How mature is UX in the Netherlands?
When I was recruited for the Country Manager position at Nomensa, I was working at an advertising agency as Account Director and omni-channel strategist. Aligning communication across touchpoints was one of my key goals. Moving from the advertising to the UX industry allowed me to examine in greater detail the relationship between customer and user experience.
On a global level the popularity of UX is increasing as more organisations appreciate the importance of an engaging digital presence for brands and their products or services. The consumer is always online: at home, at work or on the go.
Digital innovation stimulates and triggers growth of the consumer’s digital habits which simultaneously requires brands to innovate in order to meet the consumer’s needs. Along with increasing digital dependency of the consumer, brands need to provide 24/7 access, tools and products that align with or add value to their services (and brands). For example, an airline enables you to fly from A to B, that is their core service. But the consumer would also like to have a digital boarding pass, check-in, receive notifications etc. This means the airline should consider the broader experience and the value of creating an app (product in addition to their service) in order to better serve their consumer needs.
I’d like to conclude that a brand’s digital presence, service and products are crucial for the growth of their business and profit. UX helps to understand the consumer’s and business’s needs, which create patterns that provide insights to design, architecture and techniques. Hence the growing popularity of UX.
But what exactly is UX? It stands for ‘user experience’, also explained as the interaction a user has with a brand, product or service. But, a definition or explanation doesn’t mean there is an understanding of what it entails let alone, how to implement it. So I started off with questioning whether UX is “just” a buzzword used to describe a re-design project, or is it a movement?
Is UX a buzzword?
Until a few years ago digital communication was new and therefore more fragmented. Brands focused on individual channels or campaigns rather than having a omni-channel strategy. A great example is the response to the launch of social media. “We need to do something with social media”, not realising the impact of opening a 24/7 dialogue with your consumer that requires communication and information alignment across channels.
Nowadays brands increasingly realise the importance of the omni-channel strategy. They also realise it takes time (and money) to shift digital strategy from corporate strategy and align all stakeholders. The CEO of Nomensa, Simon Norris, wrote a great article explaining the UX maturity reality of performance within a company. The fact that investing in UX pays off, is supported in various articles such as the article from the DMI proving how good design drives value, demonstrated with Design Value Index results. Therefore it’s no surprise the popularity of UX is growing: it drives value.
When I browse through my Twitter feed, I see many practitioners, enthusiasts and followers publishing UX work, white papers or sharing thoughts. But the content of these tweets made me wonder if we all mean the same thing. Tweets about “UX is UI” or “UX is not UI” are still frequently shared. Even in job descriptions we struggle with the difference and some end up asking for a “UX/UI web developer”, whatever that may be. UX is even associated with door handles or randomly hashtagged along with the other buzzwords like HCD (Human Centred Design).
I won’t argue or try to come up with a definition, nor will I start explaining my view on the UX process, but the huge differences in how UX is described, practiced and understood is rather remarkable. Basically, there are people or agencies that compulsively add UX to their job title, expertise or service package whilst they have no idea what it is all about. I guess this demonstrates enough why I have the feeling UX is still a buzzword, or a trend, that some understand, some are getting to understand and a with the majority that simply don’t understand.
I wanted to deepen my understanding of the actual state of UX maturity in the Netherlands other than only relying on my Twitter feed, so I hosted two round table discussions and talked with several UX practitioners in order to answer the question: what is the UX maturity level in the Netherlands?
Together with the well-respected UX Amsterdam meetup group I hosted a round table discussion about the state of UX in the Netherlands. Two hours of ambient discussions led me to the insight that UX practitioners struggle a lot with selling and practicing UX internally, or at their clients, simply due to the fact executive managers and other stakeholders (like the finance department) don’t know the value of UX. Improving your UX involves money and is an investment for the longer term, not a 2, 3 or 6-month job that immediately shows results.
On the other hand, the round table attendees also confirmed the interest and willingness to invest in UX is growing. There are some great examples of brands that really get UX and are willing to invest, but the vast majority either think they have a proper UX when they have only invested in redesign, some customer journey mapping and user testing, or simply are not ready for the full UX upgrade.
This was also confirmed in my second round table discussion and individual meetings with in-house UX’ers. Their major challenge is getting internal support and resources to implement UX. It is a tough battle and only through demonstrating why investing in UX is beneficial to the brand and increases profit, you can properly sell it internally and get the required support.
In general my key take out is: the popularity of UX is growing along with the request for UX experts and projects. Therefore I’d like to say we are maturing at a rapid pace. The UX community is maturing, getting stronger and more thought leaders are joining the club. Meetup groups such as UX Amsterdam help to share, educate and learn. Along with conferences such as UX camp Amsterdam, UX strat Europe, Interact (London) or Collaborate (Bristol), we have lots of opportunities to deepen our UX knowledge and to educate ourselves.
Once there is a proper understanding of what UX is all about and what it entails, it will automatically reveal its benefits. This should provide you with the support you need in order to sell UX internally or to your client. But, don’t forget it comes with great efforts in order to make it work. Implementing UX is often combined with a restructure of an organisation and its services and products, as part of a long term investment. This increases the importance of really understanding UX. ‘But a ‘teenage’ market will get there with the willingness to learn, try and explore.
Hope you enjoyed reading my view on the maturity level of the Dutch UX market. It is just my personal observation, so if you have anything to add I’d be happy to exchange thoughts.
I am already working on my new blog, so let’s connect on Medium or Twitter @kaatlieshout