Zone to win and UX (Transformation Zone)

In my previous blogs, I covered the Performance Zone, Productivity Zone, and Incubation Zone within Geoffrey Moore’s framework. In this blog post, I am covering the Transformation Zone and how it impacts the UX strategy within that zone.

Transformation Zone:

The Transformation Zone is empty most years and only active during time of disruption. According to Moore, there is typically 1 transformation every decade. However, since technology enhancements are moving faster and faster, I believe the Transformation Zone will be populated more often than that. An important point is to never have two transformations at the same time, and when it is active, the entire company needs to rally around it.

When active in a company with a strategy to grow, the CEO’s job is to take one (and only one) initiative from the Incubation Zone and grow it to generate at least 10% of the company’s revenue and become a part of the Performance Zone. The time horizon for this is 2-3 years, and during this time there needs to be a significant reallocation of resources, which in turn impacts all the other zones.

The Performance Zone needs to give up resources to support this new initiative at the same time as they ideally find ways to support and integrate the new technology into their initiatives. The Productivity Zone will need to make sure that there are programs to support this transformation and help move the transformation from their “start-up” culture into the core business culture. The Incubation Zone needs to be significantly reduced since resources are needed for the transformation, and there will not be another transformation for several years. This means that most other initiatives need to be spun out or integrated into the other initiatives.

If a company, on the other hand, is in defensive mode (a competitor is disrupting them by use of the transformation zone), the goal is to neutralize this threat as soon as possible. Basically, try to find ways to take the best features and include them in your offering (reverse engineer, partner with other companies, etc.). During the catch-up time, it might be necessary to cut down prices as well.

Because of the Transformation Zone’s infrequent activity and limit of only one initiative at a time, only a small portion of UX professionals work in this zone. However, the activation of the Transformation Zone will have a major impact on UX professionals throughout the company.

If you are working on the initiative that is going through the Transformation Zone, i.e. your company tries to grow an initiative from the Incubation Zone into the Performance Zone, a lot of things will happen. Previously, you worked in a start-up mentality, and there is a significant chance you acquired a lot of UX debt. During this maturity phase, you’ll have to address all of that at the same time as resources are poured into the product/service – often resulting in greater complexity. You’ll also start collaborating with the UX team in the Performance Zone, which might have slightly different processes than you had when you were a “start-up”. At the end of the transformation, this start-up should be aligned with the methodologies of the Performance Zone or have enough influence that the established UX division change their processes to align with yours.

On the other hand, if you are working in a company that is being disrupted by other companies pushing a transformation, you’ll have to protect your market shares. This means that the UX division needs to quickly gain an understanding of the main benefit that the disruption is providing the customer so that the company can respond accordingly as soon as possible. Once the main benefit is understood, your company should aim to deliver the same benefit. This can be by partnerships, reverse engineer, etc., but independent of the approach, the UX division needs to make sure the new features are integrated in a good, usable way. One thing the UX division can do is to run competitive tests against the disruptors’ solution to gain insight of how to deliver the best user experience.

For large corporations, things can become very complex. For example, they might push one transformation within their company that will strengthen their products/services in one way, but at the same time a competitor might have another transformation in their company as well. So, at the same time as they are disrupting in one part of the market, someone else might be disrupting some other parts. Sometimes it will impact all the products/services they provide and at other times only some of them. Therefore, larger companies might need to both play offence (pushing their transformation) and concurrently play defense (coping with the disruption from the competitor).

Conclusion

It is important to understand the larger corporate strategy and ensure that the UX resources are aligned to support the overarching company strategy in the best way. This means that you should not have one UX strategy for the entire corporation, but instead have different UX strategies for each of the four zones (Performance Zone, Productivity Zone, Incubation Zone, and Transformation Zone.

© David Juhlin and www.davidjuhlin.com, 2017

Zone to win and UX (Incubation Zone)

In my previous blogs, I covered the Performance Zone and the Productivity Zone within Geoffrey Moore’s framework. In this blog post, I am covering the Incubation Zone and how it impacts the UX strategy within that zone.

