Monday, July 4, 2011

User Interface and Experience: How Important Are They?


UI and XP design and development are undeniably a big deal, but they're only part of the problem. What size part? That depends on your sales model. For a consumer product designed to sell itself via the web, it's well over half of the problem. UI and XP are pretty much the only differentiators for smartphone social media clients, for instance. 

For an enterprise product designed to be carried in with a professional sales force, UI and XP are under half of the problem of how to design the stuff. Of course it isn't a black and white world, so let's just call the user story "As a prospective buyer, I want a kickass UI and XP" an even 50% of the product design problem.

The other half of the problem hits three points, because I can only hold three things in my head at once.

  1. "why do I want your product?"
  2. "why will I buy your product?"
  3. "why will I keep using your product?"


Dealing with "want" separately from "need" or "use" or "buy" is preparing the part of your product that will be used by marketing and sales for positioning. Some examples:
  • Is your product an aspirational product? The Ferrari that someone might buy if they hit it so big that money isn't an object? 
  • Or is your product an exclusive product? You don't need a Hole Hawg until you need one, and when you need one you'll probably need to ask someone older and smarter what you need to buy in order to tackle your problem. 
An interesting thing about these two examples is that the UI is utilitarian at best, and the XP is "pros won't kill themselves with it." There's another post in there... but for now, let's settle on a simple observation: the UI and XP needed for a product are dependent on the market and audience for that product. If you defer thinking about UI and XP until after you've designed and built the product, you could miss the target market and need to go back to the drawing board. If you assume a UI and XP paradigm before thinking about your customer, you could totally miss their expectations. Much better to decide who you're selling to and how you're selling it before you build it.

There are obviously more product position types than these, but Aspirational and Exclusive products are a good goal to design for when first getting started. For one thing, their emphasis on function over form can potentially translate into saved development time. For another, early adopters are more forgiving of usability quirks. Best of all, aspirational and exclusive products practically sell themselves during their heyday. Their customers know that they want them, it's just a matter of helping the customers afford them. The real challenge is prolonging that heyday through product design, marketing maintenance, and ethical behavior. Does the product consistently add value? Are people happy to use it? Are they happy to interact with your company? These are the things that decide how long successful products will last.

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