User Experience The Don Draper Way

Products, pages, profiles, and entire click paths are often narcissistic by design, taking into account the needs of decision makers and stakeholders over the customers they’re designed to entice. Instead, they should be designed to evoke emotions and trigger a desired effect, regardless of platform or device.

This is part 2 in an ongoing series

In the development of customer-facing products, apps, displays, and destinations, businesses often miss what are among the most critical elements for true customer engagement: evoking a desired experience and sentiment.

Businesses tend to have a narrow view of customer needs or expectations. And, rather than design to evoke human emotion, journeys are designed with a "mediumalistic" approach, where platforms and devices take precedence over the human connection or aftereffect. Products, pages, profiles, and entire click paths are narcissistic by design, taking into account the needs of decision makers and stakeholders over the customers they’re designed to entice. The need to plug into trends trumps the opportunity to innovate and improve the customer journey.

In addition to taking mediumalistic approaches, businesses fall victim to what I refer to as creative endowment. This is a phenomenon in which creative professionals bestow their ideas for campaigns where technology becomes the stage for imagination, without regard for the customer experience. Instead, these ideas, no matter how brilliant, are thrust upon customer senses--what they see, hear, and touch--for the sake of executing an idea rather than evoking a sensation or designing an outcome. Regardless of the medium, this isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon. But, it is a problem. 

There is a cure to creative endowment, however. To demonstrate this point, I can’t help but think back to the Mad Men episode where Don Draper presented his touching concept for Kodak’s new wheel, “The Carousel.”

In a dimly lit room and in a vulnerable voice, Draper took us on a touching journey: “Technology is a glittering lure, but there is the rare occasion where the public can be engaged at a level beyond flash…if they have a sentimental bond with the product.”

Draper told the story of his first in-house advertising job at a fur company and how his coworker, a copywriter named Teddy, explained the importance of combining "what’s new," with emotion, “He also talked about a deeper bond with a product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. Switch it on...Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means, 'the pain from an old wound.' It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.” 

Nostalgia, indeed, is a potent play. In this gripping scene, Draper doesn’t push a creative idea for the sake of the idea; instead he takes technology and makes it human. He makes it so human, in fact, that as you watch the scene, it becomes intimate, and it becomes personal. As such, you’re reminded of your cherished memories, and for that moment, your experience joins the confluence of emotion, brand, and technology. 

Here’s the important part: That scene--or, let’s pretend that was really the campaign Kodak considered--was designed to do just as I described. And, that’s the point. That campaign as conveyed would take center stage where technology, media, design, and the overall experience would be designed to evoke emotions and trigger a desired effect, in any network or any platform or device.

The ConflUX of Technology, Creative and Emotion

Whitney Hess is a user-experience strategist. It is her viewpoint that I appreciate as it aligns with what I believe to be the secret ingredient to engagement…empathy. Hess concludes that empathy builds empires. And in her presentation, "Design Principles: The Philosophy of UX," she shares something that is so profound, it serves as the very essence that most organizations miss in their engagement strategies: “User Experience is the establishment of a philosophy about how to treat people. Visual Design is the establishment of a philosophy about how to make an impact.”

In her article for UX Magazine, "Guiding Principles for UX Designers," Hess outlines 20 guiding principles that pave the way for frictionless engagement.

I’ll share 11 now and more later in the series...

  1. Stay out of people’s way…provide an efficient experience.
  2. Create a visual hierarchy that matches people’s needs. 
  3. Limit distractions and choices.
  4. Provide strong information scent.
  5. Provide signposts and cues.
  6. Provide context.
  7. Use constraints appropriately.
  8. Make actions reversible.
  9. Provide feedback during the experience…design is not a monologue, it’s a conversation.
  10. Make a good first impression.
  11. Be emotional.

This is the beginning of an important shift where neither technology nor creative will lead the strategy for developing and steering customer experiences. Instead, intention and aspiration become the North Star. Technology and creative merely become the enablers in the delivery of magical experiences and gratifying sentiment. 

The JUXtaposition of Empathy and Experience

As Hess says, “empathy build empires.” In UX, user experiences are interwoven with absorbing visual design packaged in a journey rich with empathy and desire. For UX to work, for it to mean something, architects must first feel it. See, I believe that effective engagement is inspired by the empathy that develops simply by being human. It takes a holistic approach to truly deliver an empathetic voyage. Design, channels, and devices are not enough. It takes a culture of customer-centricity to feel their challenges and ambitions and what it is that they need or do not know they need. It takes a vision, mission, strategy, and purpose. 

