Experience is Everything

Stephen Megitt | 04/21/2020

User experience matters. We’ve always known that in our studio, but it’s never been clearer to me than in this moment while watching my kids embrace online learning in an entirely new context.

I’m blown away by how this situation amplifies the importance of putting users at the heart of design. It doesn’t matter who loves the bells and whistles a digital solution offers. If the user struggles to use it, the experience is a failure.

Understanding what’s working — and what’s not — fuels transformation. That was our mantra while working with an education client to redevelop digital strategies and recreate online content platforms to facilitate better remote learning. Users — be they kids or adults — experience websites and apps differently. We factor those nuances into every strategy we develop and solution we build.

The current environment may be creating countless challenges for many, but if we reframe the pain points that bubble up now as opportunities, we can use design-thinking to create something better down the road. Homeschooling is no exception. Everything I’m seeing today reminds me of three key principles:

  • Design that is good for people is good for business. Identifying the audience and understanding their needs is foundational to solution design. We’re seeing that with the quick shift to virtual learning and homeschooling. Say your child is good with tablet, but the program requires him or her to use a tactile keyboard for the first time. You’re losing part of your audience before you’ve even begun. What makes your audience tick? Students and teachers represent two clear personas central to online schooling. Layer in varying degrees of engagement, skepticism, and tech capability. Consider the limits that too few devices or too slow a connection can mean. Assume users find themselves in different physical locations (a noisy kitchen, a bedroom floor or a crowded den). Planning an experience that accounts for all of this is hard for teachers. Never mind lighting issues or virtual backgrounds to boot. Bottom line: without a true understanding of your fluid audience and how they use your product, solutions (and brands) can fall flat.
  • Experiences are about the journey, not the destination. Once you understand who you’re designing for, you’ve got to understand how they’ll move through their experience journey. If a teacher struggles to mute the audience because the platform isn’t intuitive, or kids can’t log in, we’re cutting into valuable time for great conversations and learning. The experience the teacher has with the tools mirrors the experience the students will have. What’s your audience thinking at each activity stage? Reducing friction enables people to get to what’s important faster. Fine-tuning that experience means accounting for all the steps the user will take, and their emotions throughout. Inclusive experiences ensure every individual gets value at every stage and moment.
  • Technology works best when conceived from the outside in. Features and tech requirements don’t drive better user experiences unless they’re defined by the user themselves. Tablets, desktops, phones or laptops — teachers and students are working with what they have to interact effectively in this distributed and remote world. Will your platform work across all screens and internet connections? If we aren’t creating functionality from the user’s perspective, we may design something that won’t function at all.

Weeks ago (How many? Who really knows what time is anymore?), my kids were four- and six-year-old students heading out to school. Today, they’re key users of a tech-based online learning solution. Ensuring that interactive in-class whiteboards had connectivity used to be a priority. Now, schools (and others) are transforming and adopting digital products, service models and solutions in real-time.

The solutions we ground in data and steep in user understanding will achieve better outcomes. Design-centred companies show a 228% increase in share price since 2013. Most companies EY surveyed pegged improved customer experience and engagement as a top priority. This isn’t a trend; it’s a mindset that’s here to stay, magnified in this extraordinary environment.

Experience — be it good or bad — is everything. Especially when your only current option for creating an experience is a digital one. Which begs the question: which are you willing to settle for?