User Experience; The Future of Good Digital Design

This week I’ve come across some really interesting insight on the web. After getting stuck in to the depths of various blogs, webinars, and news articles, I believe there is a shift in digital thinking.

The development of technology in the field of smartphones, location tracking, and wearable technology brings with it the ability to gather vast amounts of data to analyse consumer behaviour. What is interesting though, is how designers can now use this information to iteratively better their designs and processes. This iterative design approach based on gathered data is not reserved for product-based tech however; digital products, websites and services are beginning to analyse their consumer’s behaviour to better the overall user experience.

When an unexpected company adopts ground-breaking technology, it becomes evident we have begun a period of change. Disney has recently invested over $1bn dollars on the ‘My Disney’ experience, where a smart wristband is given to each customer that has chosen to be involved in the service. Each band has a unique identifier that relates to the person wearing it. This allows the user to perform a whole manner of functions  such as alerts for small queues on rides nearby to their location,  opening hotel doors at their resort, to even telling you when your table reservation is ready. These notifications are based on the outlined preferences that the customer had set up before their holiday, for example their likes, interests and favourite restaurants etc. The device is constantly collecting data about the user, which can be analysed to scientifically understand their behaviour.

  Disney's MagicBand Technology in use in the theme park

Disney's MagicBand Technology in use in the theme park

The technology also allows for proactive customer service, for example, a message can be sent to a performing artist in the park who is also wearing a band. The actor is notified of a child’s birthday who is in their vicinity, and then greets them wishing them a happy birthday; all completely independent of any prior set-up from the parents. The overall result creates a seamless, memorable customer experience.

In the past, designers and website owners would have to rely on qualitative data to measure any digital product or service, which although valuable, is a labour intensive process to act upon, and then repeat. Now designers can take advantage of vast amounts of quantitative data to scientifically place against their designs, which can be analysed, and used to bring positive iterative improvements to the design experience.

Consumers now demand seamless customer experiences, which, is a logical, realistic expectation based on their needs. Consumers’ expectations are now higher than ever. In fact 68% of UK and US consumers expect their information that is in one place, to be available in another. For example account details for an online retail store should be accessible when the customer is in the shop on the high street.

The combination of new technologies, and a ready supply of quantitative data, has led to a change in attitude towards the design of these experiences.  Many digital start-ups that have become global success stories, have built themselves upon a ‘design foundation’ e.g. Kickstarter, Etsy, and Airbnb to name but a few. Big companies now are starting to follow suit, such as Google and Facebook, as both companies have recently headhunted the best members of staff that they can find from high-profile, design-based locations. Recently, an ex- Apple designer who was on the team for the first iPhone now works at Facebook, and led the team responsible for the creation of the ‘Paper’ app.


  Google's 'Material Design' Design philosophy promotes seamless experiences

Google's 'Material Design' Design philosophy promotes seamless experiences

Another good example of a company that provides a well-designed digital product is Google; their ‘Drive’ and ‘Docs’ platforms provide a solid user journey when accessing the same information on different devices. The information that is displayed is relevant to the device, and situation that it is viewed from, i.e. the ‘context’. Their service is instantly familiar to the user when accessed from any device; it behaves almost as if each device is a ‘window’ into the same user experience. The cloud-based platform also allows for seamless collaboration between colleagues, as the document is accessed from a web address, no software is required, merely an internet browser.

By imagining a product or service as a user experience, an appropriate design solution can be found for customers accessing information from a specific device. Interestingly, some companies are taking a deliberate move away from responsive website design to achieve a more appropriate design solution. This is driven by user need and the context in which the information is accessed. A responsive website may be suitable for desktop, but the browsing experience may fall short for users when accessing relevant information on their tablet or smartphone.

"Some companies are taking a deliberate move away from responsive website design to achieve a more appropriate design solution - this is driven by user need"

I think that this approach of context based design is likely to increase when a broader range of devices enter the market. When wearable products become more mainstream, a ‘contextual approach’ will be taken to provide relevant content to those devices. Lufthansa Airlines have taken this route, and are an advocate of mobile-centric design; they offer a mobile specific website, rather than a responsive site. This enables certain features to be made more prominent in the mobile site. Their research suggests that a user accessing the site on a mobile device is much more likely to have already made a purchase, and therefore their needs are more centred around flight information.  Whereas a user accessing the site on a desktop has yet to make a purchase, so would be more interested in browsing flights and locations. This approach of course would take more investment, with difficult choices at times, but it is important to look to other solutions, and understand that responsive website design isn’t the be-all-and-end-all solution.

The coming years will be exciting to be a part of, as you could argue things have possibly been a little stale in the mobile arena for a few years. However, with the introduction of new analytical tools, and a new consumer perception of good design, things are set to change for the better. So it is important to be open to the options available when the consideration is taken to upgrade to a new digital platform, and also to be aware of the complete customer journey from beginning to end. Many of the examples given here are angled towards the ‘retail journey’ but what is key to take from it, is to have an awareness of the customer journey, the context of how they are accessing your content, and to provide a well-designed around it.