Interaction Design Makes All the Difference

David Mihalovic
Monday, Sep 26, 2011 at 3:00 PM

David Mihalovic is a partner running the Emerging Media & Technology Platform team at Rosetta. He spends his days applying new trends in media and technology to create tomorrow's customer experiences for his clients today. Mihalovic shares with the Microsoft Tag blog the importance of interaction design and the mobile user experience.

I think we can all agree that we’re clearly in the age of the omni-channel consumer. We’re using our mobile devices to interact with brands in the real world at an increasing rate thanks to technologies like 2D barcodes, augmented reality and geolocation-based services.

A recent Experian Simmons Mobile Consumer Report found that 33.3 million Americans already engage in commerce-related activities on their mobile phones with 7% or 2.3 million actually making a purchase. Even more telling is that 47% of consumers who have made a mobile transaction in the past year expect the experience on their mobile devices to be better than the brick and mortar experience by itself (Harris Interactive & Tealeaf Survey 2011). That said, there’s still an enormous gap in the experiences that brands provide. It’s more than just simple mobile user experience (UX), it’s the overall experience design provided across channels that’s still sorely lacking.

Few brands are executing campaigns that are aware of the consumer context. For example, on a recent commute to Union Square in New York I spied an ad on the subway promoting low cost dental insurance with a clear call to action to scan a 2D barcode to get more information. It was evident that the folks that developed the ad and bought the placement hadn’t thought of the restrictions of the “subway context” – there is NO available cell service. It was a missed opportunity that likely frustrated just a few strap hangers who attempted to scan the code to no avail. This is just one example among many.

subway ad image

How many times have you scanned a 2D code or received an SMS with a link to a site that wasn’t mobile optimized? Have you ever downloaded a mobile coupon that was unreadable by the scanners in the store? This brings to light the practical importance of experience design (XD).

The current gap stems from an inability to connect the dots. Each context (in-store, online) is often treated independently and developed by entirely separate agencies. An experience designer focuses holistically on the set of expected interactions that contribute to a broader experience. Their objective is to create what appears to be a unified and seamless experience that allows the user to reach a desired end goal. An experience, for an XD, is comprised of the physical systems (app, kiosk, in-store point-of-sale displays) and environmental factors (time, light, surfaces). In commerce the end goal for an experience typically leads to successful purchase.

For example, a large retailer creates an augmented reality application that helps shoppers locate and direct them to products in-store. The application might provide users with the ability to sort by product types, available deals or specific brands. That application would then use a visual vocabulary (iconography) that ties the virtual environment with the real world making it easy for shoppers to navigate and find exactly what it is they’re looking for, check out ratings and reviews, check inventory without the hassle of finding a sales clerk and scan to access coupons at the point of sale. The experience designers job is to architect a simple and intuitive experience based on insights into shoppers’ behavior in each across each context.

Experience design involves many of the same steps typically found in traditional UX. It starts with a clear understanding of consumer needs, business goals and virtual and physical environmental influences. It’s equal parts research, design and testing. Some key steps include:

  • Contextual Inquiry. Or the research required to understand the behaviors and attitudes consumers have while navigating the desired environment. It’s this step that provides the valuable insights that will help uncover experiential barriers and provide the key to unlocking the perfect experience.
  • Persona Development. A fundamental requirement that governs each step of the design process moving forward. Outline and validate each user and their role in the experience. This is not just the consumer but anyone else that may enter into a transaction in the context of the experience. This could be a sales clerk and the system itself that responds to input and adapts.
  • Experience Architecture. Once insights have been uncovered and person as have been developed the next step is to map each touch point in detail, real or virtual. The experience architecture provides the blueprint to the entire engagement model. It outlines each step in the experience funnel driving to successful completion. It includes both the experience map and cross-channel functional design.
  • Content Strategy. Which is different than what’s typically created for a website. This is content with purpose and within context. What content is needed at a specific point in time to influence consumer decision making. Content strategy in XD asks where am I, what do I need and why. It leads to what we might call a “contextual taxonomy."
  • Design. Put simply, the design of both the software and the environmental constructs that comprise the experience. For successful design execution, it’s important for this step to be governed by the XD.
  • Validation. Which comes in two parts: user testing and in-field monitoring and feedback.

developing an experience graph

For every great experience it’s easy to count 10 bad ones. When you have that one great experience you may not think about what went into designing it, but rest assured, some level of experience design was involved. Brand managers and marketers are struggling to understand it’s importance. But as the virtual and real worlds tie more closely together, they’ll begin to understand that the two paradigms can no longer be treated separately. As designers and technologists, it's our job to champion the cause.

And for anyone interested in a daily dose of failed mobile marketing experiences, checkout one of my favorite blogs “Mobile Marketing Fail.” It’s great not only for a few laughs, but also for inspiration. And if you’re interested in learning more about the growing field of experience design check out these links:

What do you think about experience design and the role it plays in the mobile world? Let us know with you comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.


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