Purpose-Driven User Experience
“I think so many of the objects we’re surrounded by seem trivial. And I think that’s because they’re either trying to make a statement or trying to be overtly different. What we were trying to do was have a very honest approach and an exploration of materials and surface treatment. So much of what we try to do is get to a point where the solution seems inevitable: you know, you think ‘of course it’s that way, why would it be any other way?’ It looks so obvious, but that sense of inevitability in the solution is really hard to achieve.”
Jonathan Ive, SVP of Industrial Design, Apple Inc.
The past two years, Apple has assured its claim as the world’s most valuable company and is on track to become the first trillion dollar company. In addition to raw tenacity and the visionary leadership of the late Steve Jobs, much of Apple’s “secret sauce” comes from their focus on user experience and beautiful design, lead by Jonathan Ive (pictured above). User experience is “the way a person feels about using a product, system or service.”
What makes Apple’s approach to user experience superior to others? I think the answer is simple - everything Apple does, including how it deals with user experience decisions, is driven by Purpose. Readers of this blog will know that GSD&M’s core focus when engaging with a client is to help them find their Purpose and excel. The Purpose Institute defines Purpose as “… A definitive statement about the difference that [the company] is trying to make in the world.”
Note that Jonathan Ive says “of course it’s that way, why would it be any other way” when referring to user experience decisions. How does Apple get to that point, and what is the Purpose that drives it there? Apple’s purpose is To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.
This Purpose assures that Apple is constantly aiming for the highest bar, no exceptions. Apple embraced and pioneered many user experience principals on its way to realize the Purpose - investing in iteration, prototyping, bringing metaphor’s into the user interface, the modality / app model, creating a 3d space, and continuity in experience.
We can learn from Apple that user experience is vital and can lead to a tremendous positive impact on a company’s long-term success. Because of the importance of user experience (especially in the past 5 years due to the Apple App Store), there is constantly buzz around new UX frameworks and subsequent refinements. Lean UX, which is based on finding product/market fit through customer development and iteration, is currently the go to framework. Before that it was Agile, and before that a more Traditional approach (see figure above). These frameworks are helpful, but in the complex world of user experience, the only way to consistently deliver a great user experience is to assure that all user experience decisions are driven by Purpose. Janice Fraser, one of the pioneers of user experience summed it up perfectly when she said, “You can’t A/B test your way to success.” The only way to assure that the correct user experience decisions are made it to know the core Purpose of the company and drive towards that Purpose with each decision.
To dig into the concept of Purpose a bit more, let’s take a look at Instagram. The Purpose Institute details the following key areas relating to Purpose:
- Purpose drives everything.
- Purpose is a path to high performance.
- Purpose fosters visionary ideas and meaningful innovation.
- Purpose moves mountains.
- Purpose will hold you steady in a turbulent marketplace.
- Purpose injects your brand with a healthy dose of reality.
- Purpose recruits passionate people.
- Purpose brings energy and vitality to the work at hand.
- Purpose contributes to a life well lived.
These can be directly applied to user experience decisions.
Instagram entered a very crowded space, yet has been able to attract 15 million+ users and was recently acquired by Facebook for $1 billion dollars. They did this by having a very clear Purpose. In the video interview embedded above with Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, he defines Instagram’s Purpose: To make it easy for everyone to capture and share beautiful photos. This is the difference they want to make in the world and in the lives of their customers. This drives all of their user experience decisions. You can feel the Purpose in every screen of their mobile app. While they ultimately land on the right user experience via testing and iterating, the question they ask before adding or removing a feature is: Will this make it easier for our customers to capture and share beautiful photos? Anything that does not contribute towards realizing that Purpose is ignored.
Referring back to the key points regarding Purpose from The Purpose Institute, let us see how having a defined Purpose helped Instagram.
- Purpose drives everything: It drives all decisions at Instagram, including what features they add or remove.
- Purpose is a path to high performance: Instagram tests new features weekly. They brainstorm new ideas at the beginning of the week, select one to test, code it during the week, and test it over the weekend. If the feature sticks, Instagram implements it across the full user base.
- Purpose fosters visionary ideas and meaningful innovation: Instagram is able to innovate and become the market leader in a very noising and old industry.
- Purpose moves mountains: Instagram did it with around 10 employees.
- Purpose will hold you steady in a turbulent marketplace: All startups go through the valley of death (perhaps multiple times), Instagram did as well and their Purpose helped them keep faith in challenging times.
- Purpose injects your brand with a healthy dose of reality: Instagram chose to focus initially on iPhone only.
- Purpose recruits passionate people: Instagram recruits the most talented people in the Valley.
- Purpose brings energy and vitality to the work at hand: Instagram uses its Purpose as motivation for everyone to work hard and for the community to engage with the company
- Purpose contributes to a life well lived: Instagram enriches the lives of all of their stakeholders - internal and external.
The future of user experience is becoming ever more complex - with new technologies like Google Glass on the horizon - it becomes even more important to know how to ignore the noise, and focus on the signal. Define your Purpose: Why do you need to exist in the world? The rest of the answers will flow. You will just know, because there is no other way.