Experience Dynamics celebrates its tenth birthday this year. It was Spring of 2001 that Frank Spillers founded Experience Dynamics together with Alison Gavine. In this post come with me on a stroll through our high points, the industry and the road ahead.
We've been determined from the beginning to deliberately stay focused on the cognitive and emotional aspects of user experience (the stuff that really matters in design) over the draw of offering development or creative services. Purist you could say, but for good reason. As a founder, I learned early on in my consulting work with early pioneers in the field of User Centered Design that if you are going to do user advocacy really well you need to obsess about the user. And it's paid off: after a few years we started seeing customer conversion rate lifts, on our clients websites, between 45%-200%. Though ironically these days, by demand, we do offer select clients visual design and web development services.
Sharing what we know with you!
Over the years we have worked with hundreds of organizations and impacted the work of thousands of individuals in companies large and small. Seeing the need early on to help more people disseminate usability best practices throughout their organizations, in 2004 we began providing free usability seminars online. The usability seminars were wildly popular and we had large teams from Fortune 100 companies attending the seminars regularly. At one point Citigroup managers sent between a dozen and twenty five team members to our virtual seminars regularly for 3 years in a row!
We were the first in the UX community to offer high quality and free online seminars. Going forward we will continue the tradition by sharing more quality free seminars and we'll make some in-person appearances too.
Interfaces are getting better, thankfully!
We started noticing in 2001-2003 that users started articulating more precisely what they wanted to see from websites. In many cases it was exactly what we would recommend “Put the main navigation in the top or left area and minimize the amount of stuff over here on the right”.
Our clients came to us with large scale website, complex web applications and products with one demand: make our interfaces easier. Likewise, we saw that as more major websites and portals became easier to use, the more users wanted the same standard of ease of use as those other sites.
A decade on, developers are now thinking about usability best practices and it is difficult to find a graphic designer who does not think about usability when approaching design. UI style guides are now one of the most popular requests of our website.
The Field is Getting Smarter
We’ve seen major changes in our field, new tools emerging and better understanding of the usability techniques and how to apply them to the changing world. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have predicted how Mobile App user experience, Emotion Design and Service Design would dominate today’s leading edge thinking.
It is exciting to see usability testing go fully mainstream with cheaper and easier ways to get quick, gut-level feedback on a design. The work there is not finished: the dozen or more solutions are exclusively online and do not let you observe live or log usability metrics- one of the major downsides to online usability testing tools.
We've witnessed the demand for usabiltiy testing increasing, so in 2005 we created a desktop usability testing app called LiveLogger, one of a small handful of usability testing software solutions at the time. As Morae took the market by storm, we released an update to LiveLogger called Experience Capture Studio for lab based usability testing, a co-creation with New Zealand based Intranel.
Personas finally gained traction in the industry and were adopted by many more organizations. Experience Dynamics helped evangelize personas with multiple contributions to Pruitt and Adlin's classic "bible" on personas, The Persona Lifecycle. By actually doing user research, and grounding design decisions in real-world data (of which personas are one deliverable) we found teams were able to move away from ordinary user experiences and steer closer toward exceptional user experiences.
Early in the decade, understanding user needs was taken to mean “using internal assumptions of what users want” instead of grounding insights in real world user behavior. But we noticed the first signs of change as early as 2003 when advertising agencies like Ogilvey started offering Ethnographic research workshops at Ad conferences. Even IBM re-named it’s User Centered Design practice to "Outside In Design" to drive the point home. Not every organization has moved with the change and many are still have a way to go; But in the short space of a decade what we have seen has been nothing short of a miracle.
To continue evangelizing usability, in 2006 we created a poster called the Importance of User Experience and saw it translated into over 25 languages and go up in over 2,500 organizations around the world. We heard: "The poster is a tool I use in my presentations to educate management...I point to the poster above my desk and say "look at this"". I had no idea a poster could have such an impact.
Since then we have created a Web Apps usability poster and we are working on a mobile and social version in the coming year--two areas where evangelizing user experience has become hot.
The road ahead
Many organizations have yet to formalize usability and UX best practices. The next generation of marketers and managers seems to go through the same learning curve as the ones before them. We're working on new solutions to address this need.
Two areas where UX expertise is needed, are mobile and social experiences. It feels as if we are in the early days of the truely elegant social and mobile user experience. Recently we opened up the conversation toward Designing the Privacy User Experience, a hot topic in social networking and social user experience.
We're starting to see 3D interfaces come together (in movies and smartphones). This development is of personal interest, as I cut my teeth in the usability of collaborative virtual environments and virtual reality in the mid-1990's. The design challenges will require fresh ways to approach difficult design problems. As with any new technology, solutions will require a grounding in the known and proven usability best practices of the past and present.
Finally, touchscreen iPad’s and iPad clones have set the tone for tablet user experience. Is that it? I doubt it, real tablets (the ones you can write on) have yet to emerge. On a related note, iPad user interface design techniques (with Apple's new brand experience of simplicity) are finding their way back into desktop applications and website design. We'll be launching a new Experience Dynamics website soon where we will showcasing what we believe to be the "new" hybridizing of mobile and web ease of use.
Frank Spillers, MS
(Founder and Co-CEO of Experience Dynamics Inc.)