UX is a customer dance beyond web design

User Experience applies to everything I do and everywhere I go. When designers talk as if UX starts and ends with web UI design, ‘I can’t get behind that.’ Everything we do outside ‘work’ can inform how we build great customer experiences.

 A master in the art of living makes little distinction between work and play.
He simply pursues excellence, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. -Zen

Personas are Context Boxes

User-Centered Design principles work for customer relationships because they apply to relationships generally. We are drawn to people who make us feel good just as we are drawn to brands we trust for certain things. We gravitate to doing certain things with certain people the same way that we gravitate to using Google instead of Bing and Apple Maps.

We don’t try to do everything with everyone. Grandma is great for stories and sharing wisdom, but not club-hopping. Our friends fit in context boxes. You may have a few “all-around friends”, but when we think of someone, we tend to think of *the boxes* where they work in our life. Those boxes are personas people we know and we associate user stories with the things that work with each person. It’s jarring when someone steps out of their assigned box. For example, seeing a quiet co-worker or your kid’s teacher boogieing on the dance floor is discombobulating. Just for a moment, you catch yourself in disbelief that they actually have a life outside of the context in which you know them.

Customer Relationships = Human Relationships

Every interaction with a person, company or brand builds a model of “what works well”. We tend to like people who make us feel good about being ourselves. People are like brands that we assign attributes to. I have tennis friends, training friends, students, mentors, family, people who make me comfortable and people who don’t.

Company brands are the same. We build up models of what they are good for and what they aren’t.

  • Apple: Trusted for music, phones, OS, PCs and tablets. Not trusted for mapping, complex apps or enterprise software.
  • Microsoft: Trusted for XBox, dev tools and office suite. Not trusted for OS and hardware.
  • Google: Trusted for search, email, calendar, docs.  Not trusted for hardware or social network.

Build Trust by Eliminating Negatives

Positive interactions are important, but trust requires a lack of negatives. Valuing a relationship means putting energy towards working on the problems. It is easier to destroy brand value than to build it in customer or human relationships. I put effort into positive interactions with my wife, but I put EVEN MORE effort into avoiding negative ones.  This may be obvious in personal relationships, it can get lost in product relationships. I have my own Hippocratic Oath of UX: First Do No Harm. ie. before adding a feature, find and kill anything negative.

If you can’t make a feature great, why does it need to exist?

Users aren’t going to love you for adding features unless they have a good experience getting what they want. Users value a product for a high good/bad ratio, not the number of features.  Since every new feature increases the chance of something being non-ideal, validate the need before adding something that *might* be valuable.

The UX of Marriage

Since I love good experiences, I apply UX to non-work activities. My marriage is my #1 relationship, so my wife and I put energy into keeping it fresh and positive. We’ve found things we both like (one of which is finding new things to like) and a number of things that don’t work for us. We’ve become happier over time, partly because we do more fun things, but mainly because we do less things that don’t work.

One of the things we enjoy is lindy hop dancing, aka swing dancing. Swing music was created to be danced to an iterative process between composers, musicians and dancers. Just like UX, it was a positive, iterative process with a good result.

Lindy Hop Applied to Web Design

Lindy Hop is about Fun and Connection. The Lead listens to the music and leads his interpretation of the rhythm to the Follow. The Follow picks up the rhythm and interprets it back to the lead. The live connection between lead, follow and the music is fun and easy. I like dancing with my wife, but we dance with lots of other people who don’t know what we’re going to do. The interplay between lead and follow creates a happy groove that accentuates the music. However, when a lead is too controlling “I want to do certain moves to MAKE the follow respond a certain way”, the fun connection is blown. The follow doesn’t smile when a lead is trying to MAKE her do things.

The Dance of Customer Relationships

A happy follow is like a happy customer. Are we making it easy for users to do things or are we trying to *force* them down a path?

Imagine a user who wishes to buy plane tickets. The task is “the music”, setting the constraints and goal of the interaction. As UX Designers, we are the Lead, designing an interface to allow our Follow (the customer) to buy the product. If we confuse the customer or try to force them down a set path, they will bail on the transaction. More than 80% of all e-commerce transactions are abandoned before purchase. Therefore, our design goal is to make the customer feel comfortable, smart and in control as they proceed towards a purchase.

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, that’s what gets results – Melvin Oliver

Every customer touchpoint is like a small dance. An interface that leads customers towards business goals in the right way leads to brand trust and good conversion rates. If the user clearly understands the task at hand and each step leading to their goal, we increase our odds.

Check out the video below. Is your customer dance better than your competitors?

UX is Everywhere

Customer relationships are relationships. Our lives are better when we successfully interact with people at home, work or play. Each micro-interaction determines how others see us and how much they value the relationship. In customer relationships, each micro-interaction with a call-center, or a sign-up form or a post-purchase email is an opportunity to create or reform our brand persona for that customer. You can make a short-term dent in customer perception through aggressive marketing and videos, but it won’t last. Every small authentic interaction with your business and products builds a brand persona that marketing can’t change.

About Bill Stewart

Bill Stewart is a UX Architect & Designer who loves great experience at work and play. Whether he's designing a customer experience, lindy hop dancing, or teaching Wing Chun, he looks to maximize the value in every interaction.

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