Thursday, July 10, 2014

Historical Convenience: UX Intertia

The more time I spend in the U.S. the more I notice the little differences in human behavior.  For the most part, these differences don't actually translate into differences in digital UX or UI design. This lead me to the question - is good design a reflection of existing human preferences, or does it create new human preferences?

This isn't a black and white answer. It waivers in the grey. If we look at one element that touches everyone daily - money -  we see that most implementations of design are adopted when they reflect a mass-based human behavior.

Micro-chip credit cards
The American adoption chip based credit cards has followed the path of the adoption of electric cars - even when a realistic solution comes into play, the intertia of old perceptions on UX and unpredictable commercial accessibility get in the way. One part of this is the lag for retailers to implement chips reading credit card scanners at point of sale. The greater part is the lack of consumer demand, as historical convenience almost always outways change in UX. For the U.S consumer, they have lagged in most changes that increase the convenience of using money - adoption of automated tellers, digital currency, and the idea of cash free solutions generally lag compared to other similar countries. Companies like McDonald's have spent millions to update locations to accept micro-chips, and have struggled to realize a return on that investment.

North of the border and across the ocean, chip technology started making it's way into the hands of University students just over ten years ago - a low barrier pilot project with a target audience who do not suffer from the inertia of historical convenience - mass buying food or drinks was not really a behaviour until they left home. Since that time, chips have become the norm and within the last 18 months have evolved to include quick scan payments. Perhaps the cultural nuances differ in trust or security enough to allow this, or perhaps the new convenience of quickly scanning a purchase is closer to feeling like a cash transaction than credit cards have ever managed to do before.

In this case adoption of the chip in the U.S. the user experience leans on the barriers of behavior changing; there is no perception that a new transaction system fits or improves on the convenience of the current system. A case where UX adoption is being lead by existing human behavior.

Digital Currency: Let's forget about Bitcoin for a second and just look at the use of digital to facilitate transactions. The use of e-commerce is definitely main stream. After overcoming the trust barrier in user adoption, it has not had trouble becoming a new norm. Look overseas to South Korea, and we get another hint at existing human behavior driving digital UX. A society rich with tradition, and tech adoption, we see an interesting convergence of behavior. Traditional gift giving for major life/death events involves money in an envelope. The dominant messaging app, Kakao (kind of like WhatsApp), has recently added a digital wallet feature, that allowed its millions of users to send monetary gifts to other users. Was there a lag in adoption? In two days, 22 million transactions were made (maybe that's why Facebook bought WhatsApp...but that's a different blog post). There was no thought to adoption, there was an existing human behavior that had reached the point where 'digital' and 'traditional' converged in the mind of the user. The use case proposed a new process, that didn't require new behavior or thinking.  UX lead again be existing human behavior.

I'll be expanding on the hints of design and adoption in future posts. They apply to all aspects of user interaction - from mobile apps to vehicles to the next gadgets that connect us to the world around us. A trend of characteristics connects all of them, which include:
  • Balancing Convenience: weighing historical versus innovative
  • Accessibility: reducing friction to use and continue using
  • Reflecting behavior: a mirror on existing UX, even when it appears to be drastically different.
  • Perpetual Reinforcement: We all learn by doing. we create habits by repetition. Combining these in the UX is often the tipping point in surpassing UX inertia.