All that you attempt online – and therefore most of what you attempt in the world – comes together in that instant when your users engage the experience you offer them. That experience is an amalgam, a merging, a harmony of every component that you create and put into it.
And if you focus on those components in isolation, you do so at your users’ peril – and your own.
The user isn’t aware of all the discreet components that you’ve created: design, content, technology, your offer, media, navigation, tone, message, and your unique selling proposition – among many other possible elements.
And the user doesn’t want to be aware. He or she simply clicks into or logs on to your stuff and goes. They want it smooth, easy, seamless, and frictionless.
You’re a user, too. Go try it yourself. You experience this constantly, with web sites, apps, software, devices, appliances, and every widget or gadget or machine you encounter. You’re experiencing this now, as you read this on whatever device you’re holding.
You instantly, automatically, and unconsciously make countless spontaneous decisions as a direct result of the integrated experience you have.
In this moment, in this experience – do you believe me and find this content credible? Will you keep reading? Do my visuals and images align with my message and your view of reality? Is the design and layout consistent with my product or service and the values I’m trying to portray?
To highlight how these dynamics work, consider the classical music symphony, or any comparable music experience with a large number of musicians. What an auditory experience that can be!
I’ve been attending local classical music events off and on for years – the philharmonic, the chamber orchestra, and the youth symphony. There are few other events that provide a sensory experience so finely synchronized. They never produce a single blip in their tightly woven instrumentals – including the youth symphony.
But imagine for a moment any individual instrument – consider perhaps a particular violin player and her instrument. Let’s use that violin as a metaphor for one of the many components in your online experience.
Now, take that violin out of the orchestra and the symphonic experience. Listen to it, practice it, tune it, perfect it, as it stands and plays alone. Sounds excellent, right? You could do that individual isolated tuning with each clarinet, harp, cello, flute, trombone, etc.
Perfect it until it’s flawless.
But what happens if you put that perfect violin back in the full orchestra and it’s a half second behind the other players? Or if it’s playing an octave off the rest of the orchestra?
You’ve now ruined the entire musical experience. Members of your audience will stand up and leave the auditorium.
Get fresh garlic, mince it carefully, sauté it to a golden brown with the finest olive oil. Mmmm, sublime! But what happens if you put double the required amount of that delicious garlic in your sauce?
Yuck! (Of course, for some of us, there’s no such thing as too much garlic!)
With the symphony, the gourmet meal, and the virtual experiences you launch into the world and your users’ lives, the lesson here is that separating out, focusing on, and optimizing individual components of the entire virtual production will not guarantee success.
In fact, it could produce chaos, without you knowing it.
As a digital producer, you can find endless amounts of learning, examples, tools, and processes for business strategy, value creation, interactive design, content creation, digital marketing, social media, excellence in technology, information architecture, and many other required elements.
But your users – the ones in charge of your success – do not encounter those in isolation. They always experience them as an integrated whole, like the complex orchestrations of a symphony, or the subtle flavor combinations in a gourmet dish.
I encountered just this problem in a recent user experience research project for an online coaching academy. This client had exhaustively optimized the core focus and function of their online academy: their vast collection of instructional game videos for coaches.
But they neglected the search functions and navigation design that directed users to and through all those videos. The core problem was incomplete and inaccurate tagging of all the content.
So users struggled to get to the central purpose, the videos. And the designers of the academy missed it entirely.
Because until we created that ‘experience experience’ where we creatively and meticulously observed coaches attempting to interact with the system, until I crafted that opportunity for the designers to witness those users live, the client could not see how out-of-synch the system functioned.
In fact, I’ve encountered this many times with client systems. When you develop, assess, and manage your virtual experiences as islands, as discrete components, you’re guaranteed to create speed bumps and disharmony for your audience.
If you’re a visual artist, widen your view. If you’re a writer and content guru, broaden your horizons. If you’re a programmer, expand your thinking. If you’re a video producer, get outside your box.
A few more examples from my user experience past:
- A financial documents company focused extensively on their code quality and neglected users’ account data, causing widespread data failures for customers.
- A medical app developer prioritized a narrow set of features for patients, and left out the more important requirements of family members, doctors, and hospitals, creating an app that neglected most of the real-world challenges for the patient.
- A community hospital omitted patient history from a health assessment tool, and delivered wildly erroneous recommendations for their target audience.
So, at the risk of seriously mixing my metaphors: don’t take your soft-spoken first date … to a noisy restaurant. Don’t go hiking in a gorgeous forest … with boots too small.
The entire experience must play harmoniously. The seemingly little things will ruin it for your users. And only your users can determine what is ‘harmony’.
You must walk a mile in their hiking boots, or join them at the table in that noisy restaurant.
There. Is. No. Other. Way.
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