With the proliferation of digital products and services in everything from healthcare to manufacturing, the stakes for quality interactions with these tools and systems have never been higher.
User experience (UX) design is a practice that seeks to remove any unpleasant aspects of engaging with a product or service, making everyday interactions as frictionless as possible. And the reach of UX is massive. Whether making a purchase or navigating our cities, we’re all a ‘user’ at some point in our day, interacting with the devices, processes, and systems that shape our lives.
To talk about how to win on UX in a fast-changing innovation landscape, I recently spoke with Andreas Markdalen. As Global Chief Creative Officer at frog, a global design and strategy consultancy that is now part of Capgemini Invent, Andreas helps leading businesses and promising startups design next-level products, services, and experiences. He shares how poor UX reveals the fault lines in an organization and what it takes to deliver on experiences.
Gary Drenik: What does “UX” mean to you?
Andreas Markdalen: Good UX means optimal, intuitive, and enjoyable experiences for the diverse group of people interacting with your product. It’s part of a customer’s complete, cyclical relationship with your brand, and every interaction matters. UX makes or breaks products today.
At frog, we often find that a product’s UX is a mirror of the organization that created it. Siloed organizations create experiences that reflect silos. Businesses that think holistically about customer experience—putting user needs first, shaping strategies around this—win on experience.
UX at its best goes unnoticed. It just works. Over time, good interactions form good memories, leaving the customer with a positive, lingering feeling toward a brand. It’s how loyalty is built. Poor UX is felt immediately. If a digital product feels cumbersome to use, users hate using it. A decade ago, companies could’ve gotten away with that, but today that’s impossible. Options are endless, consumer patience is not.
Drenik: What are the most important aspects of the user experience today when it comes to consumer expectations?
Markdalen: Inclusion is number one. When we talk about “consumer expectations,” who are we referring to? Who are we leaving out? We have to ask these questions. A focus on inclusion is key to understanding the context around a product, offering insight into how it will be experienced by real people in the world. We need to be thinking along the full spectrum of user experiences.
Not everyone will interact with your product in the same way. According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey, we see different realities taking shape among smartphone users. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed say they use smartphones for only its most basic functions—call, text, email—while a growing group use their smartphone to manage their entire lives. Our job is to design for these different needs.
Prosper – Smartphone Usage
It’s also true consumers choose brands they want to be affiliated with by whether they align to their own values and belief systems. This could equate to ethical choices, environmental policies, or commitments in spaces like customer privacy. UX must reflect a brand’s purpose.
Drenik: What types of strategies for product design and development are best aligned with consumers’ demand for personalization and technology?
Markdalen: Great experiences feel effortless, and such a feeling demands a holistic UX process. Bringing together a team of experts from across design, brand, content, data/analytics, marketing, and technology will ensure the dots are connected on behalf of the user. At frog, we’re currently bringing Behavioral Science into our design toolkit to help generate better, more responsible, and sustainable UX work.
In many organizations, innovation is disconnected from the product design and delivery process. This puts product teams in a perpetual loop of working from a backlog. Our Imagine- Make-Scale process is designed to better connect workflows that push UX solutions and product strategy forward fast.
In all cases, data usage must be anchored in human insights and ethics. Data is a powerful tool for diagnosing UX issues and making design decisions, but every data set is a real person. Regular, continuous validation and co-creation with your consumers will help you achieve the utility and emotional benefit of a personalized experience, without defaulting to “dark patterns” where user behaviors are exploited.
Drenik: How are consumer needs changing, and how do you identify opportunities based on those changes?
Markdalen: We’re observing the e-commerce space increase its end-to-end shopping across demographics over the past two years. Direct-to-customer challenger brands have been capturing significant market share. De-centralized blockchain applications, tokenized value systems, and cryptocurrencies are creating a new playground in the intersections between fintech, social media, and the creative arts. New paradigms are emerging everywhere, bringing opportunities for new ventures and retail incumbents to diversify their strategies.
The pandemic has accelerated convergent experiences that bridge the physical and digital world. Browsing for products and services was the top smartphone activity listed by Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey responders, but in second was locating a store or looking up its open hours. In the world of digital banking and fintech, we see an increasing number of people managing all of their finances on their smartphone.
Prosper – Smartphone Activities
In few domains has the link between digital and physical become more blurred than in healthcare environments. A recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey shows that 31.4% of adults have used telemedicine during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prosper – Telemedicine Users
Designing for these environments means looking at user needs for patients and healthcare providers alike. At the start of the pandemic, a grassroots team at frog designed the Telehealth Toolbox, a site with streamlined guidance for physicians moving their practice online. The belief was that for a patient to have a good experience, providers need the right products, tools, and resources—and these interactions all demand quality UX.
Drenik: How can designers utilize learnings from today to understand what’s ahead?
Markdalen: Start from the needs of people. At frog, we believe design research is the core of each project. It’s not about asking what people want but observing them in their own environments. It’s about building empathy and anticipating their needs, even ones they aren’t telling us. It’s diverse groups of people telling human stories that anchor ideas of the future in something real, tangible—something that has meaning.
frog designers are exposed to cultural, societal, environmental, and technological shifts across continents to better anticipate shifts and connect trends from one geography to another. Our work with farmers in Africa helped us uncover mobile trends for micro payments that were later leveraged in Europe. Super-app experiences in China are helping us uncover innovative ideas for the India market. GDPR trends in Europe might affect privacy discussions in the US. Accessing these insights and applying them to UX principles requires broad, qualitative research.
Observing and capturing the zeitgeist will be essential in the coming decade. Society, environment, and business are more intertwined than ever. Similarly, designers need to embrace cutting-edge and “fringe” technologies. After all, once modest explorations into blockchain technology have blossomed and are now disrupting the way we look at value, governance, identities, and markets.
Drenik: Thank you, Andreas, for sharing your UX expertise. Hopefully, more organizations can rise to the challenge of delivering on experience.