In “Fusing Content Strategy with Design”, David Gillis gives a very good summary of content strategy and its interplay with the overall user experience strategy and information architecture. The leading advocate for the field, Kristina Halvorson defines the field as such:
Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.
Necessarily, the content strategist must work to define not only which content will be published, but why we’re publishing it in the first place.
I particularly like the way he discusses the importance of setting contexts, using context maps, to better integrate content with the overall experience (see example map below).
Consumer behavior has certainly changed in recent times, and the way we interact with brands in increasingly becoming more intimate and familiar. I’m sure a few years ago we would not have thought that we would be “friends” with (or fans receiving daily updates from) our favorite soda or restaurant.
Growing a vast customer base for an online product is a complex process that encompasses marketing, product development, and luck. However, it is possible to stack the odds in your favor and to make the best of your marketing dollars by creating a product experience that fosters the organic growth cycle.
The Organic Growth Cycle
For all products, new customers are generated through a combination of paid and word-of-mouth marketing. In some cases, the majority of a product’s new customers come from organic, word-of-mouth marketing. While traditional marketing such as online advertising requires a constant input of resources, word-of-mouth marketing can essentially become a self-sustaining system, requiring little or no support—a sort of marketing Turing machine. Such a well-tuned organic growth cycle can help to grow a large customer base for any web product.
To much fanfare and critical acclaim, TiVo announced last week its new Premiere DVR that features a ground-breaking user interface. I’m very happy to say that we had the privilege to work alongside TiVo’s talented design team to define and design the novel user experience that extends TiVo’s high interaction standards. TiVo, Inc. is featuring the new release on its home page and the device, with its complete redefined HD interface, has already received fantastic reviews from the likes of CNET, TechCrunch, and Gizmodo.
Gizmodo’s Mark Wilson highlights the user experience improvements as:
Despite the redesign, you’ll find the experience is remarkably familiar. The basic fonts and menus are unchanged, with a few key differences. Most importantly, instead of seeing one page at a time (like being in Now Playing, then clicking to a new screen with a particular show), you see two pages at a time—a logical design update to the widescreen format that speeds up navigation enormously.
Watching the winter Olympics this year, I took note of the great use of information overlays by NBC. Overall I have been impressed with their sparing use of graphics to convey the critical information. I hope that this simple elegant design will be the standard rather than the exception in television and web videos that are pushing the limits on pop-ups and unnecessarily heavy overlays. Below is a great example of the biathlon’s simple hit/miss shot penalty information displays:
On the actual broadcast, these small information units of hit/miss were stacked up beside appropriate flags to show multiple competitors at once. Although hard to follow the progression, it was a great way to show a lot of information in very little space and in real-time.
I had the opportunity to speak with Netvibes’ CEO, Freddy Mini, as a follow-up to our original article on the company’s RSS reader. In our interview, we mainly discussed the strategy and vision for the product—who are the customer segments, how Netvibes meets their needs, where the product has been and where it is going. We also discuss the product development and design process at Netvibes. We get a fascinating look into how Mr. Mini plans to stay ahead of the competition, which includes iGoogle among others, by turning Netvibes from an aggregator to an automated publishing platform while continuing to add to its already vast assortment of content.
In a sentence or two, how would you describe Netvibes (the elevator pitch)?
I have [an elevator pitch] because last week I had to present at a thirty-second pitch, and then I entered the twitter pitch contest. Netvibes is the best online publishing platform that empowers everybody to take control of their digital life, should it be an individual or a business.
In part 1 and part 2 of this series, I explored synergies that exist between product development and user experience design as well as how the two fields fail to leverage those synergies in the product development process. In this part, I explain what product development and user experience teams can do to collaborate effectively.
What Can Product Developers and User Experience Designers Do Better
The instances where product developers and user experience designers collaborate poorly can be easily ameliorated. Overall, this means incorporating a more dynamic and integrated product development process where both teams work together on key phases and in shorter and more frequent cycles rather than long, inflexible phases. The particular steps that need to be taken to accomplish a more integrated process are outlined below.
Both teams should utilize an iterative and dynamic product design process instead of rigid, linear approach.
Both user experience designers and product developers should be involved in identifying opportunities, competitive analysis, market and user research, feature design, design refinement, implementation.
Product developers should not seek to define how each feature should work, but should rather define the broader project goals and product requirements.
User experience designers should stick to constraints defined by product developers, should consider the viability of their design in the context of implementation and marketability, and should consult with product developers on viability of features.
Both the user experience and product development teams should garner more frequent feedback from each other.
Treat the specifications documents and user experience design collateral as living documents.
Iterative and Dynamic Process
The most important optimizations to the product design process is incorporating shorter and more frequent product development cycles as well as involving each team in key phases. Although one team may take the lead in a particular phase, both teams should be involved in tasks that can benefit from both sets of expertise.
Jim Ross posted an excellent article on UX Matters describing the good and bad of eye tracking studies, entitled Eyetracking: Is It Worth It. Ross clearly itemizes the positives and negatives, expelling myths about eyetracking’s ability to answer all issues and expose full meaning of the user’s actions
Ross states that eyetracking helps to solve issues, including:
why participants had problems performing a task
where participants expected to find certain elements
whether participants noticed a particular element […]
whether elements are distracting in a negative way […]
If you know how to use eyetracking effectively, it can provide additional insights to usability testing that can help you find problems and answer questions about user behavior. Eyetracking is not essential to usability testing, but if you can afford it and have the time to learn how to use it effectively, it is definitely worth it.