Incubation Zone

The Incubation Zone has the longest time horizon (3-5 years), and for a company to invest in such a distant future, it needs to be a disruptive innovation with a significant potential impact. The goal is to create the “next big thing”, not just innovation in technology or in the business model. This effort, if successful, should result in a “new company” with a significant revenue stream coming out of it (10+% of total revenue).

The recommendation is to manage each initiative as an independent operation unit and manage them separately. In the same way as a start-up requires funding from venture capitalist, each operating unit requires funding from the company (the company appoints a venture board). This mean the initiatives here live the uncertain life of start-ups, they might run out of funds, be shut down, spun-off, etc.

If the company is in growth mode, the initiatives can flourish in this start-up like model (as long as they seem promising), and the goal is to become successful enough so that the company will pick it up as a new line of business. If it fails, it might get a second chance, but not a third.

If the company is primarily trying to protect their market shares, these initiatives are instead needed to help the rest of the company and fight off potential threats. This means that these initiatives have to integrate their technologies into the existing business, even if it means the end of that initiative as a star-up.

UX professionals working for initiatives in the Incubation Zone will be working in a start-up like mentality even if it is a well-established company. This results in wearing multiple hats, and at times, maybe even perform non-UX work.

If the company is focused on growth, the initiatives can continue operating as a start-up, which means running at the speed of light. The UX strategy most appropriate would therefore be Lean UX and other processes that work well in an extremely agile environment.

Alternatively, if the company primarily wants to protect their market shares, the technology of the “start-ups” needs to be integrated to the existing business (initiatives in the Performance Zone). If these initiatives already are staffed with a generalist, they might need to layoff the UX employees working in the “start-up”.

Next blog post will cover the Transformation Zone

© David Juhlin and www.davidjuhlin.com, 2017

Zone to win and UX (Productivity Zone)

In my previous blog, I covered the Performance Zone of Geoffrey Moore’s framework. In this blog, I am covering the Productivity Zone and how it impacts the UX strategy within that zone.

Productivity Zone

The Productivity Zone contains all functions that don’t have any direct accountability for any revenue (finance, legal, HR, tech support, etc.). The goal of the Productivity Zone is to make sure all the other zones can work efficiently (“doing things right”) and effectively (“doing the right things”). The time horizon in this zone is short and aligns with the Performance Zone, i.e. next fiscal year.

If the company’s overall strategy is growth (expanding into new markets or offering new products/services), the Productivity Zone has to develop new programs to handle the change. This mean they might need to reallocate resources as well as allow more flexibility in processes (they might for example need to loosen up rules regarding approved software).

If the company primarily tries to protect their current market shares, the Productivity Zone’s primary objective is to keep costs down so resources can be distributed to the other zones. This means that the Productivity Zone should focus on reengineer and streamline processes (centralize, standardize, optimize). It can even mean the company will outsource parts in the Productivity Zone to keep costs down.

There are not as many UX professionals working in the Productivity Zone since the zone doesn’t generate any revenue stream for the company. However, the UX effort also depends on the different type of functions (customer facing, supplier facing, or internally facing). Within the Productivity Zone, the customer facing functions tend to have a larger concentration of UX staff than the other two (supplier facing, and internally facing). The reason for this is that even if it is not directly impacting the revenue, the customer facing functions still have an impact on the customers and the sales. Just think about customer support and how it can be important for future purchases. For the internal systems and the supplier facing systems, the UX is often a low priority and the focus is on making the systems efficient enough (“able to complete a task fast”).

Independently if the company is going through growth or trying to protect their market share, a beneficial way to provide UX expertise is through an agency model. This agency can be internal, external, or some type of hybrid. The agency model would allow UX expertise at the same time as the agency can manage work fluctuations from the different groups and, if needed, contract out to external resources.

If the company is in growth mode, the agency would need to manage a lot of external resources and make sure they can deliver a “good enough” solution. An internal agency should take on high priority projects themselves and outsource the less important projects.

If the company primarily tries to protect their market share, the main goal from the Productivity Zone is to keep costs down. This can result in a lot of layoffs among the UX agency team and the company might even go to a model in which UX design is completely outsourced.

