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the good life in a digital age

are there times when user experience doesn’t matter?

One of the blogs I follow faithfully is The Simple Dollar. In  The Variables of a Purchase: Is Price the Ultimate Bottom Line? Trent says

I place a significant extra value on buying local produce and dairy products versus buying items that are shipped in. I place a slight premium on the ethics of the business, but I often find that companies with questionable practices often have many competitors and it’s trivial to simply use more ethical businesses. I have something of a minimal standard for customer service and shopping experience – if a company doesn’t meet that standard, I just don’t give them my business, regardless of price, but above that level, I view all competitors roughly equally.

So  Trent has a ‘minimal standard’ for shopping experience but there are other factors that he places higher value on.

I came back to this thought when reading yet another perplexed UX blogger, wondering why the field isn’t sufficiently respected or valued.  As usual, I thought of iPlayer.

The user experience team that worked on iPlayer had many anxieties about the product that launched.  The UCD process hadn’t been followed as faithfully as it could have been. Everyone felt the UX could be better (although we didn’t necessarily agree about what was wrong).

And yet, iPlayer has been a massive success for the BBC. And appears to have turned the guy in charge into The Man Who Saved the BBC and gave him the opportunity to say in print “I only do things for the user”. Those users were delighted to get their favourite shows for free,  so appear to have put up with the clunky bits of the UX.

(Now Five On Demand. That’s a different matter. The UX sucked, I was only mildly interested in the product and they were expecting me to pay. No thank you.)

With free services, I definitely put up with some rather undesirable user experiences. Google apps are a mess when used on my EEE and the keyboard shortcuts are patchy but I stay faithful. I use Swapshop all the time and that’s a shocker.

But is it different when I’m paying?

I like the user experience of Waitrose way more than Morrisons. But I go to Morrisons. Mostly because it is near my house and a bit because they stock the things I buy regularly.

We also buy meat direct from farmers and I can assure that the user experience of that process is absolutely awful. But we persist. We like the pigs.

When travelling I buy the cheapest, direct flight and then complain about the customer experience when I get home. I can’t stand American Airlines but when my parents lived in North Carolina I flew with them many times a year. I still get mad when I talk about their flight attendants but they were the only airline that flew direct from London.

Some services I do care about how good the UX is.  Others it isn’t the deciding factor.

It isn’t enough for UXers to say “UX matters”. Because sometimes it doesn’t matter enough to stop someone making money. You have to have a developer otherwise you won’t have a site. But it is possible to launch a successful website without a UX designer and even without a particularly good UX.

Not always, but sometimes.

So when does UX matter? And how do you know if this is one of those times?

Written by Karen

April 29th, 2009 at 6:37 am

Posted in digital,ucd