Catalyst

You are at the centre of it all

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on September 29, 2016

What’s ‘app’ening: Experience strategists are grappling with shifting technologies and emerging new touchpoints! (Above) A man touches a mannequin as he tries out a virtual reality headset and the monitor shows the image from it.

More and more companies are using ‘design thinking’ to craft better user experiences for their customers

We have all gone through that annoying experience of opening a new app and not knowing how to navigate. Even that highly intuitive cab hailing app sometimes irritates the heck out of you when it refuses to recognise an address you are trying to key into the destination. It takes only a few seconds’ delay for you to shut the app and move to a rival app to hail a cab. Similarly, a lot of companies out there have cluttered websites where it takes you hours to find anything. Forget the annoyance it causes, a bad UX/UI (user experience/user interface) by a healthcare company may be the difference between life and death.

A horrific story popularly quoted by UX designers is how a bad user interface unwittingly may have contributed to the death of a young cancer patient named Jenny. At a critical juncture in her chemotherapy cycles, the nurses attending to her who had to enter in the hydration details could not figure out the software and missed keying in crucial pieces of information. As a result, Jenny failed to get some fluids. She died of toxicity and dehydration.

That’s an extreme case, but brands and companies are realising that improving UX/UI may be the critical differentiator in retaining customers. There are over three million apps today on Google Play Store and Appstore and customers are quick at discarding apps that have bad UX.

Today design thinking or human-centred design is the buzzword when it comes to developing better user experiences. According to Adobe’s 2016 Creative Pulse survey of over 1,700 creative professionals across Asia Pacific, 98 per cent believed that creativity and design thinking is more important to businesses in the country. Creative professionals in India believed the most important skill over the next year would be to acquire UX/UI expertise.

Meet Hari Kishan Nallan Chakravartula, founder and CEO of Think Design, who calls himself an Experience Strategist and advises companies on how to improve the user experience for their customers. “Today customers use multiple touch points to interact with a company, but the experience is not seamless,” points out Nallan. For instance, people may transact with a bank through an ATM, Internet banking, a mobile app, a visit to a branch or even have the bank’s representative come home. But are all these touchpoints delivering the same experience? Or does the customer have to navigate in a different way at each of these routes?”

No breaks in customer experience

“Very few companies have a bird’s eye view of how a customer is interacting with them,” he observes. That’s where design thinking experts come in. What’s different in the design thinking approach, says Nallan, is that a customer journey is mapped from start to finish and at each step usability audits are done. An attempt is made to understand the context behind the customer journey and that influences the design. And it need not be all about digital interfaces. Though UX/UI is strongly identified with online, it’s being applied offline too. Think Design redid Axis Bank’s self-care kiosk and designed the bank’s Edge Rewards portal. It has also designed the UX/UI for matchmaking service Trulymadly.com and a suite of apps for Yupp TV.

Alexander Schlaubitz, Vice-President, Marketing, Lufthansa also stresses the importance of mapping a customer journey. “Design thinking is one of the techniques that organisations like us are adopting to have a better inter-disciplinary way of working,” he says. “Through this, we are learning how to be more agile, be better at offering a holistic cohesive experience and ensure that there are no breaks across the entire customer experience journey.”

Schlaubitz points out how Lufthansa is a brand that has so many touchpoints through which a passenger may access it, and what a nightmare it is to manage all these touchpoints cohesively. To do so, Lufthansa has now consolidated its digital look and feel and UX and UI with one agency – People Interactive.

“But there are certain aspects of the brand that have grown over the years that are not digital – we are now bringing them to a space where there is a cohesive UX/UI,” he explains. Take, for instance, the in-flight cabins or airport lounges. Now thanks to the user-experience centred approach, says Schlaubitz, the way these are designed has undergone a radical shift. “Earlier the way our aircraft cabins and lounges were designed was about ergonomics and comfort. Today, there is a distinct change in the kind of companies we are hiring to design them. Now we call experience strategists.We have made significant progress but lots more need to be done,” he confesses. That may be an understatement because the the way technology is moving UX/UI are already grappling with new challenges – a world where the customer uses augmented and virtual reality.

Future of user experience/interface

Craig Tomlin, a usability analyst in the US, who was rated by Mashable as top 10 UX experts to follow, says the future of UX/UI is already here. “Picture a UX and UI where you can manipulate the interface with just your hands, virtually, in 3D space, and anywhere you happen to be.”

In this world customers will toss aside their keyboards and use their hands to toggle the button on the virtual reality headsets or use voice command. How do you design a user experience for a world without keyboards?

UX/UI designers have been facing constant evolution challenges. When they first began, the world was moving from the desktop to the Web, so instead of keyboard tabs, they had to think in terms of mouse clicks or buttons. Then came touchscreen where they had to think in terms of swipes. Now, it’s going to be conversational interfaces, and completely new ways of interacting with brands. Through WeChat, through Facebook’s virtual assistant M, through Google Allo.

Tomlin puts things in perspective when he describes how difficult the task may be in an AR/VR world, “AR requires designing experiences in ever-moving three-dimensional space where any object may have user interface elements in front or potentially behind it.” Virtual reality immerses the user in a complete virtual world, which causes two things to happen that a UX strategist must keep in mind, he believes. “One, the user is separated from the actual world in totality. Two, the virtual world has to be 100 per cent designed to hook the user into it completely.”

The experience strategists have their work cut out as they grapple with these shifting technologies and emerging new touchpoints!

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Published on September 29, 2016
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