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Field of Dreams

  |  March 14, 2012   |  Comments   |  

Why marketers need a design strategy.

As the line from the film above goes, "If you build it, they will come."

Well come they might, but what if, after all the time and expense of strategy and planning, designing, and developing, they leave very soon after that and never return? Worse still, what if their experience was so terrible that they don't just leave and never come back, but also go out of their way to warn other potential customers off too.

This could be for any number of reasons, but my educated guess would be that it's happened because you've given little or no thought to what your potential customers need or want to do with your product, service, or content.

With that in mind, you need to make sure that any good experiences carry through everything else you are doing on, or offline, because the reality is that a poor user experience can destroy a good brand perception in an instant.

Remember the Motorola RAZR? Might be showing my age here, but it was a sweet looking phone right? It started the "thin" trend way back then and if, like me, you had one (along with, seemingly, the rest of the design and tech community), you'll remember what a terrible phone it was to use. The user interface (UI) problems that plagued it eventually led to 80 percent of RAZR owners saying they would never buy another Motorola1. I know I didn't.

What's the lesson here? Simply that it's all well and good designing something beautiful, but if you can't balance that beauty (form) with usable features (function), it will fail. Making sure that your product or service (whether that is a website, system/user interface, or smartphone app) is "useable" means, at a very base level, ensuring a positive user experience by making them all easy to use and matching them closely to the user needs and requirements.

This concept of "user-centric" design (design from the perspective of how it will be understood and used by a human user) is nothing new, but I am constantly bewildered by how few people take it as seriously as it should be taken. All too often I will interact with something that has obviously been designed with a focus on business goals, superfluous features, and technologies that do nothing to help me find what I am looking for, or do what I am trying to do. As an end-user of whatever it is you are offering - that is highly frustrating.

Your investment in user-centric design will ultimately translate to success in typical business metrics - more sales, better customer retention, and higher word of mouth referrals.

If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail

The methodologies behind user-centered design, user experience design, and usability can work together to clearly define "who" it is you are trying to reach and "what" they want to do. Aligning these user goals to your business goals will go a long way to defining and delivering a successful product or service.

I'm sure your business has a clearly defined strategy and roadmap behind it, so why wouldn't you have one for whatever it is you are designing? A design strategy can be fairly simple and usually involves:

  • Collaboration between internal parties that will help define what to design before you start to design it.
  • A plan to align the business objectives with the design goals.
  • Documentation aligning the stakeholders, colleagues, and investors with your plan.

This way of planning according to the needs of your users and the behaviors they will display during your research and testing should lead to an overall great customer experience. It is this experience that will stand you apart from your competition, and this experience that will not just bring customers to you, but keep them with you.

Don't just stop at creating the experiences your customers want though – learn from them and always measure the success of what you do. Be reactive to the user trends and feedback and make sure to continually fine-tune your product or service accordingly.

In part two I will discuss more of the "how" than the "why" that I have here, and highlight some of the best methods to use when approaching your projects from a user-centric direction.

1 Mobile Magazine October 2006: "In the survey of 55 Motorola customers, 78 percent said they wouldn't buy a Motorola handset again, with the majority citing problems with usability. The figure was slightly higher among first-time Motorola users. As many as 85 percent of the 48 first-time Motorola users in the poll want to switch to another manufacturer."

"The sample survey was dominated by RAZR owners, who made up almost half of all those asked. The survey revealed that 80 percent of RAZR users wanted to jump ship to another manufacturer with their next purchase."


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Nic Tinworth

As the digital director for Fluid, Nic brings over 14 years experience in digital, mobile, and multichannel relationship marketing, with "hands-on" practical working experience of web and interface design and programming, information architecture, planning, strategy, and interactive art and creative direction. He has previously worked at agencies in the U.K. and the U.S. where he led digital projects for a range of clients, including Virgin, Vodafone, Quiznos, Goldman Sachs Ford, Disney, and The Wall Street Journal, winning several awards for his work. At his core, Nic is a user-centric interactive designer with a love for beautiful and functional design and all things digital and technology related. In his spare time he is a competitive endurance trail runner, sailor, surfer, and snowboarder and enjoys taking and sharing photos with Instagram (http://copygr.am/nictinworth/).

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