market that the client wasn't aware of.

The idea was one the marketing agency had used to win the contract before we'd become involved (see my thoughts about that). In a follow up meeting, I used the five whys to uncover the real problem. We didn't get to number 3.

Time and again I heard the marketing team talk about UX, but when the research contradicted their opinions, they didn't want to know. Effectively what was presented to the client was a piece of art that wouldn't achieve the desired goals or KPIs. The solution wasn't commissioned and the project was mothballed; the idea had gotten out of control.

Importance of validation

Over the last year, I've been working within the financial services industry. A client has recently run a TV campaign using story telling to convey the benefits of their product. I know this direction was lead by research activities including one-to-one interviews, surveys and then focus groups. It was no less creative than if it had been solely born of a big idea.

What I would say to Andy Clarke is that he has used research to validate his big ideas. Namely the fabulous apes that adorn the front of the Stuff and Nonsense website.

Discussed during the show, after their launch there was a lull in enquiries and he speculated that it was because of the apes. So instead of speculating, he talked to potential clients and he debunked his assumption. Had his assumption been validated, I'm sure the Apes would've been removed.

I don't see the individual components of a project as separate, design is just as responsible for the experience as front-end development, or data analysis, or copy writing, or SEO. UX provides the bedrock that allows these disciplines to begin working in harmony and should never be a wall that prevents collaboration.

User experience doesn't prevent creativity, it reinforces it by increasing the impact of the idea on the end users. Who could topple the big idea validated with research? It would be unstoppable.