On October 18 and 19, 2016 at the Seattle Interactive Conference, industry leaders shared their insights on UX/UI design. In particular, human-centric design, testing tools, and user experience in multi-screen world were mentioned. These experts shed light on the importance of taking the context of culture and technology into account.
Aligning the Centers in Human-centric Design
User Experience Director at Eight Inc. Hector Moll-Carrillo, gave a talk on aligning “the centers”; putting humans at the center of design, making culture and technology the driving force of the human ethos.
In an example of book-centric listening products, Moll-Carrillo elaborated on the process of aligning the centers. Three concepts were mentioned including “idea-centric”, “business-centric”, and “operation-centric”.
Idea-centric refers to the possible ideal and its value. Business-centric is the business model that can generate profits. Operation-centric is about the operation of the system and management of people to make things work. Moll-Carrillo pointed out the importance of aligning all three factors:
“If you work really hard, you have an ethos-inspired layer cake. You have layered everything perfectly. All the things are centered, so that the value made possible, the product intended and the actual product offered all come together.”
Another factor that needs to be considered in human-centric design is the true/false factor. For instance, the interior of self-driven cars looks like a family-friendly living room. But the 4G turn function wouldn’t be user-friendly for that demographic. It’s hard to imagine self-driven cars taking 4G turns when mothers and their children try to relax in the seats.
Moll-Carrillo pointed out the importance of designer’s involvement in issues like this to prevent grandiose ideas from hurting people. Stating:
“There can be a lot of true and a little bit false. When you put the pivot point where it is, it turns out that maybe even though most of it is true, the couples of things that are false or at least not correct, may outweigh the many, many things that are true.” It is important to design “as humanely as it is humanly possible.”
UI/UX Testing in the Cultural Context
Chris Brummel, Creative Director for digital product agency L4 Digital, also discussed the importance of cultural context on UX testing and design. Testing is a good tool in the design stage of product development. However, simply testing is not sufficient for decision-making, other alternate methods need to be considered. There’s so much more complexity than a data point.
Brummel gave an example of Coca-Cola launching a new Coke product in order to compete with Pepsi. It was supposed to have a taste people would like based off their testing results. However, it was not successful when it went to market. Coca-Cola didn’t consider the cultural context and the impact of marketing a change. Southerners considered the original Coca-Cola as an identity marker and resisted trying the new product. Therefore, culture is crucial in digital products and design, and product development should take cultural context into consideration.
Chris Brummel shared his crucial testing tips:
- “Test using strong hypothesis.”
- Changing something from A to B will increase/decrease a specific metric. Use this as a basis for a good formula. Try to understand what is behind the changes.
- “Feel free to break the rules.”
- The “Fold Rule” goes back to newspaper days, where the most important photo and story would be in the upper half of the newspaper. That way when it’s folded and put on the stand people can see that content first. For digital devices, this rule has changed, as people are used to scrolling and the touch screen is more prevalent. This is another example of how testing should take the cultural context into consideration.
- “Test the middle, not the small features, not the grand vision, but the components that comprise the grand vision.”
- Observe and don’t ask. What users do and what they report are not necessarily the same.
- Use the Whitney Houston method.
- Identify true vision for the future. Whitney Houston once said “I believe the children are the future”. Children in UX testing refers to “innocent testers”. Those testers who have no or little knowledge of the industry can give great insights for design and product development.
UX challenges in a multi-screen world
The changing context of culture and technology in a multi-screen world poses new challenges for companies to engage users. Andrew Smith, L4 Digital’s Director of Product Management, shared his thoughts on creating media experiences that matter in an age of content overload.
Smith first introduced the term, cord cutting, the act of canceling cable TV subscriptions in favor of a streaming service such as Netflix and Sling. Modern media preferences are more driven by YouTube and Snapchat than traditional music labels, TV stations, or movie studios. The younger generation increasingly rely on their mobile devices and video and audio apps have adapted to stay relevant.
Andrew Smith, L4 Digital’s Director of Product Management Cord Cutting: Creating Media Experiences That Matter in an Age of Content Overload
It is necessary to develop content for different platforms including TV, desktops, and mobile to adapt to users’ behavior of switching between screens. Smith pointed out:
“What is at our disposal that can help us drive the user experience? I’d like to suggest there are three: discovery, the content itself and the merchandising of the content.”
Discoverability is one of the most fundamental challenges with any content experience. Discovering content is crucial for increasing engagement with users for media platforms. In terms of content discoverability, Universal Search also called Global Search is one building block. It displays all the available content across different platforms. For instance, if you search “Star Trek”, all the related results from providers like Netflix, Itunes, or Hulu will be shown so content can be discovered by users. Another building block is Digital Assistance. By leveraging search functions and artificial intelligence, it offers users other types of content that they might find appealing, not limited to specific titles.
One of the dangers of this practice is the commoditization of the platform. Where the price of streaming becomes the simple and the most visible feature shown to the users. It fails to show the distinctions between streamlining providers, such as their recommendation systems and so on. That’s why original content matters. Netflix’s library is shrinking and it aims to have more original content. It’s a strategy to deal with the commoditization issue. Merchandising comes in to match users with the contents. Cover art is important for whether the content will be selected.
The three talk sessions all touch on the point of taking the context of culture and technology into account. Designers need to have this broader picture in mind when doing user experience research and UX/UI design. To design humanely takes a great effort to align the centers of human-centric design. Testing is a tool that helps this process but the methods and results should be examined with cultural context in mind. And finally, in this changing multi-screen world, it is crucial to adapt to users’ behaviors on different platforms and optimize user experience through discovery, content and merchandising of the content.