In my next blog post, I will cover the Incubation Zone

© David Juhlin and www.davidjuhlin.com, 2017

Zone to win and UX (Performance Zone)

Zone to win is a book by Geoffrey Moore, in which he presents a framework on how to manage a corporation during a time of disruption. You begin by splitting the company up into 4 zones and then manage each one separately. In turn, this has an impact on the UX strategy, which has to be adjusted for each zone.

In this initial blog, I am covering the Performance Zone, and in my upcoming blogs, I will cover the other zones (Productivity Zone, Incubation Zone, and Transformation Zone).

Performance Zone

The Performance Zone contains the bulk of all mission critical products/services in the company. These are the company’s “Cash Cows” (usually over 90% of revenue is generated from products/services in this zone). Therefore, this zone also consists of a large portion of the company’s employees.

The goal in this zone is focused on sustaining innovation, and the time horizon is for the next fiscal year. Basically, the company needs to make sure they make “the numbers” every quarter.

If a company’s overall strategy is to grow, it would require them to expand the offerings to new market segments or offer new products/services. Therefore, the main problem for initiatives in the Performance Zone within a growth focused company, is to manage the allocation of resources.

On the other hand, if the company primarily tries to protect its market shares, their primary goal is to retain customers. In other words, they don’t focus on attracting new customers, just keeping the ones they already have from deserting them and going to a competitor. Because of this, the R&D initiatives are primarily focused on making your products “good enough”.

Most of UX professionals work in this Performance Zone since it contains the bulk of the products/services that the company offers. If the company is focusing on growth, it is important to manage the UX resources closely. They should not be spread too thin. Instead, it is better to focus on some projects and make sure they are staffed appropriately.

If the company is going through a transformation (they invest heavily in new technology), the primary focus should be on projects that align well with the initiatives in the Transformation Zone. Thereafter, a ranking of projects needs to be made. There are many components that need to be taken into account, but make sure to include the following:

  • Severity of the user pain point you would be solving – higher pain, the more you can charge for the solution.
  • Market potential – the larger market, the more you can sell.
  • Internal capabilities – if you can weave together many internal capabilities/products to deliver a superior solution to the user pain, the harder it will be for competitors to replicate your offering and you’ll be able to reap the benefits for a longer time.

Alternatively, if the company is primarily trying to protect their market shares, the UX team needs to be spread out on many projects to maintain the products/services to be “good enough”. This means that the company may need to be staffed with more UX generalists compared to when the company can focus on specific projects and can allocate many UX resources to one initiative.

Next blog post will cover the Productivity Zone

© David Juhlin and www.davidjuhlin.com, 2017

B2B vs. B2C products

Purchasing a product for yourself, is very different from when a company is making their purchase decision. When you buy a product for yourself, you are the end user, maintenance staff, and all other roles involved in the life time of the product. In a corporation, many more individuals are involved in purchasing, using, and maintaining a product throughout its lifetime. This will trickle down and impact the work of the UX professionals.

Business to Consumer

When you buy a product for yourself, you weigh in various aspects of the product. Sometimes it is easy, while other times, it is more difficult, but you are the ultimate decision maker. You are the one deciding if you want a cheaper product, have a better experience, more features, easy maintenance, etc.

Business to Business

When a corporation is making a purchase, they are also considering many things. The difference is that it is not just one person making the decision since some individuals reap the benefit while others deal with the drawback. In addition, the emotional component is removed so it doesn’t matter who is benefiting or losing as long as the overall value is maximized for the company. Because of this, companies see the user experience and ease of use as less valuable than a consumer.

Conclusion

Since companies purchasing products value the experience lower, the B2B companies will often also place less focus on UX than B2C companies. This in turn leads B2C companies to allow the UX division to have a larger influence in these organizations. So, if you work in a B2B company, you might have a harder time pushing UX than if you are in a B2C company.

© David Juhlin and www.davidjuhlin.com, 2017

Explaining UX to developers

Development with none or minimal inclusion of UX does not function very well. UX practitioners can provide valuable information developers cannot be without. However, developers often see UX as something that doesn’t fit into their processes and consider it an addition that slows them down.

