We live in a connected world, and that world is ever evolving. Where just a few years ago, early adopters of technology had to actively seek out devices that were smart, these devices have now become mainstream. The general consumer may very well purchase a device and learn that it comes with a level of smartness that they did not expect. Examples such as thermostats and TVs come to mind.
Through these smart devices, our world is digitally connected. Customers expect seamless, connected experiences and choices to engage in being connected. Brands need to provide functionality that is both natural to the user and to the channel.
Customers and Seamless Experiences: Music and Books
Above all, consumers expect a seamless experience. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. A main advantage of being connected is the ability to switch contexts by moving between devices, while picking up where one left off. Yet these switches are only seamless when everything lines up just so.
To share a couple of examples from my daily life:
I may want to play music on different devices throughout the day, depending on my situational context: on my computer when I'm working, my phone when I’m in the kitchen, my car when I’m picking up dinner. I want to say, tap or click “play” and continue my previous listening experience. This seems straightforward enough, almost a basic expectation in this day and age.
Yet to make this work, every device I use needs to have access to the music app. This may require a setup process. Think about connecting a third-party skill to a smart speaker. And I may need to be logged in on each device, otherwise my history and preferences can’t be used. As a user, I am responsible for multiple setup and login processes if I want to enjoy this seamless experience.
Or, say I want to read my ebook on a device different from the one I used during my last reading session. I open the app, a book opens, but syncing to the last page read doesn’t move me to the correct page. (Later, I will realize that I turned on airplane mode on my device to conserve battery and as a result syncing doesn’t work.)
But in the meantime, this actually makes me wonder if the book I was just reading is the one that’s open on the current app. I am now confused about where I am in my book, and which book I am in. As a user, I find it too much hassle to figure this out. Instead, I’ll just wait until I get back to the other device I was reading on, and for now, I’ll just go download another ebook.
Score for the library subscription concept, but my confusion means that I’m treating my ebook the way I would a paper book. In that sense, technology isn’t helping me.
There’s a lot to unpack in these experiences. Clearly, many details need to fall into place for the user to have a seamless experience, and a number of these are the user’s responsibility. Good UX design can guide the user in these responsibilities to some extent, but overall, while a seamless experience is at the top of the list, it’s not an easy goal to achieve.
Related Article: Are UX and CX One and the Same?
Engaging Is a Choice
A connected world certainly has a lot of positives; we are able to reach friends and loved ones through a number of apps in a number of ways ranging from calls to real-time text-based communication and asynchronous communication. We can track people directly or indirectly, which may provide help or intervention in dangerous or difficult situations. We can also reach team members whenever we need to.
However, while this level of connectivity has many advantages, this is where we also start to get into possible negatives of being connected, especially when combined with expectations of being always available. The always-on burnout is real, as are the privacy concerns.
There are a number of ways in which device manufacturers and app developers are adding in an awareness of mental health prioritization and boundary setting, such as focus modes and activity profiles that are easy to activate and customize. Whether or not a person is connected and to what level, needs to be a choice. And as members of a connected world, we owe it to ourselves to be engaged with determining boundaries.
Interestingly, unplugging doesn’t have to mean turning a device off or disengaging from the device. There are many digital options that help boost wellbeing and counter digital burnout, such as meditation, stretch routines and soothing music.
Related Article: Is Social Media Ruining Our Lives?
Experiences Are Customized to the Channel
The onus of creating great and sustainable experiences in a connected world can’t be on the user alone. Brands have a responsibility to guide users through great UX design and experiences that delight by providing functionality users want and need, and through optimizing to the specific channel.
At a most basic level, this means that core actions need to be available to the user in a way that is most suited to the channel. The example used earlier of playing music shows that one expects to click a “play” button with a mouse on a computer, tap a button with a finger in a mobile app, and say “play” in a voice interface. There is consistency in the functionality, and the action is adopted to the channel and interface.
What’s perhaps less understood is how to truly use the uniqueness of each channel to further delight the user. Every channel has strengths and weaknesses. Take, for instance, a reordering scenario using voice. Saying, “reorder toilet paper,” is a lot easier than opening an app, finding said toilet paper, putting it in the cart and ordering. On the other hand, if a user needs to select an item from a list of eight items, a visual interface in an app is much preferred over a voice interface since users wouldn’t be able to retain those eight items to then make a choice.
The question for product managers and designers is how to take advantage of the different channels to bring in new functionality based on the channel. And the danger may be that users become unclear as to what specific functionalities are available in which channel. We’ve all hunted around for some functionality in a mobile app, only to finally learn that what we were looking for is only available on the website, for instance.
While we’ve certainly taken steps towards optimizing the user experience for connected devices, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially as we add more and different devices into the mix. The advice for brands who wish to provide great experiences: put thought into the creation of connected experiences, gather feedback from users, and iterate, as needed.
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