Customers lose as SA companies prioritise IT budget over user value

Software not designed for context or focused on user experience

In spite of the fact that consumers now drive technology choices, most South African organisations are still designing software from their own perspective and ignoring the context in which their users will interact with their software.

So said ThoughtWorks user experience design consultant, Rob Enslin, speaking at the annual Tech4Africa conference in Sandton (9 & 10 October 2013). “Although demand for user experience design is growing in South Africa, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding about its strategic relevance to an organisation.

“As a result, when it comes to conceptualising applications, there’s a tendency to make short-term decisions that put project budget ahead of value for the user or customer.

“The irony is that, compared with other disciplines in IT, the investment of time and effort in user experience design is minimal, yet its value in terms of customer attraction and retention is so significant that ignoring it amounts to recklessness.

”For this reason, many organisations around the world are giving user experience a place at the boardroom table, by appointing user experience champions at director level.”

Enslin cited an example of bank ATMs that could be programmed to recognise and offer the usual withdrawal amount of a regular customer. “Programming is so advanced these days that setting up an ATM network to do this involves minimal development. Yet, the loyalty-building value to both the customer and the company in personalising such a relatively small interaction is enormous.

“Frequently, however, the organisation will say it can’t justify developers working on such ‘trivial’ interaction features. In the process, competitive advantage erodes away.

“The cumulative effect of all the opportunities lost in this way is a diminished overall experience for the user and very ordinary products delivered by the company.”

Enslin emphasised that designing for context is a critical part of getting user experience design right.

“Until recently, our use of technology was relatively static. We sat at a desk top computer, or used our laptops, in our offices or at a desk at home. We had a single source of computing.

“Now, we’re mostly mobile. We have smartphones and tablets. We can use kiosks or ATMs. And we have access to a bewildering array of applications and interfaces. More and more, we expect to have the same experience, contextualised, across all applications and interfaces in all environments on all devices. Yet, organisations are still delivering to us products made for the desktop.

“As a consequence, computing is becoming a deviceless activity. The interface through which we interact with our information is irrelevant to us as users.”

What does matter, however, is the context in which users access their information. “An obvious example is the real estate offered by a desktop or laptop screen that is not available on smartphones,” Enslin said. “A mouse cursor provides better location accuracy on a desktop than fingers can be on a tablet. These are practical context issues designers need to take into account.

“At a more subtle level, there are issues of time, place, and circumstances. For instance, ATM screens should be adaptable to the time of day, making themselves brighter in daylight hours, when sunlight might make the screen difficult to read.”

Designing for context focuses on delivering consistency of user experience, in which the same applications are made available across all devices, a complementary user experience, in which the applications are adjusted seamlessly to the user’s circumstances (whether in his office or on a train or on the beach), and a continuous experience, in which data created in one device is immediately available from all others.


About ThoughtWorks

ThoughtWorks – A software company and community of passionate individuals whose purpose is to revolutionize software design, creation and delivery, while advocating for positive social change.   Our product division, ThoughtWorks Studios, makes pioneering tools for software teams who aspire to be great; such as Mingle®, Go™ and Twist®, which help organizations better collaborate and deliver quality software.   Our clients are people and organizations with ambitious missions; we deliver disruptive thinking and technology to empower them to succeed.    In our 20th year, over 2300 ThoughtWorks employees – ‘ThoughtWorkers’ – are currently serving clients from offices in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Ecuador, Germany, India, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda, the U.K., and the U.S.

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