Now everyone knows how to design user experiences, a good UX and UI are losing their distinctiveness. Standing out from the crowd requires you to start working with design at the heart of the company: what are we actually doing and why?
Having focused mainly on user experiences over the past decade, a shift in values among companies is making the UX less distinctive. User Interface design has lost its place as a specialist skill. And that makes sense: as the focus shifted to UX, the related general knowledge increased significantly. More and more people learned how to work with UX and the design system became easy to use. You could say that the user experience matured.
To set yourself apart from the competition, therefore, you should focus on the user value (UV) that your company offers customers. After all, if your attractive, intuitive website doesn’t match their goal, you’ll never achieve the intended results.
UX and UV in aviation
Only focusing on improving the user experience carries a substantial risk of reducing the user value of your company. To illustrate: you can improve the direct user experience of passengers during a flight by giving them more legroom, but it doesn’t mean you are addressing their end goal. Greater legroom means increased ticket prices and cost may be more relevant to customers than comfort. Becoming aware of the goals of customers, and making them the essence of the development of your digital product, allows you to better understand how much value you can add by improving the user experience and whether it actually matters. This can be defined and measured based on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Organise the development process so that you avoid spending money on improvements that add little or nothing in the grand scheme of things.
If an airline wants to achieve a higher customer lifecycle value, and puts 80% of its focus on (cross-)sales and upselling, while the approach to complaints is the key moment when people decide how they feel about an airline, they have wasted their energy. It is obviously great to sell more in the short term, but a proper complaints procedure has a higher long-term impact on the customer relationship. The challenge for companies therefore lies in finding which values and KPIs they should actually focus on, and which moments in the customer lifecycle have the greatest impact.
Focus on the result, not output
For designers and developers this means a shift in mindset: instead of thinking in terms of UX/UI, screens and user flows, use Design Thinking to see what you should offer the user to solve company problems. This involves a focus shift from ‘how it works’ to ‘what it can do’. After all, it doesn’t really matter what a calendar scheduler looks like, as long as it is easy to book a ticket. You can have good booking flows, but if a customer has to make a phone call to change a ticket, they’ll likely prefer a less refined but more practical experience.
By first gaining proper insight into the goal of the user and only then looking at the solution, we can ensure that what we design actually contributes to solving the problem in a company. Return on investment always remains important in this regard of course.
In principle, designers always want better… But better isn’t always necessary. Knowing when to excel and when that’s not required to achieve KPI results is crucial. You’ll then know when to stop investing in an even better UX that is actually superfluous. And you’ll learn how to not only look at practical details such as websites or portals, instead of focusing on ‘what is needed to achieve this result’; what is the effect of a product? Knowing when the result is fit for purpose or good enough rather than always aiming for a higher (more costly) quality is of the essence. To remain relevant in the industry, you have to speak the language of the industry and be willing and able to bear responsibility for results in the field of design.
A dairy producer that added a plastic cap to milk cartons for user comfort some years ago recently removed it. ‘Better for the environment’, they said. While this move encouraged a skeptical response (‘Is it really better for the environment if you added it yourself in the first place?’) it is the perfect example of a customer-focused approach. The value proposition for the customer used to be user comfort, and they were willing to pay extra for it. Now, with the shift to sustainability, a higher price is justified. The company saw this shift and adjusted its value offering and product accordingly. In doing so they addressed what is relevant to their customers and translated this into their products (for example, by working with dairy producers who allow their cattle to spend more time outside). This connection – knowing what customers want and addressing it – is how you really set yourself apart.
Designing a company
Applying human-centric design to the interactions as well as the value propositions of a company can add genuine value, while KPIs allow designers to reflect. While the UX should be perfect for premium-quality brands, budget airlines have different KPIs. For their passengers user comfort is not a reason to buy from that airline. And a perfect UX (and the investment required to achieve it) is not therefore the key to success.
Defining KPIs properly ensures everyone in the company is on the same page. Why do you do what you do? And does it have the results it should? Always take users as the starting point. ‘We know our customers and their needs well’ is a big pitfall for many companies.
Also, ensure you know which problem should be fixed (first): defining what you need to do is often more difficult than determining how it should be done. What is my value as a company and how do we want to develop? What does the company offer? By focusing on the ‘what’ of the matter, you can work more responsibly and sustainably. And that’s what really contributes to success in the long term.