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Beyond the UX Tipping Point

Cover photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

Beyond the UX Tipping Point is about the moment when an organization no longer compromises on well-designed user experiences.

Beyond the UX Tipping Point Talk by Jared Spool at Design Leadership 2019 - Photo by Brian de Rivera Simon (@tarsipix)

That’s what Jared M. Spool (above), an American writer, researcher, speaker, educator, and an expert on the subjects of usability, software, design, and research, say.

He has been working in the field of usability and design since 1978, before the term usability was ever associated with computers, Co-founded the Center Centre – UIE in 2016, with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman. A school to create industry-ready User Experience Designers.

The luxury of a great experience

The Tipping Point was suggest by the best-selling author Malcom Gladwell about how extreme changes happen both quickly and unexpectedly in society.
The idea is that new ideas can spread virally, in the same manner that diseases can spread in epidemic patterns. That there was a “tipping point” where a well-focused and well-targeted marketing effort (but without huge investment) could suddenly break out of a niche and reach the mass market with no further effort because of word-of-mouth and other forms of social sharing.
For the longest time, making a great experience for the user was a business-strategy luxury item. A great product only had to work and ship. A great experience was a nice-to-have, not a requirement.
Times have changed. The cost of delivering a product is no longer a barrier to entry. Quality is no longer a differentiator. What’s left? The user’s experience.
To achieve that “new differentiator”, an organization needs to keep learning and get to a growth stage where design (and the experiance) concerns are infused into the culture to succeed. Every part of the organization must be infused with an understanding of great design.
You must increase everyone’s exposure to users, communicate a solid experience vision, and install a culture of continual learning for your organization to cross the UX Tipping Point. Before they hit that, they might talk about great design, but they’ll still ship a mediocre experience.
However, once they’ve passed it, design has become an embedded part of their culture and DNA.

Your organization has to cross the UX Tipping Point. Before they hit that, they might talk about great design, but they’ll still ship a mediocre experience.

Organizations that focus on “design processes” are missing the point

You saw that before, a lot of post-its, workshops, canvas, a little to no real solutions, and innovation.

Teams and organizations focused on “design processes” forgets that Design is the rendering of intent. What does the organization intend that experience to be? If your senior management team aren’t in the picture as to what the current experience is actually like – how do you expect them to advocate for the right positive changes? If they can’t see a gap between intentions and actual delivery; they’ll assume that everything is fine.

That’s one of the diferences in the ‘new startup’ era, where many founders understand how user experience and design will give them a competitive advantage, and build it in from the very beginning.

Many of these organizations didn’t need to prove the value of design to the “senior management”. Nor did they have to overcome legacy cultures and systems that never accounted for good design.

Many organizations take a similar journey to get beyond the UX Tipping Point. For an organization to move beyond the UX Tipping Point, it must first become literate in user experience, then fluent in how to produce great experiences. This doesn’t happen all at once, it can take years.

If your team isn’t skilled enough to conduct user research and use the findings to create great experiences; there’s very little chance that a UX tipping point will ever be reached. Organizations must invest in the experience to deliver it.


UX Maturity

Beyond the UX Tipping Point & The 5 levels of organization’s UX maturity:

1. The UX Dark Ages: At this point within the organization, there’s barely a mention of user experience. They build poor designs and deliver frustrating experiences, but don’t have any notion of how to improve that. Often, the organization’s priorities are focused on delivery and features, no matter what the design looks like.

2. Spot UX Projects: Someone in the organization is now feeling enough pain to create a couple of unrelated UX projects. It’s easy for these spot projects to succeed and get the attention of senior management, often because the thing they were improving was so bad, even the smallest improvement is notable. However, beyond talking about it, the UX “fever” rarely spreads beyond the manager that commissioned the initial projects.

3. Serious UX Investment: Senior management has caught the bug and thinks something should be done. Investment in outside help happens, whether an agency or consultancy or maybe even hiring someone full time. More extensive projects are scoped. If they’re successful—producing solid, clearly identifiable results for the organization—more investment follows. Design starts to move from something done at the end of a project, to activities that help shape the project’s direction from the start.

4. Embedding UX Into Teams: Senior management realizes that UX is worth more investment, but also understands that integration into the teams is more effective. It gets faster results at a lower cost. Internal teams get staffed with UX folks who coordinate with each other while they work closely within the teams. Being embedded in the teams means that design is now an ongoing concern for the product or service, instead of being just something applied to a single release. Design roadmaps and visions start to appear. It’s during this last phase that we see organizations crossing the UX tipping point. When UX skills are first embedded into teams, it’s still tolerable to ship a less-than-desirable design as a compromise to hitting business objectives. However, with more investment the tolerance for compromising on design reduces. Eventually, a compromised design is more of an exception than a common occurrence.

5. Integrated UX and Services: This is where Disney is with the Magic Band. User experience is no longer something delivered with a web site or an app. It’s every part of the organization. Non-digital service and product teams work together with their digital counterparts to provide a seamless, delightful experience for the customer, user, and employee. In this phase, it becomes impossible to separate out the investment in UX from the rest of what the organization delivers.

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Spool bring’s Disney’s Magic Band, introduced in 2014, as an amazing user experience, one that could been the biggest user experience story of that year, in a 1:13:48 talk at the Design Leadership Summit 2019, at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Once activated, park Guests use the Magic Band to gain access to the park, get in priority queues for the attractions, pay for their purchases at the concession stands, and even get into their hotel room.

Gray Magic Band Scan | Beyond the UX Tipping Point | Coletividad

To make the Magic Band work, Disney had to wire an entirely new infrastructure into its parks. Stores and restaurants needed to be outfitted with the new payment systems. Every hotel room needed new lock systems to work with the Magic Band’s RFID transmitter. Radio systems needed to start alerting the characters when a fan is nearby.

One billion dollars is a lot of money, but it’s easy to see how all these changes added up quickly. Yet, at any time, the team at Disney could’ve decided to cut corners. They could’ve said, “That’s a nice idea. Maybe we’ll do that in the second release?”

Each family member has a wearable band with GPS and radio transmitters that track each other’s location in the park. At the end of their stay, Disney presents the family with a photo diary of their park adventures, having used automatic cameras to snap pictures when the Magic Bands are nearby. And imagine the face of a newly-turned
six-year-old who just had his favorite Disney character address him by name and wish him a happy birthday.

The result is an extremely delightful vacation experience. Disney made a billion-dollar investment to create a wearable accessory that changes their park experience completely.

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