Developer’s Agile

A great explanation I heard of extreme programming (an agile method) and waterfall was the use of a ship and a cannon located on land. In the waterfall method, you are trying to build the most amazing cannon and eventually fire one perfect shot to sink the ship. Unfortunately, with waterfall, the projects often run out of money so the creation of the cannon cannot be completed, or once completed, the targeted ship may have moved. Instead, agile development methods focus on building a small cannon quickly, shooting one shot, and seeing where it lands. Then, they make some adjustments and shoot again. This iterative approach can then continue until the project runs out of money. In other words, developers want to build in smaller increments out of fear of running out of resources.

UX and Agile

Many developers only see UX as a necessary evil. In their minds, if UX is not included in their projects, they run the risk of building a cannon no one can operate. Therefore, developers may want to include UX towards the end so that the controls of the cannon are built accurately. However, they have made a fatal error in assuming that their commander had the right intelligence of where the ship is located. I.e. they believe the business partner knows what needs to be built.

The UX research team can act as scouts. By including the scouts, the team might find out the ship they are planning on sinking actually is not a hostile ship, and help them realize they should be firing towards another ship. In addition, as the developers are building each iteration of their cannon, the hostile ship will move around, and the scouts will help ensure that they are consistently aiming at the right place.

Another part the developers are missing in this project view is that they assume the commander’s decision to build a cannon is the best way to fend off this ship. The UX design team (with help from the researchers) might realize it would be better to build torpedoes to sink the ship instead of a cannon. I.e. the UX team identifies the main pain point to solve, and helps the business partner decide on the best product to build.

Conclusion

The UX team provides a lot of value to the development team, especially upfront. Our goal is to make sure we are building the right thing and building it right. Even if we might slow down the process slightly, it is important to include us early in the project.

© David Juhlin and www.davidjuhlin.com, 2017

Marketing and UX

In some companies it seems as if the Marketing and UX teams have a rivalry going on. Their fight for turf often hurts the company, and it is important these struggles are taken care of and sorted out.

Rivalry

The field of marketing has gone through a similar evolution as the UX field. They had to fight for acknowledgement and had a hard time justifying cost for themselves. A famous quote from John Wanamaker is: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” I would not say that we UX practitioners are wasting half of our money, but it is hard for other business units to really understand our value. Therefore, we are adding more “hard to count” expenses in the company which means it will be harder to allocate resources.

In the early days, UX was a small portion of a company. It was often embedded in the engineering/R&D department and our focus has always been to understand the users and make products they enjoy. Initially, the main focus was on making things usable, but as Design Thinking grew in popularity, UX has been moving more towards making things pleasurable and identifying opportunities for innovation.

Who is on whose turf?

No questions about it, both UX and marketing are on each other’s turf. Marketing used to own the customer insights and feed this into the company. They reported on trends in the market, including topics such as what products were more/less popular. Through our role as UXers, we take away from the company’s perceived importance of marketing in providing customer insights.

On the other hand, both User Experience and Design Thinking stems from the R&D/Product Design. So this would mean UX should be in charge of improving products and identifying innovation opportunities by understanding user needs. The Marketing field has developed Customer Experience, and one part of customer experience is exploring opportunities for innovation. In this instance, the marketing department has moved into the UX turf.

A path for the future

Within each company, it is important that there is a clear division between the two fields, but also allow some overlap. In my opinion, Marketing should focus on the larger market trends and function like a marketing agency that can aid in product marketing, whereas UX should focus on the R&D, including innovation and enhancing products.

The area of overlap and collaboration is customer/user insights. Even if this is assigned to one or the other, no one should ever truly own it. This information is so critical to a company’s success that it need to be shared throughout the entire company. The only way to achieve this is too burying our hatchets and work together, having regular meetings between the teams where you discuss new insights discovered, initiatives under way, and any potential joint efforts.

Conclusion

Both the marketing and UX field are moving towards each other, and we are infringing upon each other. The fight between us is hurting the company so we have to find a solution to the problem. My recommended solution is to find clear division on some parts, but to always share the customer/user insights, as we can help each other to achieve greater success for the company.

