Monday, December 22, 2014

Useful Frames for Designers Empathy Maps, Adoption Curves, Business Models and More


Last year a colleague invited me to help develop personas for a project kickoff. We reviewed existing research, mapped affinity notes, and created interesting user narratives, but we also spent a great deal of time discussing empathy maps, adoption curves, business models, and more. My colleague later complimented my ability to frame problems and situations. I was pleasantly surprised at first, but I came to realize that I do regularly reference frameworks and models in my user experience (UX) practice. Many of them are useful for designers of products, experiences, and solutions; and I would like to share a few of my favorites.

Morville’s Honeycomb

Peter Morville’s UX Honeycomb is a frame that elaborates that illustrates the quality of user experience as a collection of traits such as credibility, desirability, and usability. Peter wrote about the honeycomb in 2004, when he was authoring Ambient Findability.


Image Credit

I encountered the UX Honeycomb in 2010, when Peter included it in a presentation for the book launch of Search Patterns. Peter explained that while usability certainly impacts a user’s experience, the other aspects are also important, and each of them can be researched, designed, and evaluated. What good is usability if the tool isn’t useful, the functions aren’t accessible, or the site isn’t findable?

Professionally, the UX Honeycomb helped me evolve my area of influence from usability engineer to UX manager. I often use the honeycomb when explaining UX to colleagues and customers, as in this presentation on the quality, process, and discipline of UX. I like to point out that sometimes there are synergies between the aspects. Don Norman’s book Emotional Design convinced me that when two interfaces or objects are equally usable technically, the one which is more attractive to the senses will be perceived as more usable, as users are more likely to forgive its shortcomings until they figure out how to use it.

On the other hand, sometimes there are conflicts between the aspects of UX. Findability and usability frequently competed in the early years of Google, as search engine optimization (SEO) experts filled web pages with extra keywords to attract search engines, while making them needlessly complex for users. Thank goodness for Shari Thurow’s When Search Meets Usability, which demonstrate how SEO and usability can actually work in harmony.

The most important lesson that I take from the UX Honeycomb, and the one I emphasize with stakeholders, is that each aspect of UX contributes to the overall value of the product, service, or solution. A great user experience creates value for the end user, the purchaser, and the designer (and we can prove it).

Moore’s Chasm

Geoffrey Moore’s Chasm is an elaboration on an earlier frame, the diffusion of technologies theory made famous by Everett Rogers in Diffusion of Innovation. Rogers taught that there are different segments of users who adopt new technologies at different speeds. Moore augmented the diffusion model in 1991’s Crossing the Chasm, when he explained that many innovators struggle and fail with the transition between the early adopters and the early majority.


Image Credit

Segmenting users by behavior is a common practice for UX practitioners, so the diffusion model alone is a great frame for UX designers. Terminology from the model often appears in our user personas, and we facilitate healthy debates about whether we are designing for the early majority or usability testing too many laggards.

I have been thinking about the adoption curve and chasm recently, thanks to Marty Cagan’s Inspired. The book includes an interview with Jeff Bonforte of Yahoo!, who assigns emotional descriptions to each segment of the adoption curve. Laggards are “Comfortable”, the Early Majority is “Efficient”, and the Innovators are “Lovers.

Bonforte cautions that the Lovers/Innovators are actually a misleading source of feedback for UX designers and researchers, as they select products because they are technologically interesting, and enjoy solving unnecessarily hard problems for fun. In other words, their behaviors have little to do with the actual user goals.

The Irrational/Early Adopters are a much better source of user insights, as they look at the potential product in terms of real tasks or pain points. Their goals are qualitatively similar to the later adopters, but they feel them more acutely. Early adopters make great usability test participants, as they help designers polish the experience to the point where it is more likely to attract the early majority and successfully cross the chasm.

Kano Model

Professor Noriaki Kano created the Kano Model in 1984 to explain the impact of various product/service investments on customer satisfaction. The frame divides investments into basic expectations (which never achieve more than neutral satisfaction despite great cost), satisfiers (where satisfaction is directly proportional to investment), and delighters (which achieve high satisfaction with relatively low cost, often because they are unexpected or surprising).


Image Credit

Jared Spool began sharing the Kano Model with UX audiences in 2011 through both articles and conference talks. I have had the privilege of seeing him present the topic in person several times, and my appreciation for the frame has continued to grow.

The first thing that the Kano Model teaches designers is that we cannot ignore basic expectations, as it is possible to ruin a user’s experience by not meeting them. Failing to meet basic expectations will usually outweigh any satisfaction we might achieve through delighters or satisfiers.

A more important lesson we can take from the Kano Model is that it pays to conduct behavioral research into users, their tasks, and their environments in order to discover delighters. We will not discover delighters through surveys or focus groups, because users are unable to surprise themselves. We cannot create delighters by mimicking competitors, as elapsed time turns delighters into satisfiers and eventually into basic expectations. The only sure way to identify delighters is to iteratively observe, design, and test new ideas with end users, as we also know from Lean Startup, Design Thinking, and similar methodologies.

More Frames

As I look at my favorite frames, I know that they come from a diverse set of disciplines: information architecture, marketing, product management, communications, psychology, sociology, etc. As designers, we are privileged to be students of many rich fields, and I am thankful to the many authors and speakers who have brought these frames to my attention. I hope 2015 brings us opportunities to learn even more and use what we’ve learn to make our products, services, and solutions truly delightful.