Pervasive UX – Who is Responsible?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘edges’ of user experience lately. Most projects demand tactical UX – a bit of research, some wireframes, perhaps a prototype, and some annotation.

It slots neatly into place in a project process.

But ‘User’ experience isn’t quite so tidy. Actual user experience is ubiquitous, pervasive. It doesn’t have neat edges or clear boundaries.

I’ve been talking a lot about pervasive UX recently. In the sense of brand, to me it encompasses all of the potential touch-points encountered by a user on journey.

For example… An individual might start a shopping order on their Tesco iPhone app in the morning. At lunchtime they might pop into a Tesco Express to grab a salad. When they get home that evening they get their mail and there are Tesco vouchers, which they then use when they log into their MacBook and finish their Tesco shopping order for the evening. The next morning, their shopping is delivered to their door.

Their Tesco journey moved from mobile to in-store to direct mail to the Internet to home delivery in the span of 24 hours. It moved from work to shop to home. Their experience of Tesco was a pervasive user experience.

And yet, for many brands, why are so many of the above functions managed in silos?

A single individual experienced the journey described above. Hopefully, they had an experience that felt integrated, efficient, economical, convenient and pleasant.

The reality is that while a user is a single entity (or a series of different entities with varying needs), businesses can be multi-faceted, politically divided beasts.

Take a bank that is undertaking a redesign of its home page. A single user comes to the bank website with a need, a desire to satisfy that need, and often less time than the bank would like them to have to satisfy their voracious needs.

Banks offer a variety of services: loans, current accounts, mortgages, pensions, investment plans, etc. The home page is like a giant billboard. Only imagine the political entities behind the scenes – we’ll call them business owners. They are each fighting for a piece of that billboard. In reality, they each want the entire thing. They fight, they squabble, they negotiate, eventually, they compromise.

The user often just wants to do one thing. But they have to wade through the bank’s compromise in order to get to the one thing that they want. It’s as though the bank turned itself inside out and exposed all of its organs to the customer. Now add in the in-branch experience, direct mail, real billboards, television ads, iPhone and iPad apps, etc. How many stakeholders do they have to handle those experiences?

Who is responsible for the pervasive user experience, the journey, of that poor individual who must experience everything this bank throws at it?

So I began by saying I’ve been thinking about the ‘edges’ of user experience. It’s easy to think about the historical deliverables, in terms of Information Architecture. But it’s more difficult to understand the role that User Experience might have to play in terms of business process change.

As businesses and organisations offer more information and functionality through more channels and in more places, it is imperative that someone considers who all of this was being done for to begin with. If the output, due to internal disagreement, is already a compromise, then the experience for the individual can only be fragmented.

Is the ownership, or at least the nurturing of this finally a job for the UX Strategist? Or are we now going even beyond this to a Board or Management team level role that is responsible for the integrated experience?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Update: 29 August 2011
There’s also another good take on Pervasive UX @windahl‘s blog.

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