© David Juhlin and www.davidjuhlin.com, 2017

The follower strategy

In many industries it is important to have a good user experience, but does your company have to deliver the best UX in the industry? Also, is it even realistic to believe you can produce the best UX in the industry? More often than not, it is more realistic to produce a user experience that is slightly behind the best in the industry – in essence, to be a follower instead of a leader.

Why being a follower is the right thing

Let’s start with basic math. Independent of how many companies there are in any given industry, there can only be one that delivers the best user experience. So if there are 10 companies in an industry, 9 of them aren’t UX leaders. Basic probability makes it much more likely that your company will be among the followers rather than the leader. Don’t set a goal you can’t reach.

At this point you might think, “but it is better to aim too high because it will push us to advance and do better work.” Unfortunately, the results often become reversed and you actually become worse off. The reason for this paradox? In order to be a UX leader, you need to have different processes in place than if you aim to be a follower. As a UX leader you are doing a lot of discovery work, exploring many ideas that might later on be scrapped, and going through many iterations. If the budget is too small and you are cutting corners, the result will be suboptimal.

For example, let’s say you want to create an online retail store (or redesign an existing one). If you try to come up with a new innovative way to design the product page, you will be spending resources on exploratory design. The resulting designs might be new and flashy, but you probably haven’t succeeded to create a page that outperforms Amazon’s product page. In addition to creating a design that is not outperforming the others in the industry, you have also spent a lot of valuable resources that could have been spent on other UX efforts like the customer support (increased staffing, redesigning the ‘customer support’ section of your website, educating staff, etc.).

Here’s another way to look at it. If your UX budget is half of the UX leader’s budget, how can you possibly deliver better user experience for half the budget? In my mind, every company’s aim should be to deliver the highest quality experience possible within their budget. Understanding how to spend that UX budget is paramount. If the aim is wrong, you’ll spend it on the wrong things. This, in turn, allows other followers who allocate and spend their UX budget appropriately to outperform you.

How to be a follower

Broadly speaking, the follower strategy is founded on the fact that most companies can’t be the UX leader and instead should focus on delivering as good of a user experience as possible within their own constraints. The exact approach a company takes might vary – just because one approach works for one company doesn’t mean it will work for yours. One important thing to keep in mind is to try to make all choices align and work together. Here are some examples of what a company can do if they are a follower and want processes to align:

  • Limit introductions of products that require you to build up or change customers’ mental model. It is very difficult (and expensive) to do this. For example, let’s say you introduce a new, more secure money transfer method where users need to create an online ID before they can make any transactions. You will need to build up a new mental model for the customers and it may take a lot of effort in order to make sure each transaction is still is a seamless experience. However, if you come up with a clever way to create a new mental model, you can reap huge first mover advantages (for example, when Apple created iTunes and its App Store). It is critical for a follower to limit the amount of discovery projects in order to minimize risk. Only try leading the way when you’re positive that the idea is revolutionary enough to change an industry and you can reap large financial benefits.
  • For products or features the UX leader has already launched, the follower can cut out a lot of early exploratory design. For example, as leading banks introduced remote check deposit, followers did not have to design the experience from scratch. Instead, they could look at the UX leader and evaluate the experience the leader provided. From there they could try to address any potential issues found in the leader’s design. In the same way, if a grocery store receives a lot of complaints about long checkout lines, follower companies can look at the leader to see how they have solved the problem instead of starting from scratch.
  • By primarily copying elements/functionality/service protocol/etc. the follower can have more standardized processes. If you are creating a new ride sharing application, you might be better off to do some usability testing of the leaders (Uber, Lyft and Fasten). Take those learnings and create a new design. In these types of cases the user research team only needs to do usability tests and can be set up as a usability test factory. In the same way, the UX designer might be able to go straight to implementation and skip the prototyping phase. This results in both the researchers and the designers becoming very efficient with these specific methodologies and tools, making them highly productive. The drawback is that they might not be as well versed in other methodologies and tools. Because of the standardized and limited methodologies and tools used, the followers can develop a smooth on-boarding process for new UX hires to quickly get up to speed. Standardized processes and easy on-boarding also allows the company to hire more junior UX professionals since they can be taught the specific methods and tools quickly. All of this allows the company to run a cheaper, still very efficient UX group.

