Frequently, the first conversation I have with a team is about “something not working” at a screen or product level. But that’s not really the problem we end up needing to solve.
The larger problem for actual users is often the disconnect in the journey between parts of a product, or different products and platforms within a multi-channel experience; the kind of journey that results in UX shock.
What is UX shock?
I’ve mentioned it before and I can’t find any other references on the internet, so I’m claiming this definition for myself.
UX shock occurs when a user moves from one relatively good experience, to another absolutely dreadful one, with no warning or management of user expectations.
Imagine a really nice website. It looks slick, someone has cared about first impressions. As a user you feel confident. You start exploring the pretty product pages, the smooth interactions, the delightful microcopy. Now imagine you click into a checkout process that has been bolted on from a third party supplier, with completely different and very basic UI; tiny font, zero accessibility considerations and forms that look like they were designed in 1983.
That’s UX shock.
The most likely outcome, unless users are very determined to buy your product, is that they will bounce. Because the result of UX shock is a loss of trust in the experience.
And now, imagine that happening across multiple channels.
This is what I come across every day.
- Marketing emails that land on dodgy-looking sign-up pages
- Retail experiences that drive you to poorly supported contact centres
- Third party software plugins appearing at random stages of a digital brand experience
- App Store apps where 80% of app content just clicks out to a browser
And now, imagine the impact this has on the user’s impression of your entire brand.
Why does this happen?
No one wants to deliver crappy user experiences. But just like an old website that’s been added to over the years until the IA is unusable content spaghetti, a lack of attention to the big picture and a failure to think things through can inadvertently lead to crappy experiences, no matter your original intention.
I often joke that the reason I have a job is because someone else hasn’t thought things through.
Here are the top causes of UX shock:
- Designing in siloes — a product is designed, built and deployed into a brand’s existing digital ecosystem, without enough thought around connected journeys and design consistency.
- Happy path only — an initial workstream that designs only for the happy path, where the user does everything we want in the order they want them to. Any kind of unhappy path design is an afterthought, so that at go-live, any deviation from this happy path on the part of the user sends them to the 8th level of UX hell.
- Disconnected UX and CX — one team is designing a product and a completely different team is designing the communications that will have to integrate the product into the wider brand or customer experience.
- Thinking screen not service — creating a digital product as an end in and of itself, and not realising that the user thinks they are buying a service. So if the product fails, the user has to self-serve solutions via under-supported, poorly designed or non user-facing tools.
- Lack of macro/micro thinking — not having someone, somewhere, whose job it is to think at both screen and journey level. It doesn’t have to be the person designing every screen (their head would explode), but there needs to be a lead strategic design practitioner operating between screen level and business objectives who has the mental capacity to own a wider journey and remove or mitigate any potential UX shock.
- Marketing and product not aligned — failure to align the worksteams and objectives of marketing and product teams, meaning that campaigns go live without suitable landing pages, consistent onward journeys, or any kind of next-best-action strategy.
- Broken business processes —exposing logistical, technological or other business failings directly to the user. One of the biggest culprits is that a problem on the business back end that is just too complex to solve without large scale expenditure. This is often the kind of thing that results in a horrid third party plugin being thrust into the middle of your beautiful app. Or a brilliant digital service that cannot deliver a physical product to a user’s front door.
How can we stop this?
There will probably always be some level of inconsistency in any multi-channel user journey, because businesses and systems are complicated and hard things are hard.
However, there are several things we can do to mitigate the impact on users, by simply thinking things through.
- Think beyond the current screen or platform — consider the source journey and the onward journey from this experience — even if it is not officially in the brief. And know whether your product is in fact a service.
- Consider multichannel — what other communications or experiences might the user see or receive from your brand? How can you connect to what other teams are designing? What are marketing up to? How can you make it more consistent for the user?
- Design for unhappy paths — Ask “but what if they don’t?” just press the button you want them to, as they proceed blissfully towards <insert goal>.
- Prepare users for shock, in a worst case scenario — sometimes, you are just stuck with a horrid plugin from 1983. In this case, how can you prepare the user beforehand, or reassure them afterwards that they can trust you? Have a strategy on how to mitigate, if not remove that loss of trust.
There is much you can do to off-set UX shock, but it starts with expanding the remit of the problem you are trying to solve. Just as the user only sees one experience from a brand, so should we be trying to design for one experience — no matter how many platforms, systems and (let’s face it) problems we are trying to connect.
And a little extra thought around an onward journey or the bigger CX picture can massively reduce the business impact of accidentally dreadful experiences.
True, you cannot design everything at once, but with a little extra application of the braincells, and fostering a culture where all teams are asking questions at the outer limits of their official remit, you can identify, design for, and minimise the potential impact of what would otherwise be a truly shocking user experience.