Great UX Doesn’t Guarantee a Great Customer Experience

After a couple year hiatus, I'm back writing for Harvard Business Review, and really excited to be doing so! Here's my latest piece, about making the leap from user experience to customer experience:

It’s one thing to create a great looking product that’s easy to use. It’s another to create a great experience that continues to improve, delight, and expand in scope over time. The first is user experience. The second is customer experience.

The two are often used interchangeably.  But generally, user experience focuses on designing a particular device or screen and the interactions that occur on it, while customer experience stitches those together with many other touchpoints (front-line staff, promotional emails, store environment, etc.) spread out over time.

Here’s an example. Google Maps has long been the gold standard in mobile mapping applications. Nevertheless, Google continually updates Maps to make it even better– it has introduced 1-finger zoom (instead of the trickier 2-finger-pinch zoom), and the app now gives lane-specific turning instructions (“Take the left two lanes to merge on to…”)

These are examples of iterating the user experience: they improve the usefulness and usability of the app–but they are limited to finite interactions within the app itself.

However, Google is also moving to a more integrated customer experience across touchpoints. For example, the mobile and desktop versions of Maps share common histories of what you’ve looked for, which is great if you start looking up something at home and then hop in the car a few minutes later to actually go there. What you just searched for will be at the top of the recent history list in mobile. That’s smart and helpful.

Continue reading at Harvard Business Review >

The Mind of Charles James

Over the summer I had the opportunity to be in New York and visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where there was a show about fashion designer Charles James. I'd actually never heard of him before, but was blown away by his work. The intro to the book accompanying the show (which I purchased, it's available on Amazon and I highly recommend it), describes Charles James as:

The creator of works of sculptural bravura and sophisticated palette, he is revered as one of the most significant couturiers of the twentieth century by fashion students, designers, and historians. James is, however, largely unknown to the wider public.

He worked primarily in the 50's and 60's, with his most famous output being staggeringly sculptural and complex evening dresses. In the show, which was designed by architects Diller Scofidio & Renfro, robotic arms highlighted areas on, around, and inside the garments, matched with photos and animations on LCD panels. This gave an audience a literal and figurative peek under the dress to see the many layers creating the structure, and the intricacies of cutting and sewing that made the forms.

Throughout the show and book were quotes and aphorisms from James, which I really enjoyed. Here are a few:

All creative work begins by doing something with the hands. Creation is simply a problem and design is the way out.
A good design should be like a well made sentence, and it should only express one idea at a time.
Cut in dressmaking is like grammar in a language.
A great designer does not seek acceptance. He challenges popularity, and by the force of his convictions renders popular in the end what the public hates at first sight.
Elegance is not a social distinction but a sensual distinction. The mind combines with the body to exploit its sense, its functions, its appearance.
I have sometimes spent twelve hours working on one seam; utterly entranced and not hungry or tired till finally it has as if of its own will found the precise place where it should be placed.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Classic Racing Alfa Romeo

Petrolicious does beautiful, soulful short films about classic cars, especially racing ones, and in their latest they look at a 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale. I have a bit of a personal connection to this car, as my brother helped do the interior work on it, specifically the upholstery. (In fact, it was his first real project doing auto upholstery, and now he's got his own Alfa project to keep him busy for a few years.)

The owner of the Alfa in the video, Conrad Stevenson, has a small shop near me in Berkeley, and I've passed by him a number of times as he's been working on cars. Petrolicious says about the car:

The Giulia SS, which Stevenson describes as a “patchwork quilt” of his own metalwork, was never intended to be a concours queen. It is, as he points out, a purpose-built race car, built to go fast and hard, over speed bumps at eighty miles per hours and across 2,200 miles of Mexican countryside. Still, it is a beauty to behold.

“I’ve taken liberties with this style,” says Stevenson, who modeled his nose for his car after the earlier, lower SS noses that were known to provide better downforce. “I’m not presenting this car to Pebble Beach, it’s not an authentic ’65 car. But it is true, I believe, to what the designer, Bertone, intended.

Source: Petrolicious

Creativity and Scarcity

I've always appreciated and been drawn to people, companies and organizations that can succeed through creative use of minimal resources and aging or basic technology. Sure, it's fun to read about damn-the-torpedoes efforts that are awash in funding and laden with the latest technology - they are often impressive. But there's something special about the ingenuity that's required when you have none of that, and must achieve excellence with minimalist capabilities. Often you arrive at solutions that are more nimble, cheaper, greener.

When I was growing up, my favorite car maker wasn't Ferrari or Lamborghini, but Lotus, which got its start making bare bones race cars in the garages of Muswell Hill, in North London, where I lived (though I didn't become aware of this proximity until much later). The founder, Colin Chapman, was famous for his phrase:

"Simplify, then add lightness"

This is still a good rule to live by, in my book.

The English are often adept at doing well while making do. This was especially true during World War II and the post-war period. Consider the simple but crude bombsights, crafted from wood to help guide the dam buster bombers. Or the Lotus Elan. Or the Psion 3a PDA.

One normally thinks of Japanese companies as being at the opposite end of the technological spectrum. (Though as I've written before, Honda has its roots in a similarly scrappy mentality, also driven by resource scarcity in the post-war period. I'm currently reading the new book Driving Honda, and it expands on this theme.)

Nintendo, it seems, is cut from the same cloth as Colin Chapman. I recently learned of a terrific phrase coined by Gunpei Yokoi, a lead engineer and video game creater at Nintendo:

"Lateral thinking through withered technology."

Escapist describes this approach as:

Consumers, he believed, would prefer cheaper products with fun gameplay over the hottest, cutting-edge gadgets. This design philosophy, which Yokoi would later dub “Lateral Thinking of Withered Technology,” guided most of his inventions; to this day, Nintendo still gravitates toward well-understood technologies to design their novel, reinvented gameplay.

Lukas Mathis explains:

Whenever Nintendo produced videogame systems that used established technology in surprising ways, it did well. When it tried to compete on specs, it did poorly.
The Game Boy won against better-specced competitors, because it used cheaply available parts in an innovative package. The better-specced Game Gear and Atari Lynx could not compete. It’s even more plain with the Nintendo DS and the Wii. Both used cheaply available components (the low-end ARM chips in the DS, or the cheap accelerometers and infrared camera in the Wii Remote) in interesting new ways, and were able to outsell technologically superior competitors.