Stop promoting broken products. Fix them!

Paul Boag

Creating a great user experience does not stop at the edge of the screen. It is fundamentally linked to the products and services we offer.

How do you see your role? Where does it start and stop? Are you somebody who implements the ideas of others are do you see yourself as a leader? Do you see it as your job to promote your companies products and services online? Or are you a champion for the experience of users?

Many of us are closer to traditional marketers than we are to user experience professionals. Let me explain.

Are you more of a traditional marketer in your attitude?

For years most companies worked something like this. The founder or some senior executive decide the company will produce a product or sell a service. Marketing was then expected to sell that product or service to the public. They would persuade the public to buy through advertising, incentives, discounts and more. But what they would never do is challenge the product. That was not their job.

For the most part this worked. Consumer choice was limited and so even if the product had rough edges there was little people could do. If they were unhappy they had no real voice to complain other than to stop buying. But if they did the marketers would move on to the next person.

The world has changed. Product experience matters.

Today things are different. Today people have access to every competitor at the click of a mouse. Today a single customer can damage the reputation of an entire company. The quality of the product or service matters. Traditional marketing is becoming less effective at compensating for product shortcomings.

Enter user experience design. User experience design should do what it says in the name. It should enhance the experience of users and your products are at the heart of the experience. Sure you could argue that this is customer experience, but that is semantics.

But many so called user experience professionals would never question the product. Sure there are those who work for a company who have a digital product. They get to shape the product. But for the rest of us, we work on what are promotional websites. We fulfil the role of a digital marketer.

Much of our time is spent marketing existing products, rather than improving the offering.
Much of our time is spent marketing existing products, rather than improving the offering.

We do our best to present the products we sell in a good light. We create sites with easy to use interfaces. We write compelling copy. We design attractive infographics and demos. But we never question the product. We never suggest how the company could improve it to be more user friendly.

Imagine if Uber had setup another cab company but with a fancier app. Would it have been as successful? Of course not. It was the improvements in the service that made all the difference. The fact that you didn’t have to hail a cab, pay with cash or worry about the driver taking us the long way around. What has made Uber a success is their ability to improve the experience of the product itself.

Uber would not have succeeded if it just started another cab company with a fancier app.
Uber would not have succeeded if it just started another cab company with a fancier app.

I worked with a University once that had hundreds of courses. They offered so many courses that the choice was overwhelming. Many of the courses had only subtle differences that were impossible to understand. It was ruining the experience and leading to choice paralysis.

Yet did I do anything about it? No, not a thing. I saw it as a constraint I had to work with. I didn’t even argue when they decided to rename courses, programs. A term that meant nothing to most students. It wasn’t my job to challenge the product.

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Be willing to question the product

But in hindsight I would say it was my job. The product was a part of the experience and I called myself a user experience designer. Sure, I didn’t have the authority to change the product. But that shouldn’t have stopped me asking why we couldn’t change things. It shouldn’t have stopped me pointing out the damage it was causing. It shouldn’t have stopped me pushing for a better experience.

In the end I did start asking why companies couldn’t improve their products. I started pointing out the problems the product created for users. I started showing how improvements could differentiate the company in the marketplace. How it could provide a competitive advantage. How it could reduce the need for traditional marketing.

Sometimes management listen. Sometimes they don’t. After all changing a legacy product is not easy. There are big challenges involved. Challenges many organisations don’t have the drive to overcome.

But at least I am now doing my job. At least now I am a user experience advocate and not a pixel pusher. I would encourage you to do the same.