The buzzword de jour in the office these days is UX. Everyone is talking about how we “need more UX” as though it is some magic dust we should sprinkle onto products. Unfortunately I’m not convinced that many people understand what UX (User Experience) really means.
In a way, it is magic; but it’s a magic that takes a lot of preparation and hard work to make. You don’t just add User Experience on top of a product; the product is built around it.
The user experience, to my mind, is about the whole lifespan of a product, from buying it through using it to the inevitable retirement.
Marketing types would call it the customer journey probably, but oddly they tend to leave out the middle and end; i.e. Actually using something until it breaks.
Few companies seem to have really grasped what it means. Of course Apple, but they have become an overused trump card in every design discussion.
I think another good example is Amazon and the Kindle. Ok, so the Kindle UI is nothing to write home about; but the advertising, the purchase process, the out of box experience and the ability to buy books over Whispernet all come together to create a great overall experience. It’s still not seamless, but it is so good in the important bits that the other bits don’t matter so much; it engenders the response in the user needed and they become attached to their Kindle.
Out of box experience is probably the best example. If you’ve ordered your Kindle from Amazon directly, they already know your name and account details. This means they can make the out of box experience more exciting and memorable by having the Kindle greet you; how many gadgets have you bought that know your name and can say hello when you first get them?
As we all know, first impressions count. Here they count for Amazon in creating a bond with what is essentially a bit of plastic with some circuit boards in it.
Recently I was very lucky to be able to visit McLaren Technology Centre and get a real insider tour. We saw everything, from the construction of next year’s Formula One car to Jensen Button.
The whole building represents the company in many ways. The architecture and facilities they have are incredible, not just in the way they look and the technology they have but in the attention to detail.
For example; their ‘clean desk policy’ – basically you’re not allowed anything you’re not using on your desk, and I mean nothing! Not an uncommon practice in offices, but here they are building cars. This means that the engineering bays where the car bodies are hand-built with carbon fibre and resin are kept completely immaculate. Having done a bit of fibreglassing in my time (ok, a bodge job or two isn’t the same as making a F1 car, but still), this is impressive in itself.
But how do you make it easy to keep an engineering bay clean? Make all the surfaces white, and light the space so no-one casts a shadow of course! It’s like their normal office is a clean room.
This approach makes me think of two things. First, my latent OCD thinks this is awesome. A properly organised office! Secondly I think this is a bit weird; enforced office culture at the most minute level. But the weird thing was, it actually worked.
At one point we were talking to one of the engineers rebuilding one of their cars from a museum. He reached into a draw and pulled out a sheet of paper. It was the original driver manifest, Alain Prost’s car as it turned out, and Ayrton Senna drove it too. I’m pretty sure I can’t do that so straightforwardly for any of my projects (and not just because no-one drives in my line of work).
This says a lot about office culture as a whole to me, not that I’m saying a clean room atmosphere would be nice, but more that just being well ordered is a lot to do with how the whole office is structured as well as your own “style”.
I think there are a lot of things about the office environment that shape the way company culture as a whole grows; at McLaren they’ve decided to purposefully direct that culture through the environment. And you won’t find Comic Sans used to write signage either, which is a bonus.