I’ve been an independent user experience (UX) consultant for well over 18 months after spending a few years with a large consulting firm, primarily as a digital producer.
I’m between gigs and in the process, I’ve gone back to asking myself what user experience means to me. Why do I really want to keep doing this work?
With so much emphasis on the digital, the design, the deliverables, the development, the technology, it can be hard for me to stay engaged because there are so many elements beyond the screens that go into creating an experience that actual users – people – will happily engage with and better yet, share with others because of how positive it was.
Call it omni- or multi- or cross-channel seamlessness, it’s where I thrive.
Unicorns and squirrels, generalists or specialists
I used to consider myself a purple squirrel or unicorn (depending on which coast you’re on) but that was when I did what I call cross-over or hybrid work (user experience design + visual design or UX + coding, you get the gist). The work I really enjoy, the work I’m best at, is when I can be a generalist versus specializing in the technical aspects of creating an experience.
“You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” Steve Jobs
Yes, I have built up a specialization in the digital aspects of UX, as opposed to, say, industrial design or front end/user interface (UI) development, but I think beyond technology and the digital realm. Call it design thinking or holistic or persuasive design or customer advocacy. Others have written about the topic of unicorns, generalists and UX overall. It’s not without controversy and opinions and it’s a long-standing conversation in the UX world.
For me, when I acknowledge the work I’ve done as a generalist, I can reunite with the reasons why I’m still toting my UX soapbox. I go back to recognizing that UX is everything. Is there technology involved? Of course. But that’s not what makes the entirety of a (hopefully good) user experience.
digital to drive through
We, humans of earth, have a lot of experiences. Big, small. Day in and day out. It’s pretty constant. From the kitchen to the car to an office or a store or a beach. What makes – or breaks – those experiences?
This is where my mind wanders to the CVS drive through. The store in addition to the digital properties. The whole aspect of the CVS pharmacy experience. Why? Because of a pen. And a clipboard.
I use the CVS pharmacy site and iOS app for prescription management. Based on my experience, things work pretty smoothly. The website and app. The auto-refill services, reminders and alerts via text message. The pick up at the drive through where the employees are nice and do a good job. It’s all pretty good.
Right up until the end of the transaction when it rains on my good experience parade.
When the employee working the window hands over a clipboard with something for me to sign, a random pen held on by a gross rubber-band-bungee dangles from the old school metal clip part and my heart sinks. Ok, I’m not exactly crestfallen but I don’t like it.
It’s not something most people notice – but I do and I know it matters. CVS folks may say, ‘eh, it’s just a pen’ but it matters.
The pen clouds all of the other aspects of the experience with the CVS pharmacy. Whether it’s conscious or not, people absorb the details that break a good experience down to a ‘just ok’ experience. When I say people, I am referring to anyone who comes into contact with the experience. Customers, employees, leaders, etc.
bottom line: Me and UX
I’ll continue to do what I do, whether it’s in the capacity of a UX specialist cranking out heuristic evaluations, wireframes, prototypes, content maps, KPI’s, sketches, personas, architecture maps or user flows.
Or, when given the opportunity, as a generalist who has a lot more fun and can add a lot more value because that’s when I can connect to users in the most tangible ways to give them – the people – the best interaction possible with an organization, brand, product or service.
Isn’t that the goal? That smooth continuum of experience. Maybe my next stop will be to find someone at CVS who wants to make the pen fade seamlessly into the customer experience.