You can’t make a Ferrari out of an El Camino…a UX analogy

Customer-centric focus can be a bit of a culture change in organizations that are not used to it, so it requires a concentrated and sustained effort to educate decision makers and project stakeholders on what exactly is user experience design, and how to design for, achieve, and measure good user experience.

We’ve had some success communicating the need for user experience design work in our company, but it seems we need to be more clear on the fact that its not something that can be tacked on at the end.  I still hear people saying things like, “We’ll get the requirements, build the back end, and then you can come in and put a good user experience on it.

UX practitioners see the problems with that kind of thinking:  1) User Experience is not something you can ‘tack on’ at the end of a project.  Rather, it requires a focused, coordinated effort between the UX team, development team, and business stakeholders to ensure product features meet user needs and expectations, 2) User Experience is not a discrete part of a product that you assemble together.  We can distinguish the user interface of a product, the part of a product that users can see and feel, but that’s only part of the user experience.  Rather, user experience is the quality of experience that a person has with a particular design, so it includes the user interface, as well as database performance, information architecture, business processes and site metaphors, delivery mechanism.

I’ve been trying to think of some type of analogy that encapsulates why we can’t come in and put a good user experience on a project.  Here’s the best thing I’ve come up with so far:

Let’s say I’ve got a busted up, rusty, 1973 El Camino.  I can paint it cherry red, put in leather seats, and paint a horse on the front.  I’m not going to have the same experience — speed, handling, prestige — as if I were driving a Ferrari.  To get the Ferrari experience, all the parts are designed to work together to deliver the speed, handling, and prestige that its customers expect.  Similarly, our development, UX, and client stakeholders have to coordinate to understand and deliver the experience that our customers expect.

Do you think that a valid analogy?

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2 thoughts on “You can’t make a Ferrari out of an El Camino…a UX analogy

  1. First the Ferrari is designed, both for visual appeal as well as aerodynamics and what not. Then, when that is known, the engineers go to work making that visual image run on rails at blinding speed. So, in that regard, I feel your analogy is valid.

    Also, from my experience, never let the programmers make their best guess the basis for your UI – we make them extremely functional, but man are they ugly.

  2. I agree with the analogy in that the point is user experience has to be an integrated part of the project process and from the information before the analogy it is best utilized within the planning and strategy part of the process rather than during the testing part of the process.

    One thing that I would pontificate about is defining “customer expectations.” In my experience, customers do not know what they really want until they can see it or use it. Of course, that can be achieved via high fidelity prototyping or the actual production product, but that usually only works for internal customers… at least in my experiences, the external customers are difficult to contact and perform research with due to business politics and lack of project time.

    On the other hand, the analogy makes sense because customer’s expectations could simply be described as getting something that works best for their needs (even if they don’t know what they are) and feels good to use (even if they don’t know how to achieve it).

    My two cents.

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