Sources of competitiveness in UX design practice

User Experience, form the design standpoint, is driven by three main vectors, utility, usability and pleasurability.

Utility is the perception of value of the value proposition in the eyes of the user. If there is no percieved utility in the product or service, the value allocated is none.

Usability, on the other hand, is how the value proposition is delivered to the customer.

If we compare the elements of User experience with the elements of human communication, utility will be the message; usability will be the channel.

In this day and age, many people consider that usability is a key factor of a product. Indeed, making something usable is not a virtue; it’s a basic requirement.

All the rage with digital products has pushed usability issues and usability practices under the spot. And being under the spot means that there is more and more people becoming interested with usability. Consequently, the number of practitioners grow and the quality of the practice spreads. As a result, usability, as a core competency of someone or some company, is becoming a commodity.

Some people mis-understand the term commodity. Becoming a commodity is something every business should try to avoid, for commoditised products or goods the main differentiator is price — and sometimes the sole. As hurricanes in coastal areas, price wars wreck havoc on any industry. Nonetheless, a commodity is needed by a lot of people anyways, hence it should be exploited. What changes, business-wise, is the way the commodity should be monetised.

The first question to raise is: Is it the term usability or the practice what is becoming commoditised? My opinion is that it’s mainly the term. As I mentioned earlier, because usability is becoming a mainstream concept, and late adopters get into the bandwagon, the quality of the practice widens. And this effect, by definition, means there is a chance for differentiation by being in the top tier, it just becomes harder to communicate. However, at some point it becomes so hard to isolate signal form noise, that commoditisation prevails.

Therefore, if usability is becoming commoditised, does it means that it shouldn’t be considered anymore? Not at all! As the Kano model demonstrates, it means that usability shouldn’t be raised as a differentiator, but it still is a core requirement, complementing many others. Hence, those complementary features to usability should be the ones raised as the main benefits of the product. Utility is the basic requirement, hence pleasurability becomes the gateway.

UX practitioners can help the business with a better definition of the utility of the product. Research is the main source of information, to compile enough evidence for a business proposition or for finding insights that can be new differentiators.

Through design methods, more utility can be found, uncovering real value. Design, by itself, does not add real value, but it can add tons of perceived value, which leads to pleasurability.

Pleasurability, or delight, is harder to define. Pleasurability is linked to the emotions of the user, to the experience. What we feel about something evolves with time. There is an opportunity in giving the product a more sophisticated pleasurability by designing a narrative for the product. The narrative is how the product adapts to the evolution of our feelings towards the product. The product narrative is very hard to design, hard to implement, and hard to copy, and is going to be a source of product competitive advantage for quite some time.