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What Google is learning about user experience

'We're living in the golden age of user experience.' But it takes an enterprise to deliver superior UX..

User experience and customer experience are no longer poles apart -- these days, they are one and the same. Delivering information and services to all people who touch the enterprise -- be they customers, employees and partners -- is as much an art as it is a science.

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

To the folks at Google (and YouTube), delivering superior user experience is an ongoing exercise -- full of studying, experimentation, and innovation (and clearing away the crap). UX is a constantly moving target, and as technologies and markets change, so does UX.

UX leaders at Google and YouTube shared their firsthand experiences in keeping on top of the UX challenge. There is a shift toward greater interaction and co-creation -- users are coming to platforms to engage with content creators on a more active level. The bar for superior and rich UX keeps getting raised, as do users' expectations. At the same time, more sophisticated technology is helping to point users to the resources they seek, helping them to overcome manual searching. Finally, and importantly, it takes an enterprise -- developers, designers, executives -- working together and collaboratively to deliver superior UX to customers and employees.

In a recent interview, Josh Lewandowski, lead UX researcher at YouTube, said he asks himself two questions each day he comes into work:

  • "What are the desires, needs, and problems our users have that we should be anticipating?"
  • "Once we know what those are, what's the best way to solve for them?"

As he explained to Droga5's Amy Avery in the interview, he is constantly conducting and analyzing qualitative and quantitative research to answer these two questions, "from talking to users and watching them use YouTube in their homes, to carrying out lab studies to see if people use our products the way we expect them to."

There are also seemingly two paradoxical trends in user behavior evolving on the platform, Lewandowski observes. At one level, YouTube's recommendation algorithms have reached a level of sophistication in which users rely on simply browsing across the choices, versus actively searching. In other words, they're sitting back and letting YouTube spin up the next video to be watched.

On another level, there is a greater trend toward community co-creation taking place, which is more evident with the addition of YouTube's new community tab. "Creators will use this to routinely ask fans what type of content they want to see, what their favorite videos are, and where they should go next," Lewandowski says. "These examples speak to a broader change in user behavior: people are no longer satisfied with just passively consuming content, they also want rich interactions."

In a separate post from a few months back, Jason Spero, VP of global performance solutions at Google, also weighed in on the evolving role of UX in reaching customers. "We're living in the golden age of user experience," he states.

In the process, the stakes have been raised, along with pressure on enterprises to keep elevating the experiences they deliver. "We're no longer competing with the best experience in our respective categories," Spero relates. "We're now competing with the best experience a consumer has ever had."

Spero focuses on consumer mobile experiences, but these lessons extend to users across all platforms and devices. There no longer is a separation between customer experience and employee user experience -- both need to be addressed at the same time.

Customers and users expect three things via their UX, Spero relates:

Help me faster: It takes a team to deliver information and service, on demand. "Speed is a developer's problem, a designer's problem, and a marketer's problem," Spero states. "When marketers prioritize speed it has a ripple effect. Designers must then focus on selecting visual elements, fonts, and a design structure that allow for fast, frictionless mobile experiences. And developers can further optimize, ensuring the best mobile experience possible."

Know me better: Again, it takes an enterprise to deliver a highly personal experience to users. "Personalization is a strategy, not a feature," Spero states. "We have an opportunity to be smarter with data, using important signals about customers--such as browsing behavior or CRM data--to shape their experiences."

Wow me everywhere: Tom Peters, the leading management guru of our time, says the "Wow!" factor is what sets industry leaders far ahead of their competitors. Spero urges this wowness be equally part of every connection the user makes with the enterprise. "Consider how all experiences--across media, channels, and devices--fit together."