Leadership must reimagine the future of customer relationships and not only vocalize it, but express it as a working charter. It requires nothing short of a culture shift to truly appreciate the customer for not only what they can do but also in how they feel. 

Like so many things related to technology and new media, champions tend to push a bottom-up strategy. But, my point for this series is to complement the current groundswell by convincing executives and decision makers to lead top-down strategies that covey a vision for what customer experiences should involve. Then, and only then, we can inspire incredible UX to in turn bring that experience to life. Everything starts with defining a vision that articulates the view of the customer journey not just as you see it, but what it is that customer would appreciate, relate to, and value. 

Vision is device and platform agnostic. But as Mr. Draper reminded us, it’s “delicate, but potent.”

Next up: The emotional and cognitive pillars of UX. 

Related: Why User Experience Is Critical To Customer Relationships

[Image: AMC]

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12 Comments

  • Jason Brubaker

    Brian, I have to say that I completely agree with where this series is going.  With a background in marketing and 10 years of UX design, I have been looking to the future and what the next wave and going to be and this is going to be the key differentiator.  A usable experience isn't enough anymore, it's about something more.  Establishing that relationship with the customer through emotional channels and being more than just a brand but a part of someones life.  And you are not alone out there as I am sure you are aware, there are a number of players in the field who are moving in this direction.  Thanks for bringing this series and I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

  • Will Evans

    I simply don't understand this series. 

    I have been in the UX field for the past 15 years, coming from a background in cognitive science, and then spending many years - starting in 1995, researching the user experience with software systems as well as designing complex social software. What is most confusing to me is that, as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, "There is no There, There." Meaning - there is nothing in this article. Brian Solis may have a great background in public relations, but he is not a user experience designer. I can find no evidence that he has ever done user research or design ethnography. I can find not a single instance of him having designed a software system for end users. I can find no instance of him having done iterative design or having conducted usability testing. I can find nothing - and yet - Fast Company chose to bestow legitimacy on him writing a series on UX? Why? Is there really not a single UX Designer incapable of writing such a series? 

    No. Many of us that have actually done user experience design - for startups, for large companies, for ad agencies - write prolifically. We know this field because we live and breath it everyday, and we write about it. So why choose someone from PR to write about UX? Why dance about architecture? Seriously I have profound issues with this article because there is nothing here. It does a disservice to UX and to Mr. Solis to publish, in essence, the See Jane Run notion of UX. I could go further about the inept and problematic relationship between most ad agencies in UX who glorify the creative director often completely at odds with the customer, but that doesn't belong here. What I will say is that, at least having watched all of Mad Men, is that Don Draper is the very antithesis of User Experience Design. Anyone who thinks different probably has no idea what UX design really means and what it entails. In many episodes, in fact, Draper rails against anything even remotely close to user research. I am not necessarily a fan of the focus group and other vestiges of Freudian psychoanalysis that, through Eddie Bernays, the godfather of PR (and hence probably the hero of Mr. Solis), expounded - but at least these were research techniques, as flawed as they were - and Draper steadfastly believes these techniques of research are worthless. To finish - having a person with a background in PR writing about UX is not just problematic - it's really really poor decision making. Just to make it clear - what Draper engaged in is the polar opposite of UX. Just as most PR is the polar opposite of good UX. Having a PR person write about UX?

  • Brian Solis

    Will, I'm not a PR person and no "Eddie" is not my hero. My bio is attached to the article just in case.  In terms of iterative design, usability testing and software
    design...it's out there. I spent many years with startups and I also spent several years experimenting with design for global consumer brands. I didn't just wake up and decide that this was a random series worth writing about. But that's not why I was inspired to write
    this. I've been sitting in some very interesting meetings over the past couple years where "new" decision makers are basically ignoring the value of UX in new pilots.

    For total transparency, I reached out to Will directly because his experience speaks for itself and I'm open to his thoughts. My goal is to reach these decision makers that I'm facing and at the same time, I want to do this series justice for the UX community. I'm looking forward to hearing your perspective Will...