As mentioned earlier, these specifics might not work for your company. You might need to have a mix of follower and leader strategy where you primarily apply the follower strategy, but in some specific areas you aim to be the leader.

When to use the follower strategy

The first case where the application of the follower strategy might be useful is when the UX division is underfunded. This might happen in a centrally funded organization that has too many projects to support appropriately or in embedded teams when the UX professional have too many engineers/developers to support. This leaves the UX team with two options:

  1. Focus on a few specific projects/features where they can apply the UX leader processes and leave other less critical projects without support;
  2. Adopt a follower strategy in order to support as many projects as possible even if they are stretched thin over all projects.

The second case where it might be beneficial to adopt a follower strategy is when competitors are investing heavily into user experience and there is no way your company will ever be able to match the spending. In this case, it is better to adopt a follower strategy for the user experience since it is almost impossible to beat them.

The third case in which a follow strategy should be adopted is when your industry is not driven by the quality of the user experience. For example, if you are a coal production company or producing some other commodity. Your customers are large corporations and they will primarily purchase from companies that can provide the best price and deliver the goods on time. Sure, they will appreciate a rewarding customer experience in the form of you taking them to a football game, etc., but you don’t need to come up with new or innovative experiences. It is more important you are on par with other suppliers’ experience.

Dangers of being a follower

By assuming the follower role, you will continuously be behind when it comes to user experience. This, however, doesn’t equate to having a poor user experience. UX has a correlation to revenue so forsaking it completely would be a huge mistake.

You also need to evaluate the industry you are in. For some industries UX is much more important, so assuming a follower role can be very unfortunate. An obvious example is if you are a stand-up comedian – you are delivering an experience. That is the single most important thing you should focus on. Here you have to be a leader and create your own jokes. How fun would it be to go to a comedy show where the comedian only told old jokes you already heard? In the same vein, it is important for entertainment companies like Disney to be a leader.

Finally, your company also needs to have some other unique value proposition to the customers if you adopt the follower strategy. In other words, if you don’t beat the UX leader on anything, why should someone buy your product? The unique value proposition can be many different things, but one example is price and another is product quality.

Conclusion

A follower strategy can be very powerful for some companies. It allows the company to produce good UX with a small budget. However, the follower strategy is not for everyone so make sure you analyze the industry and company before deciding to apply it. It is also important that you do not confuse a follower strategy with providing a poor UX. It only means you might have a bit lesser UX than the leaders in the industry.

© David Juhlin and www.davidjuhlin.com, 2016

Can UX create a sustainable competitive advantage?

In my opinion, I don’t think sustainable competitive advantage really exists, so the answer is no. More accurately, it exists according to the following definition:

Sustainable competitive advantages are company assets, attributes, or abilities that are difficult to duplicate or exceed; and provide a superior or favorable long term position over competitors.”

How long is “long term”? From the evolution of economy is that the “long term” time frame is becoming shorter and shorter. According to Professor Richard Foster from Yale University, a company’s average time on the S&P500 is about 15 years today, in comparison to 67 years in the 1920s (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-16611040). This indicates the competitive advantages are sustained for a shorter period today than about 100 years ago. If the timeframe of competitive advantage becomes shorter and shorter, is any advantage really sustainable?

Keeping up with the future

The more that technology advances, the faster the competitors catch up. Therefore, the only way to create a competitive advantage is to evolve faster than the competitors. In other words, instead of relying on sustainable competitive advantage, innovate a newer advantage that the competitors will then need to catch up on.

Because of this, I don’t think UX, Design Thinking, Lean Start Up, or any other competency can generate “sustainable” competitive advantage. Instead, I believe these competencies can generate an advantage until competitors catch up with the competency. In the same way, enhancing the work environment by offering childcare in the facility, free food, or utilizing the 80/20 time model (where 80% of the employees’ time is used to work on projects assigned to the role and 20% of the time is dedicated for the employee to work on a project of their choosing) can lead to happier employees, with better work morale who will work harder and have a personal investment in the company’s growth. Still, these advantages may only be temporary, as competitors who apply the same models may have similar results.

