A few weeks ago Denise posted Is UX trying to kill branding or the other way round? which generated some interesting commentary.

In the post she says:

I’ve been thinking about UX for a long time. User experience. I keep asking people what it is. No one seems to want to tell me. ‘Am I a UX person, do you think?’ Blank looks.
If I got a job in UX, what would I do? More blank looks. ‘Wireframes..?’
Right. I must admit I thought it would be a bit more varied than that. It doesn’t sound very… ‘experiency’. I’ve got 5 senses and a whole lot of emotions, I sort of thought an ‘experience’ might engage more than one.
But I’m not trying to be difficult, I am actually trying to understand.

This is something I’ve thought about on and off over the past few years as well, trying to understand my role, as a (mostly) back-office developer, in this whole user experience thing. I got distracted wondering about the crossover of user experience and business analysis for a while but what follows here are links to some articles that I’ve been reading, and some thoughts/experiences of my own, as I tried to find an answer to that question. Incidentally, I’ve deliberately titled this post as user awareness rather than experience, as awareness is something I feel qualified to talk about, user experience, whatever it is, seems to be a discussion that a developer shouldn’t be wading in to.

So, in addition to the links that Denise posted, and those mentioned in my User experience and business analysis post I also read:

In the following paragraphs, I’ve used service to mean the product, website, thing that is being bought or sold. And I’ve used consumer to mean the direct consumer, the person using it, the customer. Replace the terms as you read with the ones that makes the most sense to you.

My belief is that the experience a consumer of a service has, is a shared responsibility amongst the providers of that service. In many cases, it doesn’t start or end with a website experience. It includes the marketing and advertising that got the consumer to you in the first place. It includes the after care, the ongoing customer service. Having the best and most wonderfully created web site counts for little if the delivery service that gets the product to the consumer sucks (I’m looking at any business that uses Yodel or HDNL here!) or if a problem using the service isn’t responded to in a helpful or timely manner.

Every touchpoint that a consumer can have with the service needs to be considered. Anything that can impact the consumer’s overall experience needs to be thought about and worked with and any potential frustrations removed or at the very least reduced.

Everybody who has any form of responsibility to provide a service needs to know who the consumers are intended to be, and what their motivation is for using the service. Without this there can be no consistent understanding of the who and why questions (who are our users? why are they using our service?). This sounds so obvious, and yet I haven’t worked anywhere that has produced high-level business personas. It has always been an assumed understanding.

Having an awareness of who the consumers are isn’t just the job of a UX department, or the customer service department. Unless consumers are at the centre of the business, there is not going to be a sustainable business. Does having a department named “customer service” psychologically let every one else off the hook when it comes to thinking about customers?

So, where does that leave me, as a mainly back-office developer working on building robust, scaleable systems? Well, in my case, my main consumers are my fellow developers (who need to maintain, and build on top of, my systems) and the consultancy team (who need to be able to interact with my systems) — there’s no reason why my consumers must be external after all.

I’ve already written about how I’m attempting to support my fellow developers via a thoughtful approach to error messages. Additionally we run a continuous integration environment, with unit testing, code analysis and now code coverage built in, which means that any developer should be able to work on any part of the system with confidence. We also have a visible dashboard to ensure that we’re all aware of the current health of the systems.

From the consultancy team’s perspective, I’ve been trying to make systems that support them, that automate the tedious aspects of their roles, freeing them up to focus on the value that they can add to the consumers of the end reports.

In the next couple of weeks we are going to be working on our IT strategy. We plan to start by trying to map the company out as a whole, from a business perspective - there is little point us coming up with a strategy that doesn’t relate to the needs of the business as a whole so we’ve invited some of the consultants to join us. Our aim is to find the places where we can add the most value as a combined force. I’m keen for us to start by looking at who our consumers are, why they’re using our service, and have them central to what we prioritise.

So, my answer to Denise’s original question?

I’ve been thinking about UX for a long time. User experience. I keep asking people what it is. No one seems to want to tell me. ‘Am I a UX person, do you think?’

Based on all of this, my answer is “I’m none the wiser, but from what I know of you, you do think about things from a people perspective, and do ponder the who and why questions, and so are, what I would describe as, user-aware”