Posted by Amy Buckner Chowdhry on Jul 19, 2017

We need more heroes.

Consumers are suffering. Suffering from cognitive overload, micro-annoyances, and decision fatigue as a result of extremely poor digital experiences. And, it’s only getting worse as brands shift more transactions onto customers, like grocery scanning and tagging bags at the airport.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Heroes at Amazon, Google, and Facebook are focusing on friction-free user experiences by creating Echo, Home, and Jarvis. Those experiences start with break-through thinking and leap-frog ideas generated from strong UX leadership, people willing to take a stand.

Here are 5 practices that will make you a true UX Super Hero, too.


1) Think Like a Futurist

Set a recurring appointment reserved for creative thinking time once a month to analyze the technology trends, understand up-coming capabilities, and reimagine how those capabilities could help customers. Practice asking open-ended questions about unspoken assumptions to see new possibilities and anticipate future needs. Read and follow futurists like The Singularity University.

2) Listen for Signals

Signals come the moment you realize there has been a paradigm shift in a digital experience. That shift not only leads to delight but also removes the friction from the previous interaction.

  • The best way to understand technological signals is not to read about them, but to experience them first-hand. Be aware of what’s happening and what you’re doing when using digital interfaces. Be a first adopter and try out new technologies at home to understand their potential.
  • Watch others use technology, like your own children interacting with new tech gadgets or grandparents trying to accomplish a task for the first time.
  • Leverage partners to conduct ethnographic research focused on how customers are using technology in their homes or offices. This kind of research provides a wealth of signals that are critical when you’re designing a new feature from scratch or looking to launch a full-scale redesign.

3) Embrace External Trends

Brands are embracing a new wave of robots and experimenting with chatbots, artificial intelligence, and autonomous vehicles. Subway just announced that you can now order a Subway sandwich through their Facebook Messenger chatbot. You might think “Who's actually going to use Facebook Messenger to order her sandwich?”

But, consider these three trends that Subway observed:

  • Millennials are tethered to their mobile devices.
  • Facebook Messenger passed the 1 billion user threshold.
  • Over 1 billion messages have passed between people and businesses on Facebook Messenger and 23,000 developers have signed up for Facebook’s Bot Engine, building over 18,000 bots. (source)

Subway embraced these three trends and looked for opportunity. To deliver friction-free digital experiences, we must do the same.

If you’re not already, become a voracious reader of digital news and insights on the latest technology advances. Take time on a regular basis with your team to discuss external trends and what opportunities exist for your product. New technologies can be daunting, but not if you narrow down to the doable.

Use this exercise with your team: Pick three trends and brainstorm a mashup of them. Think about how you could design for user needs in the context of that mashup. Most importantly, marinate in these ideas and exploration. Don’t feel like you have to take action on everything. Some ideas, trends, and technologies may not have immediate impact for you, and that’s okay.

4) Test Early Test Often

Foster an appetite for research. Learn how early adopters are using new technologies and consider applying those use cases to your business model. Set aside budget for experimenting with new capabilities, external trends, and prototypes; test them in user experience labs with design researchers.

Also realize that inherent in the idea of testing and iteration, is the notion of failure. Some stuff won’t work. The reason Silicon Valley can produce so many unicorn companies is because those companies embrace failure and mistakes. If you don’t risk failure, you won’t make large leaps in innovation. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

5) Build a Well of Empathy

Over 20 years of working in the UX space, I’ve learned that leaders who frequently spend time observing or interacting with customers have much deeper levels of customer understanding than those who merely look at data and reports. 

Use the following techniques to build a well of empathy:

  • Visit customers in their natural environments in order to understand context. Observe customers “in the wild” to see their behaviors.
  • Watch videos of customers discussing their needs and usage, and better yet, go behind the one-way mirror to immerse yourself in the research process.
  • Understand that the largest ‘a-ha’ moments and product/feature ideas can stem from casual customer comments. In those interactions, you’ll find rich opportunities.
  • When you sit through a day of research, put away your computer and focus only on the research.

By cultivating these five practices, you can open the door to possibilities for digital experiences that won’t cause consumer suffering, and instead surprise and delight.

What other practices would you add to this list? Connect with me on Twitter and let me know.
Written by

Amy Buckner Chowdhry

Amy Buckner Chowdhry founded AnswerLab over a decade ago to help the world’s leading brands build better digital products. Under her watch, AnswerLab has grown to become a trusted UX insights partner to companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and more. She was named one of Fortune’s 10 Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs, one of EY’s 10 Entrepreneurial Winning Women, one of San Francisco Business Times’ Forever Influential Women Business Leaders, and Watermark’s Top 10 Women Who Have Made Their Mark. More about Amy→

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