UX is a part of today’s advantage

Forester research have done research showing that customer experience (basically the same as user experience according to Don Norman’s definition) is an important driver of companies’ revenue and can function as a determinant to revenue growth among companies in an industry. Based on this, I can say with confidence, that UX is an advantage for today and will be important in the future as well, but I cannot say a company investing in UX today will sustain that competitive edge in five years.

The company of the future

So how does a company make sure to evolve faster than their competitors? I believe it consists of three steps: extract ideas, nurture the ideas, and evaluate harshly.

Extract ideas
Promote and encourage ideas from where ever they may come. It doesn’t matter if it is the CEO or the intern, make sure the company can foster a culture that extracts and respects these ideas from everyone. In the same way, it does not matter if specific methodologies are used such as The Lean Startup, Design Thinking, or something else. Also, these ideas can be anything from a new revolutionary service or very basic, such as how the scrum meeting can be run more efficiently.

Nurture ideas
Whenever an idea emerges, make it a priority that the organization look into it. This should be done even if the idea is completely irrelevant to the core business and outside their comfort zone. An idea that is not entirely consistent with expectations of one company can be the beginning of a collaboration with another organization.

As the idea has emerged, make sure to protect it and nurture it so that there is a chance for it to evolve before critically evaluating it. I am not saying to keep a bad idea around for a long time, but allow it to live for a little. You don’t need to build anything, but make sure to talk to different employees about it and see how they think it can flourish into something stronger. At this point it can also be beneficial to detach the “founder” of the idea and to make sure it becomes an idea of the organization. This will help it grow and possibly morph into something better than what the “founder” had in mind. In addition, this will help evaluate the potential of the idea by assessing others’ interests in being a part of its growth.

Evaluate harshly
Once the idea has grown just enough to sustain some criticism, make sure to put it to the test and be brutal. At this point, you want to make sure you don’t waste resources on a poor or even mediocre idea. You want to be able to focus the maximum amount of resources to the great ideas. If the idea passes the “good on paper” state, the next step is to keep on evaluating it harshly throughout the project.
Begin to solve the most challenging task first. If you can’t solve the most challenging task, there is no reason to solve the others. As an example, back when the space race occurred, the most important thing they had to solve was to be able to launch something into space. It would not have mattered if they had been able to design a space suit if they could not get a rocket up into space.

Conclusion

User experience is currently providing a great competitive edge, but we don’t know for how long this will last. Because of this, it is important for companies to evolve faster than their competitors. My suggestion is to focusing on extracting ideas, nurturing them, and evaluating them harshly.

Just remember that sustainable competitive advantage does not really exist. Hence, my suggested approach (of extracting ideas, nurture ideas, and evaluate harshly) also needs to evolve to maintain a competitive edge in the future.

© David Juhlin and www.davidjuhlin.com, 2016

Transforming Interfaces

The first time you meet a person you’re likely to interact in a way that is appropriate for that setting. If that person is someone you meet on a regular basis, as time moves on you will come to interact in another (more evolved) way. For example, you might not shake hands anymore, conversations would be more personal, and you will be more likely to disagree with the person and give constructive criticism. In other words, your interactions have evolved as you have gotten to know each other better. What if interfaces of systems could do the same?

The ideal interface for a beginner and an expert user might be very different. The most common design principle is to create a simplified, stripped down version for the beginners, and then another version with more complex features such as advanced search for the experts. This solution provides a binary interface for either beginner or expert.

The person-to-person interaction on the other hand is not binary; it is a gradual transformation over time. Is there a way we can create a design that gradually transforms over time to accommodate all of these intermediate stages? In this blog I am going to provide a few thoughts on how we could think about interface design in a different way.

Transformation from beginner to expert

Some of the differences between beginner and expert users include:

  1. Beginners need more prominent navigation so they don’t get lost in the system. As they use the system and progress towards experts, they will want more focus on the content so that the navigation doesn’t need to be as prominent once the users learned the system.
  2. Beginners don’t use all the features of the system and want unused features out of their way to decrease clutter. As they learn more about the system, they’ll want more features upfront and will no longer consider the experience as cluttered.
  3. Beginners want to start exploring the system, as familiarity increases, they will be more prepared to customize it to their liking.
  4. Beginners need the interface to limit the amount of data provided. Later on, they will want more data, and experts constantly asks for more information.
  5. Beginners need basic explanations and advice, but as the user becomes more skilled they need less advice. Still, when highly skilled users do need advice, they are seeking more in depth explanations or suggestions about how to use the system more efficiently.

