E-commerce Link: It's All About Experience
Most people who have participated in a website or application design project of any heft are familiar with a standard set of user experience deliverables. Storyboards, sketches, sitemaps, wireframes and use cases are just a few of the usual suspects. For the most part, these documents capture how online content should be organized and how digital interactions should work. They are early indications of what a website will become.
However, particularly in a user-centered design process, a lot of thinking has to happen before user experience specialists can begin scribbling boxes and content zones in their Moleskine notebooks. Often, the current set of deliverables doesn’t do a great job of capturing everything that was learned during these initial parts of projects—through focus groups, contextual inquiries and other audience analysis activities. Discovery information often gets buried in text-heavy reports or diluted in stereotypical personas. Even the most thorough user research is wasted if findings aren’t translated into useful input for design.
Enter the experience model. This is your chance to bring something new to your client or
Build the Model
Experience models are visual frameworks that describe how people experience a product, service, environment or process. These models are essentially stories about an experience, told from the point of view of the people actually having that experience, and not from the point of view of the related brand or business. These models document the stages people go through to accomplish a goal, as well as illustrate people’s changing needs over time and highlight bright spots, pain points and gaps along the way.
Last year, I helped pitch some interactive work for a well-known lawn and garden care client. They sell garden soil, grass seed, bird food and other products to help beautify homeowners’ backyards. In the past, this company has marketed these items individually in a very product-
When presented with this problem, my team hypothesized that our client might be missing a higher-level perspective: Homeowners generally don’t think in terms of single bags of plant food, but rather in terms of creating and maintaining their entire outdoor space. By creating an experience model and showing how customers move through it, we were able to strategically identify marketing opportunities and a digital strategy that was better aligned with the end consumers’ thinking.
In looking at the high-level outdoor space experience model (shown in the mediaplayer at right) you’ll notice that we divided the process of creating and maintaining an outdoor space into three major steps or stages:
Each of these steps is then broken down into more detail. In the case of “Use”:
Each of these individual sub-steps can then be looked at even more carefully to fully understand the associated bright spots, pain points and gaps that come with each. In our example, further exploration of “maintain” uncovers such pain points as:
- Maintaining a full birdfeeder.
- Keeping the grass and garden appropriately watered.
- Dissuading bugs and critters from snacking on flowers, herbs and vegetables.
Dig Into the Details
It’s looking at this lowest level of detail that inspires ideas for online opportunities. Given these details, our team came up with a slew of innovative digital ideas for our prospective client including:
- Allowing subscription to an automatic birdseed replenishment program, where the customer’s credit card is debited and seed is delivered according to pre-determined intervals.
- Sending personalized e-mail and text alerts based on the customer’s weather and garden profile. “It’s 85 degrees and sunny today in Chicago. Remember to water your lawn after 5 p.m. to prevent burning.”
- Featuring the best-kept tips and tricks from the pros to help the weekend gardener maintain a beautiful backyard. “Using a spray bottle, spritz the leaves of young shrubs and trees with lightly soapy water. This will help keep bugs like gnats and aphids at bay.”
Paint the Picture
The beauty of an experience model is it allows you to simplify and organize a complex reality enough to be able to succinctly understand the big picture, while still allowing access to the details that are necessary for brainstorming and ideation.
Good models use primary research as well as first-hand experience to help determine the shape of a process. They can also use a range of media to tell the story. Photos, videos and sketches taken during research not only help inform the model, but they can also be used within the actual model itself to illustrate and drive home the stages of the experience. These types of visuals and diagrams make the model a more compelling tool for explaining complex behaviors to clients and internal teams.
Here’s a list of things to think about as you start creating experience models of your own:
• Be collaborative. Experience models are only as useful as they are accurate. The bias of individual thinking can really skew the way a model comes together. Instead, get snacks, Post-Its, a whiteboard and a bunch of smart people in a room.
• Don’t forget the point of view you’re modeling. It’s so easy to slip back into company-centric thinking. Resist the urge. Don’t use company terminology. Don’t be swayed by company goals or politics.
• Grab your camera. The main input to your experience model is the work you’ve done during the discovery phase of your project. Get into people’s lives. Take
• Don’t get stuck on the formal part of the experience. Some of the biggest opportunities come from the little or unexpected nuances that customers face. Planting a tomato plant is an obvious part of the lawn and garden process. Entertaining a child who wants to help dig in the dirt is where things get interesting.
In addition to the outdoor space and snacking models described earlier, I’ve also included examples of high-level models for car battery jumpers and kitchen remodelers (view in the mediaplayer to the right). If you end up using this technique in your own work, please pass your experience models along. We’re suckers for the creative work that’s happening in the world.
Cristin Siegel is the director of user experience and research at Chicago-based interactive agency Designkitchen. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org