Putting the cart before the horse, or the tech before the customers?

A client was chatting to us today and he said:

“the problem is we often choose a platform and then design to its best ability”

This is a fairly common thing we hear and it can prevent our clients from producing the best experience as inappropriate constraints are often unavoidably and regrettably baked in by their choice of technology.

But why does this happen?

We suspect that often it is because the choice of backend (particularly for big sites like ecommerce, travel or finance) is a big decision and involves big money, consequently the big boys (and girls) on the board make the decision or heavily influence it.

Because deciding on a backend system is a big decision, and the cost will eclipse that of what will be spent on experience design, it assumes more prominence. The decision is often made first before any of those design aspects critical to produce an excellent rather than ‘me too’ experience have been firmly established. A Business Analyst (BA) will produce a higher order list of requirements compared to the detailed design spec from an Experience Designer.

Many vendors of platforms sell their wares based on features (often technical features rather than experience features).  It is easy to count and evaluate these technical features and match them to the business requirements– good salesmen are great at demonstrating these features and making them look trivial to use.

In our experience when back end vendors are asked pre-sale ‘will it be able to do X’, they will generally say ‘sure’ with some custom coding, no problem. When it comes to actually implementing detailed design though the need to make use of as much ‘out of the box’ functionality is obviously paramount to reduce costs so big compromises often have to be made – this impacts the experience, often highly detrimentally.

It doesn’t have to be this way

We are seeing a change of attitude and approach by some organisations due to the rising appreciation of the importance of customer/user experience. They are now letting the detailed experience required dictate the choice of platform rather than the other way round.

We have a number of clients (for example a large travel client, a retail client, a publisher) who have invested in user centred design upfront and we have delivered a validated experience specification (research led, iterative design development producing a mid-fidelity prototype) that has been used both to test, validate and modify business requirements produced by BAs.

This is then used to form a definitive requirement used to procure the back end system with fewer degrees of freedom and potential ambiguity than before. If you show the design to the vendors and they say their system will do exactly that for this price, then it is more likely to do that…

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About Bunnyfoot

We are psychologists, interaction and design experts, researchers, usability specialists. We cover Web, software, mobile, print, service design and more.
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