Transformation

Think about your favorite shoes. You’ll notice they don’t look like they did when you first bought them, but you likely never noticed how they changed from day to day. In the same way, users will not notice small and incremental changes over an extended amount of time on the interface. Therefore, by slowly moving an element 1 pixel at a time, it would be possible to slowly transform a system from the beginner interface to the expert interface as users progress in their learning. This progressive change would allow the system to be user friendly to beginners in their initial interactions with the product and continue to support them in their progression towards becoming expert users.

Designs

With this in mind, let’s look back at the first two differences between beginners and experts I listed above. How might we be able to create transforming designs that support both beginner and expert user groups as well as the stages in-between?

Obvious navigation is more important than screen real estate for beginners: The system can start up with a large and clear navigation structure that later on becomes smaller and less prominent. In this example I have provided 4 snapshots of a transformation of the navigation. It starts out with a clear structure to the user so she or he can easily find everything.

The site starts with normal navigation links across the top of the page

Initially, the system has a very clear structure for the navigation to support beginners.

As the transformation progresses the navigation bar becomes smaller and splits up the navigation items into a left (Stocks, Bonds, Portfolio, Benchmarks) and right section (Settings, Profile).

The navigation in the top has started to become split up in two sectoins with space in between each other.

The navigation has become smaller and split up in a left and right side.

In a much later stage, the “settings” and “profile” can be hidden under the “username”. This transition will be more noticeable to the user. Since both “settings” and “profile” were located close to the ”username”, users are more likely to start their search around that area. In addition, it would be beneficial to make the ”username” more prominent as this hiding takes place. The reason for making it more noticeable is to make sure users find this collapsed menu.

The settings and user name is not visible anymore and the username is larger in size . there is also a small arrow next to the username.

The “settings” and “profile” has been moved under the “username”.

In the final stage, the username has become smaller and less prominent to allow users to focus on more important tasks.

In the final stage, the navigation is now smaller again to allow more space for content.

The username is now smaller and less prominent.

Hide features for new users: The system can initially have some features hidden and later on display more as the user becomes more experienced with the system. In this transformation the system initially only shows some features and keeps the rest hidden. As the user progresses in their skills, more features become visible. In the final state, all features are visible to the user.

Picture of a software with only a few tools visible to the user.

Initially the system only displays some tools to the user.

The same software now displays more tools upfront to the user.

As the user becomes more familiar the system shows more tools by default.

The Software now displays all tools to the user.

Finally, all tools are displayed to user.

The benefit of this transformation is that the user will learn to use the most frequent features first without becoming overwhelmed. Once they are experts, all the features are then made available and are easily accessible at all times. For these type of tools, the system might also want to start off with labels under each icon that later transform into “on hover” labels/tool tips.

Challenges

As with all new design ideas there will be challenges to overcome. Some of these challenges include:

  1. How will we determine the users’ beginner/expertise level? Should we consider everyone a beginner as they start out or could they potentially have some learning from previous systems?
  2. How fast should the transformation happen? Is one pixel movement for each time they use the system too slow/fast?
  3. How will we account for individuality? Some users learn faster than others. Does it mean we need to have some smarter algorithm making the transformation?
  4. Are there instances where transformational interfaces cause more harm than good?

Conclusions

For me, the question is not “will transformational interfaces be a part of the future?”, instead the question is “in what way will transformational interfaces be implemented successfully?”

There are two areas where I think this transformational design will begin to emerge. One of the areas includes expert systems such as the software commonly used by financial advisors. Another area will be semi frequently used interfaces such as online banking, Netflix, and infotainments in vehicles. The power of transformational interfaces is how they can support beginners, experts, and all stages in-between in a similar way a human evolves and adjusts to interpersonal interactions.

© David Juhlin and www.davidjuhlin.com, 2016