This blog post is inspired by friend and colleague, Chris Shiflett and his ‘Ideas of March‘. Chris suggests that we blog a little bit more than normal this month. Simply to remind us why blogs are so great. I’m reminded that blogs are great for sharing ideas that are incubating, formed or final. By sharing ideas, we start discussions and come together as a community. I’m putting an idea out there earlier than I normally would. In the hope that people see value in the idea. Come together and we solve the problem raised, as a community.
A shared vision is something that successful companies have in common. Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ stated their vision for the iPod was – “to make it so simple that people would actually use it”.
You’ll notice that this statement is different from statements we’re used to from companies. That’s because this is not a mission statement. It’s an Experience Vision. An all too seldom used User Experience Design (UX) technique. Simply, it’s a clear statement defining the experience people will have with the site or product. Experience visions are the guiding force behind sites and products we love. They help sites stay on track, avoid feature creep and remain user focused. They have the added benefit of bringing people working on the site together.
The iPod experience vision works because it’s all these things:
- Simple – short and easy to understand
- Achievable – within reach in the near future
- Measurable – against decisions to be made
- Transferable – easy to get across to others, even when you’re not there
- Memorable – sticks in people’s mind
- General – so as to be relevant to everyone
- User focused – talks from the users, not the companies point of view
- Informed – based on an understanding of what’s important to users
- Motivational – rather than aspirational or even inspirational
- Clear – using common language, not business speak
Here are other experience visions:
- Kodak – “You click, we do the rest”
- Hotels.com – “Wake up happy”
- Death cab for cutie – ‘To write songs that make people feel the thing that makes them want to hear it again’
- Virgin Media TV service – “Simple, stable and fast”
Why is an experience vision important?
Visions are nothing new. Theater, religion, business and the military have used them successfully for centuries. A good experience vision is the guiding force behind many of the sites we love. As designers, they give us a target to aim for. A clear definition of the experience people will have with the site, keep us focused on what’s important, the people who use the site. I was reminded of the importance of focus by Aral Balkan’s in his excellent talk ‘Beyond Usability on Mobile’ at The Big M conference. Aral said that common sense is dangerous and what’s needed is focus on the user. An experience vision brings that focus. They’re also important in the design of sites because:
- They help bring the project team together, no matter how dispersed people are
- Are the glue in an Agile process
- Keep people focused on who’s important – the users
- Enable design to be tangential not linear
- Help manage complexity and make choices
- Aid collaboration with colleagues, other companies and clients
- Bring a consistent experience across platforms
A shared lack of vision
So, why are many sites suffering from a shared lack of vision? Why is this technique under utilised and how, as UX professionals, can we breath life back into it? There are four fundamental reasons why experience visions are under utilised. All four the responsibility of UX community to solve together:
- It’s unclear what they are or are called – what
- The benefits are not clearly articulated – why
- Designing them isn’t easy and how to apply them is unclear – how
- They’re not built into the design process, so it’s unclear when to use them – when
As part of ‘Ideas of March‘ I’d like to breath life back into the experience vision as a valuable technique. Starting by blogging to raise awareness of the technique and the issues it faces. Hopefully, in turn starting a discussion in the UX community. Working together, we can then solve the issues facing the experience vision. Helping this technique take pride of place in the tool kit of UX professionals. As it already does in my and other designer’s tool kits. We can learn from others. Our counterparts working in the area of brand have been successfully envisioning brands for decades, for example.
Apart from a lack of clarity on what an experience vision is and an industry standard, there are other reasons why sites suffer from a shared lack of vision. Creating a good vision isn’t easy. If something isn’t envisioned, then how is it going to happen? Great sites don’t just happen, they’re planned. Starting with an idea. Followed by a vision. Brought to life through a detailed plan for how the vision will be delivered.
Here are some other reason why sites lack an experience vision:
- Expressing the core in a vision isn’t easy, simplicity is never the easiest
- Complexity clouds focus
- Over time, even the best sites can lose focus
- Lack of insight of the people who use the site
- Site focused on other things, like technology
Got one in mind
If you think you haven’t got an experience vision for your project or site, look closer. Everyone has an idea of the experience they want people to have on a site. It may not have been synthesised and expressed yet. Talking to people about their projects, I often hear that they don’t have an experience vision. Then I hear the same words or concepts being repeated to explain how they imagine people using the site. There you have it. A sometimes rough, other times polished version of the experience vision.
If you have a vision and it’s not working for you, then consider the attributes of the Apple vision and how they apply to yours. Here are some other reason why your vision may be failing:
- Fiction not fact
- Set too early in the project, when not enough is known
- Tries to be perfect, lets face it, perfection is not always achievable
- Uses business speak and not natural language
- Not shared across the people on the project
- Lacks buy in from other key people
- No one to bang the drum, every vision needs a champion
- Focus on technical innovation rather than the experience for the end user
Join the discussion
These are thoughts from an article soon to be published titled ‘A shared lack of vision’. This article will explain what a vision is in more detail. It will offer a practical guide to finding, expressing and communicating a good experience vision. I’ve used experience visions successfully for many years, for companies big and small. The Virgin Media example ‘Simple, stable, fast’ is one I used to great effect back in 2005. My hope is that, working together, we can standardise this technique. That other UX professionals and designers see its value. Spread the word and share the vision.
Ideas of March
If you’re still not convinced, read Vitaly Friedman’s excellent piece ‘Dear Web Design Community, Where Have You Gone?‘.
Image: Target bullseye art high school crush from category 2009-05-15/grunge-and-urban-studies
Johnny Holland ‘What is an Experience Strategy’
Cindy Chastain Experience Themes – How a storytelling method can help unify teams and create better products. [Slideshare]
Making Meaning – Steve Diller, Nathan Shedroff, Darrel Rhea. ISBN 0-321-37409-6
Start with Why – Simon Sinek. ISBN 978-1-59184-280-4
Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath. ISNB 978-1-905-21157-9