Sunday, February 22, 2009

Does UX Still Matter In Tough Economic Times

How UX matters in tough economic times ...

"A good user experience should encourage people to buy a product or use a service. Because it is both different and memorable, a well designed user experience should motivate people to choose one product or service over potential competitors. Why then, doesn’t it seem to be working for Starbucks right now? If what made Starbucks great was its delivery of a great user experience then why is Starbucks struggling? Has the company gotten away from offering its coffee experience or is it just the economy? The answer may be a combination of factors.

An article about Starbucks suggests that both the rise and downfall had much more to do with economic factors than the design of a better coffee experience. The article goes so far as to say that Starbucks is a leading indicator for the broader economy. Here’s the short story. Go back to 2006 when Starbucks stock was at its peak and its expansion seemed unstoppable. The real estate market was on fire. The stock market was on the rise and a 14,000 Dow was not unthinkable. With more money in their pockets and a positive economic outlook people looked forward to Starbuck’s affordable luxury. Fast forward to 2008 and Starbucks is a much different company. Fewer stores, fewer variation in the product line and fewer customers. McDonalds is picking up business with their cheap - no UX - coffee. When it comes to the difference that UX can make, are all bets off during a recession? Does cheap trump experience when times are tough?

Not according to Jonathan Picoult, a UX design consultant. In an article in which he asks if “the experience economy is contracting towards irrelevance”, Picoult also asks how it is that Starbucks, a model for the experience economy (a reference to the 1999 Pines and Gilmore book), is operating far below expectations, and asks if this signals that the UX concept is not impervious to economic downturns. The answer to the question of relevance, for Picoult, is a definite no. While he acknowledges that experience-focused organizations are susceptible to the same economic cycles as industrial and service firms, he advocates that now is the time to stay focused on experience building.

Here are three reasons. First, while it may be necessary to scale back on an ambitious UX plan during a recession, there’s no reason not to expand efforts to enhance the personalization of services. This may be the best time to connect with customers. Now that they’re not getting their gratification from acquiring material objects, good experiences don’t necessarily cost them anything and they’ll appreciate it. Second, bad customer experiences actually end up costing the organization more because they waste time and require extra work to make up for foul-ups and problems. Moving the organization towards a total customer experience may actually improve the bottom line while keeping the user community happy. Third, user experiences and the design of them is a low-tech proposition. This is hardly the time when organizations will be investing in costly new technology. Creating great user experiences will be far less costly than adopting new hardware or software systems."    (Continued via Designing Better Libraries, putting people first)    [Usability Resources]

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