The New UX Design Paradigm


The new UX design paradigm

Summary: There is a new UX design paradigm caused by the massive growth of smartphones and tablets, coupled with the continuing growth of PC website/application user experiences. To be successful, UX leaders must adopt a new holistic UX design paradigm that centers on the triangle of these three major experiences.

A story of the new UX design paradigm:

“Marie kissed her daughter and rushed out the door of her mom’s house, waving goodbye while reaching for her smartphone to check her email.  She needed to see if her favorite online store had the item her daughter wanted.  The good news is they did. Because Marie’s client presentation had been moved up a day she needed to catch her flight early, but she had to order her daughter’s present today if it was going to be delivered on time.  At the airport, Marie borrowed her co-workers iPad to browse the store’s website and was happy to find the present, and even happier to find another present her daughter wanted.  She quickly ordered both just before boarding her plane. Arriving at her hotel prior to the meeting, she used her laptop to check on the status of her order, learning both presents had indeed been shipped.  Happy she had found and ordered her daughter’s presents, Marie walked into the client’s presentation room with a smile.”

Marie’s interactions with the online store using multiple devices demonstrates the concept behind the new UX design paradigm.  This new paradigm is caused by the massive growth and usage of smartphones and tablets that connect people to firms.  Yet, and this is the critical point, people expect a consistent user experience no matter which device they use.

Thus, it is crucial to remember:

“The device is not the experience, the experience is the interactions the user has with the firm regardless of the device.”

To this end UX designers must consider a holistic, multi-device approach when developing experiences for people who need to interact with a firm.  The three major device types to include in the holistic UX approach are:

  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • PCs / Laptops

The old UX design paradigm:

Many of the firms I’ve consulted with have a disjointed, separated approach to their UX design across the three device types.  Tablet teams work independently from smartphone teams, and often both work independently from web teams.  This separation causes holistic design issues as well as duplication of effort problems for firms.  The current UX design paradigm of separate teams is demonstrated below.

The old ux design paradigm
The old UX design paradigm

In my opinion, smart firms will realize there needs to be a coordinated approach to UX design. If leveraged now, this coordinated approach could provide a more efficient and compelling user experience, while at the same time delivering a major advantage over laggard competitors who are slow to realize the benefits of a holistic UX design paradigm.

The old UX design paradigm; separation of Tablet, Smartphone and PC effort

The Tablet UX design paradigm:

Firms who are not already doing so must soon consider how to incorporate designing the user experience for tablets in their UX design paradigm.  According to an article in InformationWeek, as of December 2010 the iPad has become one of the fastest selling gadgets in history, selling 300,000 units the first day on sale, and over 2 million units in just the first 80 days.  The iPad represents over 95% of market share for tablet computing devices, and according to the firm ChangeWave is quickly moving to overtake the popular Kindle.

Because of its unique interface and resulting user experience, many firms have not yet come to grips with designing for the iPad and related tablets.  Of the few firms I’ve come across that are already designing for tablets, most use dedicated teams, often 3rd party companies, to design the tablet experience.  These teams and their resulting UX designs are often completely separate and distinct from those who are designing experiences for the firm’s websites and/or smartphones.

The end result of a separate tablet UX team designing specifically and only for a tablet is often a disjointed approach to the holistic UX.  Compounding this problem is the additional consideration of the duplication of effort in terms of resources, budget and time a separate tablet UX design team costs.

The Smartphone UX design paradigm:

Among firms I’ve come across, some have a UX design paradigm specifically for the smartphone experience, but many do not. Firms who have not yet considered designing for smartphones should immediately plan to do so.  This is because according to Gartner, worldwide mobile phone sales to end users were 417 million units in the 3rd quarter of 2010, growing 35% versus 2009 3rd quarter sales. In addition, smartphone sales increased 96% versus the 3rd quarter of 2009, and smartphones comprised 19.3% of overall mobile phone sales in the 3rd quarter of 2010.

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The implication of this massive and continual growth is clear, more and more of the people interacting with your firm will expect to do so via smartphones, requiring a smartphone UX design paradigm that aligns with the rest of your experiences.

Unfortunately, as with the tablet UX design approach there are often separate UX mobile design teams working on smartphone or app experiences for firms.  Taking into consideration existing smartphone conventions and working with minimal screen space and the relatively large size of people’s fingers requires unique considerations certainly, but opportunities can and do exist to create a holistic experience that dove-tails with the UX of tablets and PCs.  Yet typically this opportunity is not explored, representing a major opportunity for firms who wish to achieve a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Firms face the same issues of duplication of effort and resources when designing the smartphone UX separately from the other tablet and PC user experiences.

The PC UX design paradigm:

Most firms already have a PC and application UX design paradigm using internal or 3rd party design teams to revise and/or create PC (aka website or application) experiences.  Website and PC application experiences are certainly not going away anytime soon.  As of November 2010, Gartner reported that worldwide personal computer sales are forecast to break records this year, totaling an estimated 352.4 million units sold in 2010, up 14.3% versus 2009.

Although most firms have existing UX design resources for websites and applications, it’s not a guarantee that these design teams consider the holistic experience people have when interacting through multiple devices.  Nor is it a guarantee that these teams have UX designers trained or cross-experienced in designing the UX for tablets or smartphones.

The issue and opportunity, using the new UX design paradigm for holistic experiences:

Many firms typically do not consider the entire holistic experience when designing UX, and this I believe will become an issue, and an opportunity, as the number of people accessing firms via tablets and smartphones grow.  The opportunity is to create a new UX design paradigm that centers within the experience triangle created by PCs, smartphones and tablets.

The new UX design paradigm:

The new UX design paradigm requires assessing and developing a holistic approach to experiences with a firm.  You must understand that people interact with your firm using multiple devices at various times in multiple locations, desiring a seamless, unified experience.  This fact must be built into a model where the experience is at the center of the triangle formed by the three device types; PCs, smartphones and tablets.

The new UX design paradigm
The new UX design paradigm

Of course this does not mean that the experience can or should be identical across the three devices, clearly differences exist in the actual interactions caused by each device’s unique interface.  However, smart firms will realize that the implication of the explosive growth and usage of these devices means a holistic UX design paradigm will greatly improve interactions people have with their firm.  As we’ve seen from Marie’s story, clearly a holistic UX design approach had real advantages to Marie, and to the firm she interacted with and bought products from.

Thus, designing from the center of the UX design triangle created by the three major types of devices offers tremendous opportunities for you when creating your holistic UX experience.   This includes the ability to design the experience across devices, and the ability to leverage resources and eliminate duplication of effort.

Smart firms will leverage this as of yet poorly recognized fact and will use this new UX design paradigm to drive a competitive differentiation that ultimately improves their performance in the marketplace.