The Need For Co-creating User Experience

Recently at the WWDC 2011, amongst other things, Apple introduces iCloud, OS Lion and the new iOS5 that wowed audiences. A week before that, Microsoft releases a video of the Windows 8 Operating system that customizes the operating system depending on the platform they are accessing it. In another phenomenon now, an app is being created for cross platform compatibility on Android, Blackberry and iPhone, to join the billions downloaded already, and Angry birds is taken the world by storm, with its awesome experience that it provides. Somewhere else Twitter is being touted as the most happening social network routing Facebook, with Apple integrating it in the schema of things for the days ahead, and Google is still struggling with its take at Social Network.

Just to go by the set of events in the past few weeks, it is beyond doubt that, User Experience (UX) professionals are living in exciting (and challenging) times. Exciting, because the whole domain of User Experience is growing at an unprecedented rate. Over the years it has gained enough traction that it has now become the core of discussions across boardrooms. The stakes have increased and that is precisely why the role has become more challenging over time.

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On the other hand the rise of social technology has had a huge impact on the very functioning of the UX field. I do not think there is any other field that has embraced Social Media to such a large extent. That has opened the gates for a huge opportunity for discussions and collaborations. Sub-consciously we UXers are getting inputs from a gamut of sources, and what we are actually doing is Co-creating UX.

Just look at the things around you and you would be surprised by the word experiences and the frequency with which it appears in discussions. We are surrounded by it to an extent, that we end up looking at in almost everything we are doing. It features in the transport system we use, the restaurants we visit, the cities we explore to name a few. It is something that is un-avoidable and definitely not something that can be ignored.

The Need for Co-creating UX

With the internet reaching masses and the smart phones usage increasing exponentially, and the industry leaders getting a run for their money from competitors who are trying to reach the masses and at a much lower cost, there will definitely be a need for more and better experiences to be created. Moreover this is not just going to be limited to one geography or medium, but a global community spread across platforms.

The UX community today is subjected to close discussions with the Technology and Business teams also. It is these other teams who are also playing a crucial role in the Co-creation process.

The belief is further strengthened when one tries to understand this simple 4 point theory of co-creation as outlined in the book “The Power of Co-creation, (Venkat Ramaswamy and Francis J Gouillart).”

The four points for co-creation, mentioned are

1. Experience Mindset

2. Context of Interactions

3. Engagement platforms

4. Network Relationships

The same can be extended to understanding the Co-creation of UX. The following would be useful to people in Business, Technology, and just about anyone who is interested in UX.

a. Experience Mindset.

It is pretty obvious now, that the user experience is something that is the driving force behind the success of a product and service. Therefore one cannot ‘not’ have an experience mindset. We now have more organizations understanding the value of it and investing in it. New age CEOs and other company heads understand it and are willing to take that extra time to invest in it.

From performing civic duties to doing reservations to engaging community to a plethora of other tasks, everything is being governed by the level of experience it provides during and after consumption and usage.

b. Context of Interactions

For any UX, the context is important. Often there is a challenge to understand the difference in context. The differences come from cultural norms, from consumer behaviour and the situations in which co-creation is happening. A classic example is while designing for users who are located in the different locations; the designers fail to get a proper understanding of the context. This is also important when designers have to work in a domain they have never worked before. One way to solve the problem would be to have a domain expert be a part of the co-creation of UX, so that their inputs ensure that the requirements are being understood properly.

c. Engagement platforms

This is one thing which I believe poses the maximum challenge to designers. It is about getting the User Experience to be consistent across platforms. When we talk of platforms, it could be an online or an offline platform. The online could then further be spanning across the web, the hand held devices, the large scale data driven centers. Within the hand held devices there again could be a span across tablets to mobile phones to other electronic or non electronic products. The offline could be community gatherings to one-on-one meetings. The Internet binds a lot of the platforms together. From being only an informative medium to being a medium to entirely depend on; internet and related technologies have come a long way. Internet has become the Universal source of information for millions of people, at home, at school, and at work. We now talk of the portable web, with the portability spanning across hardware (mobiles, Tablets, desktops) , software and other platforms. However as designers we need to understand the User experience is not only in the Internet and there are things beyond that too.

d. Network Relationships

At the very core of UX is the user. So, all it boils down to is the users and how we build our networks to take care of those relationships. Maintaining the relationships would cover things like providing feedback, engaging in discussions, being open to criticism, encouraging others to co-create, and also rewarding others. Incentives works wonders and can often be used a tool for inviting others into the co-creation process. The designers should work towards building systems in which these relationships thrive.

Having said the above, the whole notion of Co-Creating the UX does face some problems.

The platforms are still evolving. What was a luxury a few years ago is now a mass produced and consumed entity. This has led to trends changing over a short period of time. With the more globalized world we live in, and we blindly follow what’s successful in one geography to the Varied User groups, we are constantly in the risk of jumping the signal too soon and land up in a not to pleasant UX situation. Lastly, with more stake-holders being involved in the co-creation process, the stakes are much higher than we fathom.

It also becomes crucial to the design community that the UX education happens amongst the people involved in the co-creating experience. It would only lead to healthier and more constructive conversations and better co-created systems. The impact of Co-creating UX need not be felt immediately. The results could show over a period time, like in the case of an online community. Co-created User Experiences will evolve over time.

Conclusion

As one of my favorite design teacher, Erik Stolterman puts across in his book ‘The Design Way’, “As human being, we continuously create things that help us form the basis of the world as we know it. When we create these new things – tools, organizations, processes, symbols and systems, we engage in Design. Design is therefore such a natural ability that almost everyone is designing most of the time – whether they are conscious of it or not.

The above holds so true when we are looking at Co-creating the User experience. It requires UX designers to engage in discussions in a more detailed manner and understand various aspects, which were earlier thought to be done by others. UX designers need to share more stuff and always be open to collaborate. They should share their ideas though a channel that reaches out to a larger audience and be open to discuss things.

All of these would only go a long way towards a healthy system where we are all involved in the Co-Creation of the User Experience.

[This guest post has been Kshitiz Anand. Kshitiz works as Design Strategist at Kuliza – a Bangalore based social technology firm. You can read more of his blogs on the Kuliza blog]

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