User eXperience in a Digital World

Credits: Aotaro License: Creative Commons

We live in a digital world. I usually start my day by checking news or Twitter feed from my phone before I get up. After a breakfast, I check calendar events from my phone. When kids have done their mandatory morning activities, they watch cartoons from TV using a set-top-box. When I take my daughter to daycare, I use my car’s IVI system to listen radio or check the available fuel level or cruising range from an instrument cluster. When I get back to my home office, I check Slack messages, Jira spam and other e-mails.

I require a good user experience from the digital devices I use. Therefore, I can’t consider of buying Samsung products, anymore — I’ve made that mistake few times. Yes, I own Samsung-not-so-smart-and-damn-expensive-TV. Luckily, it’s easy to attach Apple TV or other set-top-boxes to the TV and have that as a workaround for Samsung’s poor smart TV offering. The TV has received few updates over the years, but can’t really say that any of those would have improved the user experience. On the contrary, after updates, the TV have lost installed apps, settings or credentials, which are pain to setup again using Samsung’s remote control. I don’t even want to start complain about the quality of the apps, so I assume you got the picture.

Samsung Smart Hub — after a few years, it’s pretty useless. It doesn’t receive much updates, apps are outdated and you will get much better UX by using Apple TV for “smart features”.

I like Toyota hybrid cars because they don’t have much problems, they are cheap to maintain and the service is always good. My car is also hybrid because I’m worried about the environment and maybe some day I will have full EV car. Unfortunately, Toyota’s Touch & GO IVI system is still pretty bad when it comes to user experience. I’ve used Toyota IVI systems for 9 years now and there are still the same flaws in the latest IVI version than were there nearly a decade ago. It’s slower than in my previous car. It takes ~15 seconds before the IVI system shows anything else than a splash screen or a rear view camera. Toyota charges over 100€ for their system updates, which is an insane price tag. I wonder if anyone is really pays for those updates these days?

Good comparison is smartphones, which get updates for free. All built-in map apps get updates to so maps are pretty much always up-top-date so why I should give any money for Toyota for something I get for free?

I have had many different smartphones during the years. I really liked the Windows Phone when they introduced Metro design language. I thought it had a great potential in a smartphone market, because it was different in a good way. I saw how many UI designers got excited about the Metro look & feel. Similar design languages started to appear in other application areas too. So it all started pretty well, right?

Well, something went wrong. App developers stopped supporting Windows Phone platform, even Microsoft’s own updates or lack of support for older devices, made the whole WP experience just so poor and buggy that WP is pretty much a dead platform nowadays.

What went wrong?

Many companies are too focused to make profit and they forget their existing users and backward compatibility. They should remember user base, push updates to older devices and for free. This way people stay loyal to brands because they can trust the product and the company behind it.

People buy products for different reasons. It might be a status symbol, it might be a platform, for most people it’s a price and for someone, it’s a form factor or an ecological ideology of the product. My personal criteria are (not in specific order):

  • Design & Feeling — the product must look good to my eye and feel good.
  • Sustainability — I want the product last long and if possible manufacturing process should be as sustainable as possible.
  • Human eXperience — service, delivery, packaging, usability and warranty.

One sure thing is that if people buy an expensive product, they expect it to last or at least I do. If it’s a product running a software, the product should receive updates and actually improve over the time via updates instead of getting worse. Depending of the product, I expect to receive updates for 3 years at least (for phones) and longer for IVI systems. If something goes wrong, a paying customer should get support or warranty should cover repair cost or replace the device.

To answer a question “What went wrong”, I’d say, companies must think the whole product life-cycle from a user point of view and to remember that user experience is more than holding the product in a hand and using it.

User experience starts in that very moment, when a customer either enters into a store or starts browsing a product web page.

User eXperience Life-Cycle

And to be honest, most of the companies suck still in many user experience areas. The following example is mostly applicable to mobile devices, but little bit of thinking, similar model can be produced for many different products.

An idea how a digital device UX life-cycle looks like.

The diagram should be self explanatory. User experience starts in that very moment, when a customer either walks into a store or starts browsing a product web page. If the user experience is bad, the game is over before it even started. If the customer decides to buy or order the product, it’s either delivered to home or then the customer gets the product right a way from the store. If delivery of the product is too expensive or takes too long, even that might end the game. Many products are delivered for free, especially if the product is an expensive one.

Nowadays, customers value product packaging a lot. Unboxing is one of the most exciting moments, when receiving a new product. Youtube is full of unboxing videos, so it’s really important to design that experience well. If the product is delivered without paying much attention to packaging appearance, how easy it’s to unpack the product and also how well it’s protected, the user experience might be a disappointment.

First time boot is also very exiting moment. If dealing with a smartphone, the faster it boots, the better. It’s good to have a tutorial app running by default, but also for experience users, it might be a good to be able to skip it too. The tutorial app should help to setup all mandatory accounts and help with navigation related topics e.g. if there are non-standard gestures or other things which may easily go wrong. When I was working for Jolla, we spent quite a lot of time to create a nice first time boot experience.

Usage is the part, what matters the most. If the device doesn’t work well enough, apps are poor, it doesn’t get updates or user just doesn’t like the product, it may be the first and the last product the user buys from the same company. Support and Warranty are important things to design well. With a good Service from the Support/Helpdesk, user might be able to solve sometimes even simple problems, which otherwise would lead yet another unsatisfied user. Warranty can also be handled in many ways. The less effort it requires from the customer the better it is. Therefore these are very important areas to design properly. One of the best warranty experiences, I’ve had was with Bowers & Wilkins, but I’ll write another post about it.

The last shutdown is a metaphor, not exactly the last shutdown. It is the point when a user makes a decision whether to buy the next generation device from the same brand or to switch to another brand. All the previous UX steps effect on this, probably the most important decision.

The last words

As you can easily see, user experience is not just using a product, it’s a holistic composite experience, which is built from several smaller experiences. It’s really important to break down the whole experience and invest money and time to design them thoroughly.