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UX Next Practices

A parenthetical approach to experience design

There are some constants in user experience design, fundamental rules based on innate human characteristics. These rules govern how we should optimally design everything from the space shuttle cockpit to the next “buzzworthy” ergonomic toothbrush. But the very definition of user experience is in a continuous state of evolution. The best practices that dictate optimal product design today are a moving target.

Brands are dabbling in this new frontier, setting their sights on how to capitalize on the consumer journey bandwagon, searching for an agency who offers the “magic pill” that will boost engagement, drive conversion, and ensure loyalty across the entire lifecycle.

Proverbial bubble popped; consumer experience and user experience best practices are ever shifting to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving culture of technology, and the “magic user experience pill” has yet to be developed. No ironclad book on rules of engagement will ever exist. Spend any time creating UX best practices and most of your hard work will become obsolete before you ever publish it.

Let’s explore the driving forces behind this evolution of UX best practices. How can we continue to anticipate consumers’ needs and expectations to move the needle in creating influential, meaningful, and pervasive consumer experiences long after this article becomes out of date?

1. Be human. Design for other humans.

As obvious as this sounds, consider how many times you’ve had to use both hands to navigate a website on your smartphone or caused a third-degree sprain to your thumb while reaching for a button. Human-centered best practices are the only relatively constant rules that ensure the optimal interaction can occur. It’s astonishing how often these rules are ignored.

Our physiology – the structure and mechanics of our hands, the way the rods and cones in our eyes interpret light, colors, and patterns, and the anatomical structure of our ears – means there is an optimal way for us to interact, experience, and consume information.

Design for other humans when you're creating experiences

Our neurology dictates the optimal way in which we navigate and consume information and solve problems most efficiently.

Our cultural and social characteristics shape our perspective of the world and how we learn, read, and absorb content.

As responsible creators and curators of user experiences, we must have a fundamental understanding of these characteristics to serve the consumers’ needs first, ensure maximum usability, and avoid unnecessary thumb sprains. Though they are essential, these human-centered rules only account for a slight improvement in getting consumers to meaningfully engage and interact.

2. Orchestrate interactions to work together harmoniously.

User experience is more than just a font set, color palette, button style, and a set of visual rules and brand standards confined to a website experience. As purveyors of impactful user experiences, we must take a wider view and play by the new rules and best practices that have been dictated by our intended audience. We need to take more of an omni-channel approach and focus on the experience as a whole, not just the individual ingredients.

A consumer’s experience should be recognized as the culmination of all the interactions he or she has with a brand. In fact, one could argue that a user’s experience is synonymous with the brand experience – the moments that a brand delivers to prospects and customers will either make or break its reputation.

As marketers, we’ve gained exceptional visibility of our customers through the petabytes of consumer data whizzing over our heads. The lens has widened, and we now must consider how to responsibly cultivate that data to perfect all interactions across the entire consumer experience (CX).

Ensure that all the components of the consumer journey – the content, assets, and communication vehicles – are working together to optimally satisfy and propel consumers through their pathway to purchase.

3. Don’t be a creep. Use data responsibly.

The consumer’s digital life is ceaselessly saturated. Targeted marketing is commonplace, and often “creepy.” Consumers are inundated with deeply targeted marketing and overwhelmed with unsolicited Facebook ads and emails. It is become increasingly difficult for brands to intercept prospects authentically and build trust.

To make brand integrity stand out among the “creeps,” leverage PII (personally identifiable information) to fulfill the business objectives by first attending to and fulfilling the consumer’s objectives. Be serendipitous and deliver surprise and delight with personalized messaging (personalization is covered in detail later). Leverage real-time behavioral analytics to understand the stage in the consumer’s journey, and present the appropriate incentive to engage in the next logical step. Do this while respecting the consumer’s personal boundaries, and you will reinforce relationships by providing value and building trust with every touch.

4. Prioritize the experience as an extension of the brand promise.

A direct correlation exists between a consumer’s experience and his or her perception of the brand. We must realize that there is inherent value in delivering the optimal consumer experience. To the consumer, the brand and the experience delivered by the brand are one and the same. A consumer’s reaction to an experience is synonymous with the brand image. Exceptionally orchestrated experiences give brands a chance to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Subsequently, a bad experience damages the brand image. Consumers engage more often and more deeply with brands that deliver exceptional experiences.

