This post is by Sam Smith, Head of UX at Potato .
If campaign planning were a party (and when is it not?), you could say that User Experience (UX) specialists are the Cinderellas at the ball. Their expertise may not always be at the top of marketers' campaign checklists, but considered UX and well-crafted design input can nevertheless prove transformative to the success of a digital marketing project. At Potato we design and build complex webapps for a range of clients, including Google, with diverse user-bases to consider for each one. UX has frequently been at the heart of those builds' successes.
UX designers come from a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise, including such diverse specialisms as interface and interaction design, data visualisation, information design or writing micro-copy. This depth of knowledge is essential when you consider the many components that comprise a good user experience. For instance, if an app offers the user many services, good UX will ensure that those options are obvious, simple to understand, and that they will do what the user expects. These types of relatively subtle executional points are crucial to creating user engagement with your brand that can spell the difference between retaining users and creating advocates, or turning your audience off the brand altogether.
One of the clearest examples I've seen of UX operating on both of these levels is AirBnB. Having invested in getting the UX basics right, the business took the step of offering to pay for professionals to photograph hosts' homes. While it's not a huge leap to understand how having great visuals significantly lifts the experience of using the app, it's also a clear illustration of how 'rough around the edges content' can create a sub-optimal experience. Photographs taken on an iPhone with poor lighting just don't scream 'stay here'.
The overall experience of using AirBnB not only gives the prospective traveller more inclination (and potentially confidence) to book, but also promotes a more browsing-based site interaction where people go to see what cool places are out there – almost like Instagram or Pinterest.
It's paid off too – reportedly properties with professional pictures are booked more than twice as many times on average than those without, returning the investment with boosted revenue for AirBnB as well as their hosts.
With tech evolving and consumer expectations ever-changing, brands who fail to keep up will quickly lose their audience. These days UX is not an optional extra. Proper UX is the most valuable tool a brand has to keep users engaged – with an app or a website – and in the process spend more time with the brand itself.
The route by which a bad experience can translate into operational trouble for a company can often be complex, and it isn't just consumers' direct experiences that we should be worrying about. When staff are frustrated with the internal digital tools that businesses are forcing them to use, this can impact the way they deal with and interact with others, in effect passing the frustration on. It's not hard to imagine how this could happen in high-pressure environments such as a call centre, a busy check-in desk or the reception at an Accident & Emergency department.
Looking ahead, the Internet of Things will bring its own UX challenges. Creating good user experiences will require designers with greater understanding of ergonomics, the ability to undertake contextual research and more in-depth knowledge of customer needs and abilities.
Furthermore, these experiences will be spread over several touchpoints, devices, contexts and interactions, and probably over a longer timeframe. This development will see the rise of a more joined-up approach to UX, where brands have the potential to create a more coherent digital eco-system, rather than an array of different experiences across their platforms.
At the same time as designing digital interactions that enable all these exciting new developments, creating user experiences that strike a balance between aspiration and feasibility is going to be a major focus for us in years to come.
While we love to be creative in ways that make use of beautiful large format images, silkily choreographed transitions or gorgeous video footage, we must also be mindful that a growing number of our users are accessing our work on mobile devices, and not always on fast wifi connections. No one likes to wait while a page loads or struggles through an animated transition, and especially not when they're paying for the data.
It is fast becoming more and more necessary that marketers and their UX colleagues work together in a reflexive and collaborative way. The UX team should be involved at conceptual stage, when key decisions are made about the construction of the site/app.
Some marketing/design agencies already do this, but often not effectively. Many strategists have backgrounds in UX and can give marketers direction and ideas of what users are expecting or doing. The problem comes when these strategists/agencies don't have an understanding of the practical and technical sides of things and offer up concepts that aren't practical or feasible (within the given budget or timescales).
UX at Potato bleeds out beyond the UX team, into the whole company's approach. As a company with our heart and origins in development and engineering, more or less everyone in the business is exposed to the technical side of things in the course of their day to day work. In the same way UX is as much a part of the developer's responsibility as it is for the designer, and early and constant collaboration between the two sides of the business is the key to bridging the gap between aspiration and feasibility, which can save a lot of time and pain down the line.
A combination of the practical and creative sides of UX will both prove useful for marketing activity now and in the future. This is even more significant when you consider that good UX is not only getting audiences engaged in a campaign through interaction, but also potentially allows better tracking metrics and future engagement opportunities for the brand itself.
As rapidly growing digital platforms demand ever more of marketers we're confident that UX is best placed to deliver the strong connections that brands need, no matter where their audiences are. Through collaboration and proven effectiveness, UX should take a starring role in campaign planning.