Technology User Experience – TUX

I don’t think it’s a thing yet, but it sure should be.  In fact, I’d love to help start it… or at least weigh in on it.  Technology User Experience.  There isn’t a single person out there that thinks about putting “new technology” in place that also gets enthused.  The latest technology for technology’s sake is not a motivator for people.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I know a ton of “techies” that would leap at putting tech in place that is the latest and greatest, but they don’t count in this story.

Wait a second.  I just said this was a story, and that’s likely where I need to start.  With a story.  I’m one of those techies that likes the new technology.  I began life as a programmer almost 15 years ago and have grown over the years into a people person rather than a programmer.  I get to talk to all my customers about what they want and why they want it and help them source solutions whether those come from my own team or from a third party.  In school, I learned how to solve specific problems where nearly all the variables are defined.  I almost never had to go through the “requirements gathering” exercises that are critical to success in the real world!  It wasn’t until I had graduated the first time and started doing graphic design that I realized the work that goes into drawing out a customer’s expectations.  Once I transitioned over to technology, that realization got even worse.  No one understands “technology” and anyone that thinks they do has a lot of learning to do!

What is the problem?

First of all, technology means different things to different people and if those people don’t understand what they’re getting out of it, it may as well be useless technology.  Take two things I’m doing or have done recently:

  1. Backups
  2. Job Application Kiosks

Well, those two things sound both technical and not all at the same time.  The customer’s experience around these two things is going to be very, very different and yet we, as technologists, tend to present the same kinds of questions, which is very, very wrong!

When a customer says, “I need my data backed up.”  They may not – read probably don’t – know exactly all the options!  They might mean high availability.  They might mean a daily backup that rolls every 30 days.  They might mean long term retention.  But it gets even worse!  If they say they want 30 days but have an RPO of 4 hours, does that mean they expect backups every 4 hours?  Probably not, but think of all the weeds the customer is getting into!  Do they even know what RPO is?

Then we look at a Job Application Kiosk.  That seems simple enough: it’s a computer on a table.  Right?  However, then we get into the details of how the application works.  Does it require the internet?  Is there a network connection available?  Does it need to be on the corporate network or just general internet?  How will people know to use it?  Is there any branding needed?  What if they get up and leave halfway through; does it need to time out and wipe any saved information?  Should the device be physically secured?  Do users need to print?

Good gosh!  We just want a place for people to sit down and apply for a job!  Chances are we envisioned one thing and ended up with something technically correct, but not at all what was expected!

Kiosk Dream vs. Reality

That’s one technology experience I hope none of my customers have to deal with, but I know they do.

How do we fix it?

Here’s the trick… fixing the technology experience depends. It depends on a lot of things, but fundamentally what it means is that as technologists, we have to hide as much as we can and scope out the best of all possibilities!

This doesn’t mean “make it easy”. Anything new will have a learning curve! Imagine if we had some incredible leap in technological expertise right after introducing the mouse that allowed for assistant based interactions with our computers like Siri or Cortana or whoever it is. It sounds like a great thing, but people aren’t yet sold on using a mouse over their command line! I hate to say it took me a lot of Solitaire to learn to use a mouse, but it did. I expected to have to learn something, just not “too much”. Alternatively, if the customer asked for a job kiosk and we rolled out a soundproof booth where an AI asked the user questions to perform the interview/application gathering on site… well, we’ve done a cool tech thing, met the need, but missed customer’s goals.

Fear of change and fear of understanding both play into the fix as well. Couching everything in terms the customer understands is preferred, and shooting for the million dollar solution with the ten dollar budget is what everyone wants even though they’re too shy to say it.

While seasoned professionals scoff at the very notion of high quality at low cost (because you get what you pay for, right?) I am not of that opinion at all! Some may take offense, but I draw a comparison to my kids. I could buy them a super-fancy mega tent to go camping, and they would love it, and I would cry and moan over all the lunches I skipped to buy it. On the other hand, if I throw a sheet over some chairs and a blanket or two underneath, those same kids are just as enthused as when they received the super-fancy mega tent! Maybe more because they understand the blanket-tent and that they can enhance and modify and make it their own, whereas the super-fancy mega tent is what it is.

I encourage folks to think creatively about their approach to the situation when employing or procuring technology. Pricing, scoping, delivery, contracts and so on and so forth are all variables we can play with in helping end users experience technology. I want my group to be enthused when they come to talk to IT, rather than dreading it. We may not all be outside the box oriented, as that can produce some unintended consequences, and we like things to go by the book and as expected.

That’s a topic for another period, though; certainly one I believe is appropriate to have a conversation about, for sure. Creatives/technologists aren’t diametrically opposed to each other! In fact, having experience with both has helped me considerably as I’ve moved around in industry, but more to come on that!