5. Let the customers lead the way.

The customer should be dictating the experience. As part of your optimization efforts, make it a habit to analyze behavioral data and listen to what customers are telling you. Build bridges where gaps exist in the experience and alleviate pain points. Reduce friction on the path to conversion and set a schedule for optimizing. Test incremental changes against a baseline or champion. You’ll end up creating a stronger, delightful and more differentiated experience.

6. Don’t chase UX squirrels.

Design trends are the “pumpkin spice lattes” of experience design. When a new trend emerges, we see some brands maneuver quickly to jump on board. But, more often than not, these trends are just fads and aren’t substantiated by the consumers’ needs or expectations. They don’t improve the experience or create incremental lift in sales. Don’t fall victim to here-today-gone-tomorrow design fads. Stick with what consumers are telling you by how they engage. Make incremental adjustments to design based on analytics and test against the BAU (business-as-usual) or champion.

Beware the Pumpkin Spice Lattes of design - fads masquerading as trends

7. Low-hanging fruit — forbidden! (Unless it serves the consumer first).

Every marketer gets excited about sharing an opportunity with their clients. It’s often too appetizing to leverage consumer insight to quickly fulfill a business objective or KPI. The best experiences seek first to fulfill human need. The worst seek only to profit. Exploit data to force a short-term quick win, and you may dilute the long-term brand value and soil the brand image.

The strongest and most respected brands make decisions that ensure long-term brand integrity. We must shift our culture to think of opportunities as a way to extend additional value to the consumer first and seek opportunities to harvest fruit on behalf of the consumer, not harvest more from them.

Quick wins that only serve as short-term gain are often not worth it in the long run

8. Retire the “funnel.”

We should not look to the sales funnel to drive customer experience design. It’s too narrowly focused on the objectives and rules of the business and not enough on the consumer. It does not account for the organic nature of the consumer’s journey. Each consumer’s pathway to purchase is unique, unpredictable, and meandering. Customers may spend most of their time in consideration and then pole vault themselves to purchase in an instant.

Brands must be poised to predict, detect, and react meaningfully to critical moments in a consumer’s journey. We must put methodology and technology in place to identify key moments in the consumer journey and look to behavioral data to decipher the consumer mindset based on depth and breadth of content engaged. Determine the next-best logical step and the optimal channel, media, and asset to engage them, based on previous engagements. Stop thinking about the sales funnel and business rules and start thinking about how your marketing platform can be flexible to identify key moments in the journey and react relevantly.

Enter UX Next Practices

So if there are no infallible UX rules and everything is shifting, then crafting the consumer’s experience is like the wild wild West, right? No, not exactly. Experience designers and marketers must constantly evolve their craft to meet shifting needs and expectations.

Enter UX Next Practices. Mastering the art of what’s next simply means taking a scientific approach to designing the consumer experience, continuously studying consumer motivation and behavioral insight to identify market trends and understand the motivations and desires of the target audience. We then leverage this insight to prioritize and predict the optimal experience a consumer desires to have.

Create the Framework for the Common Ground Experience

We employ competitive analysis, site analytics, digital media assessments, content and asset audits, UX assessments, and user testing to take a pulse of the current experience. It helps us understand pain points, recognize moments of truth, and gain an understanding of the competitive landscape. Through analyzing these insights, we begin to prioritize and build out the requirements for achieving our vision of the common ground future state experience. But we don’t stop there.

Understand Consumer Motivation to Personalize Each Moment

Our psychology, individualistic and diverse, determines the optimal experience (message, intent, value, experience) we desire. Our underlying motivations and desires are subconsciously driven by our personal values. The way we choose to engage, the products we choose to buy, and the brands we choose to engage are all driven by our underlying motivations.

It all makes perfect sense, right? The problem comes when you try to put these strategies into practice. Start with qualitative and quantitative research that enables the identification of common motivational traits and themes. These insights are then analyzed to create best practices and rules of engagement that are specific to your brand and your customers. This strategically targeted approach to consumer experience planning establishes an experience framework, which enables us to predict outcomes, respond appropriately to consumers, and facilitate the optimal pathway to purchase.

By leveraging Merkle’s deep Neuroanalytic insights, we can create individualized experiences that meaningfully intercept and engage consumers, fulfilling and nurturing them across the entire lifecycle.