In a very real sense, this divide prevents the enterprise from bringing all available expertise to bear on decisions that affect user experience. Marketers must often sit on the sidelines, reduced to the role of policing the visual design of an online presence.
Meanwhile, technologists and software engineers must make decisions without the user insights that a stronger partnership with marketing might provide. The success of the enterprise depends on these worlds coming together, yet often conflicts drive them further apart.
One of the great barriers to bridging this gap has been the absence of a common language between marketing and technology professionals. Chief marketing officers speak of brand value, multi-channel marketing initiatives, demographics, and target markets. CIOs and CTOs speak of enterprise architecture, platforms, extensibility, scalability, and integration.
Goodbye, GUI—Hello, UX
At one time, the concept of the Graphic User Interface (GUI) held great promise in connecting marketing to technology, and there was much talk of the importance of user friendliness. Yet over time, the term GUI has lost its meaning, devolving to technological window dressing—just an aesthetic veneer without much substance. Somehow, the user at the center of this concept began to vanish from the picture, in favor the graphics and the interface.
Thankfully, the ideas and practices of enterprise UX design are gaining mindshare, succeeding where the GUI paradigm failed, and creating a shared tech-marketing domain. Companies are beginning to realize that UX professionals bring positive solutions to the table. Today, we see savvy technologists and marketers starting to embrace the enterprise UX concept because both camps stand to gain much in doing so.
User experience is a deliberately broader concept than GUI. It may take some time for user experience to fully penetrate the product design and development world. But it’s the right term to help create an approach to product design and development that incorporates the way people really perceive design, use products, and make decisions.
The term user experience communicates the reality that the success of a digital product doesn’t end with its technology or the design of its user interface. It must extend all the way to users’ perception of that design and their experience of interacting with it.
Before a product ever comes to market, we must involve users in a feedback loop throughout the cycles of product design and development to make sure that the technology reaches its target audience and that the design theory aligns with user reality.
“The Street finds its own uses for things—uses the manufacturers never imagined,” wrote William Gibson, in his essay, “Rocket Radio.” And this, of course, is true. One of the biggest design challenges is accurately predicting the perceptions and usage patterns of future users. A new product can fall quickly into disuse, because the street finds it insufficiently innovative, useful, usable, or engaging.
This user judgment day occurs not only for consumer products, but also, in the case of enterprise UX, for internal products as well. For example, employees may fail to embrace a new intranet, extranet, or business application, because it doesn’t really connect with the way they do their jobs. The UX approach moves product concepts through iterative cycles of progressive optimization by letting real live users road test more and more refined models of a product. By involving users in the product design process, UX professionals bring to their teams the benefits of foresight and insight into “the street” before a product even rolls out.
Enterprise UX design can have a positive impact on all aspects of a company’s business, from their customer-facing Web sites to their digital products to their internal Web applications and communications platforms. And UX professionals have developed a toolkit for visualizing and enhancing business processes in a way that both marketers and technologists can appreciate and embrace.