I recently attended one of e-consultancy's roundtable meetings, where a dozen or so corporate members share knowledge: the topic of this one was 'User Experience'. It was an interesting couple of hours with some useful insights provided by the participants, who included benchmarking, analytics, survey and usability agencies like Web Usability. What struck me during the discussion was that most of the participants' activities focused on understanding the user experience rather than helping the clients do something useful with the insights gained from their work.
But in many ways understanding the user experience is the easy bit. We all go off, do our thing and present the client with these great insights about users - and we all, including the client, know these are genuinely useful insights. The problem is that the client then has to do something with these insights, but they often seem poorly equipped to do this. I wonder what proportion of our collective insights are ever acted on? Probably less than half - if that!
The more difficult part of making a website effective is to work out what to do with the user experience insights. The user surveys, analytics or usability study may identify the problem but they don't necessarily tell the client what to do to make things better. This is where expertise on implementation of solutions to problems is required. The client often has little experience outside their own website, but the agency, on the other hand, who works with a range of clients and sees many different solutions, should be well placed to help with problem solving. But how often does this happen? Are we content with diagnosing the problem and letting the client find the solution?
Often even more challenging than identifying the solution is getting it implemented. Organisational constraints such as lack of a clear site strategy, inadequate user focus, inappropriately trained and resourced content authors and lack of senior management support are the major stumbling blocks - much more so than technical issues. How good are we at helping clients address these issues? Web Usability offers a number of services to help clients with these problems, but it is not easy to get the key people to understand why these are important, and it can take a long time to change an organisation to address these issues.
So, it's much easier to just provide some user experience insights. But on their own will these lead to more effective web sites?...... I doubt it.