User experience is everybody’s job

User experience is everybody’s job

“Just make it really simple and easy to use. Make sure it has a good user experience.”

In my role as a User Experience (UX) Lead at zu, I hear this from clients a lot when we’re scoping or kicking off a project. Sounds like a natural request, right? Who doesn’t want that for their product or service?

“User experience” is a term loaded with assumptions, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since attending a Nielsen Norman Group UX Conference in Vancouver a few weeks ago. After 5 days of intense deep dives into design thinking, leadership, mapping, service blueprinting, and strategy, the phrase that continues to live in my head like an earworm was uttered on the very first day by the exceptional Nancy Dickenson. (That’s the Nancy who’s had a major impact at little companies you may have heard of, such as Apple and eBay.) She said,

UX strategy is business strategy.

The power in this statement lies with the recognition that people often take a far too narrow view of what UX really means. UX is frequently used in the following ways:

  • As something that’s just seen as a designer’s job
  • As a way to talk about how it feels to use a digital product
  • Incorrectly, as a term that’s interchangeable with “user interface” and “usability”

Don Norman — who is credited with popularizing the term “user experience” in the mid-90s when he was at Apple — explains in this 2-minute video that UX was intended to refer to a holistic, end-to-end experience with a system or company that extends far beyond simply using a product. I think these few sentences sum up his position nicely:

“[User experience] is everything that touches upon your experience with the product, and it may not even be near the product. It may be when you’re telling somebody else about it.

That’s what we meant when we devised the term, ‘user experience,’ and set up what we called the User Experience Architect’s Office at Apple to try to enhance things.” More succinctly, Norman and his Nielsen Norman Group co-founder, Jakob Nielsen, provide this definition:

‘User experience’ encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

With that in mind, if you have a UX strategy for your product or service — a set of time-bound, coordinated actions that will guide it to a future state — I’d be willing to wager a guess that you can (and should) push its boundaries further. If user experience “encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company,” as Nielsen and Norman state above, then it’s not just a designer’s job, it’s everybody’s job. The user experience is influenced by everything from marketing, to customer interactions with employees, to physical environments, to decisions made by leadership that affect all of those things.

In that context, the link between UX strategy and business strategy becomes pretty clear, pretty fast.

An article I read recently called Don’t confuse digital transformation with customer experience explores similar notions. In much the same way that user experience is about more than just your user’s direct interactions with your product or service, the author argues that digital transformation is about more than digital. Digital transformation strategies don’t, in and of themselves, drive customer experience. Human insights do:

“The most important trend when it comes to customer experience isn’t digital transformation but customers themselves. Technologies, and how we interact with them, will change, but it’s a timeless truth that to stay relevant to customers, companies must keep their fingers on the pulse of consumers’ constantly evolving needs and expectations and build those insights into their offerings.”

Human insights come from human-centred practices. At zu, we rely heavily on design thinking philosophies in our human-centred methods. Though our way isn’t the only way, we find design thinking practices keep users front and centre — both digital and non-digital solutions should serve the people, after all, not the other way around. And since design thinking is an approach to problem solving that you don’t have to be a designer to use or understand, it’s also a great way for non-designers to play a role in delivering a strong user experience.

My favourite piece of swag I brought home from the UX Conference is a sticker that says “UX is people.” That may bring to mind the aspirational “people are our business” tagline and its variations. While it’s arguably overused, it’s popular because it rings true. So if UX is people, and people are your business, then UX is your business. And no matter what your title, UX is your job, too.