  • Michael Durwin

    I've followed Brian for awhile and met him a few times so, while I trust his judgement, I have to say I agree with the assessment of Ms Hess. While her ideas are sounds, they are as ubiquitous as they are vague. "Provide signposts and cues"? No shit, sounds like Design 101, at leas the way I taught it. But my questioning of Ms Hess' credentials doesn't come from her comments, which may or may not have been gleaned from a hundred human2digital blog posts, but from visiting her website.

  • Dave Sachse

    In general, articles are only empty to the reader if their creativity and ingenuity is not sparked. The value of an article's message is dependent upon the reader's individual ability to conform ideas & visions that align with their relevant business goals & strategies. Thanks for the post Brian, you have sparked a few ideas with this one. Remember the old saying goes "resistance is trumped by persistence." I look forward to reading the series.

  • Veronika Harbick

    UX is so important to storytelling and developing an overall architecture for consumer brand experience, but I fear this will not come into practice until agencies start to 1. obviously, think this is important 2. restructure themselves.

    As much as some agencies love to talk about how this is important, when it comes time to pay for it, they see it as an unneeded expense. Later they may regret it, but at that point the costs are exponentially larger.

    It's important to consider within which department UX lives or which department hires these specialist. Often in agencies, this fits into strategy, but can often be under the creative department. Both present challenges though I'd argue for strategy or the hybride creative tech group.

    Finally, from my experience with UX designers and strategist, the best ones tend to be more introverts (cue the Time article) and thus, their voices aren't as loud in the room. 

    Success in this area depends on agency and brand leadership fighting to make this a priority not only at the beginning, but throughout campaigns and all consumer-brand experiences.

  • Thomas Wendt

    I don't mean to personally attack Solis, but can someone tell me what qualifies him to write an entire series on UX? And did anyone notice that the first installment is pretty much the same as the second? 

    It saddens me to see articles like this in a publication for which I had a modicum of respect. It's this type of fuzzy thinking and "engagement" discourse that actually stalls stakeholders from adapting UX principles either because they A) think that making users feel cuddly is enough, or B) recognize that the writer has no expertise and has poorly researched the topic.

    Solis states that "businesses tend to have a narrow view of customer needs or expectations." This article is directly contributing to that sentiment. Far from helping the situation, Solis is supporting his own counter-argument through his lack of insight.

    I can only think that the remaining installments will be as empty as this. 

  • Chris Saad

    Brian literally wrote the book on PR 2.0 and engaging with brands. That's not just because he understands traditional PR, Branding, Marketing - quite the contrary - it's because he understands the role and responsibility of all parts of a business to fulfill the brand promise in the Web age. 

    I see no more critical place to control the brand of a company than in its User Experience and Brian is quite correctly addressing it from a unique perspective and broad view.Meta thinking and connecting seemingly unrelated dots is the reason Solis is superstar.

  • Brian Solis

     For the record Thomas, the series only gets deeper into technology and channel discussions. And as a series, I'm setting the stage bringing people together who don't think about UX in their strategies and deployments today...and that's the problem. I'm not writing to UX designers...they get it. I'm trying to bring decision makers together with UX to do something better. Those decision makers that I'm talking to with this series do not consult UX nor is there a step in their process that introduces the notion to even think about it? To address your other question, I know this because before moving over to the research side, I spent 14 years working through experiential programs tying together technology, psychology, and anthropology with business objectives.

  • Sean Reyes

    To counter the above argument, this series has already shifted my attitude towards our own website and the way i think about engaging the possible customer, i look forward to more specifics. I've never considered this topic really, and this series is a great introduction so far.

  • Thomas Wendt

    The problem is that vast generalizations do not help selling the value of UX. Any potential client worth working for who hears an argument based on nothing but emotion and empathy will run the other way. There is no quick sell for UX work. Clients shouldn't consider UX just because it's the right thing to do; it should be because the experience proposed is custom designed for their objectives. Emotion is too broad and doesn't fit with all businesses. 

    For getting deeper into tech and channel considerations, isn't that what you are trying to avoid? You mention that there is too much focus on the medium, so why dive deeper into it? 

  • Alex Chu

    Describing a self-admitting, inexperienced freelancer as "world-renowned" stretches the imagination and credulity beyond belief. The "principles" outlined here are the most basic heuristics that are commonly seen as standard assumptions.

    Based on this post, sending Mr. Solis a self-marketing tweet - as Miss Hess did - looks like his sole criterion for determining expertise.

    It's embarrassing that Fast Company published this empty advertorial, and it makes me question the credibility of everything that you publish.

    Please do better.