Paul Boag knows user experience, as well as the value of a provocative headline. His blog, Boagworld, is full of articles that make clicking almost impossible to resist.

Do you value your role in the user experience revolution?

Is it ever okay for designers to manipulate people?

Is digital transformation in danger of crushing your I.T. team? Who the hell are you anyway?

Clearly, Boag has a lot to say. 

So CMSWire caught up with the UK-based user experience consultant, speaker and author of Digital Adaptation to hear more, including a preview of the keynote he'll deliver at eZ Systems' annual user conference in Paris next month. The two-day event, eZ Conference 2016: Beyond the Web, is the largest gathering of the open source content management system's worldwide community.

It will bring together experts in digital strategy, marketing and engineering to exchange ideas on how to deliver remarkable digital experiences. 

Boag will take the stage to explain why the majority of traditional businesses are struggling to adapt to the digital economy and why they need your help (even if they don't realize it) and what the web community can do about it. 

To build a great website, he contends, the web community has to be the catalyst for organizational change — and organizations need to develop a user experience-focused culture to optimize digital technologies.

Paul Boag: Adapt and Brace for Disruption

Boag, according to his LinkedIn profile anyway, likes to think of himself as a "digital mentor" who helps organizations use the web, social media and mobile to reach connected consumers. 

He guides them through the process of adapting to the digital world by:

  1. Consulting: Boag help organizations adapt to the changes digital have brought. "I review their digital assets and help create better experiences for their connected consumers," he said.
  2. Writing: Boag has written four books on various aspects of digital and also writes for many different publications.
  3. Speaking: "I have been fortunate enough to spend the last 8 years traveling the world talking about the web, social media and mobile," he said.
  4. Training: Boag runs in-house training workshops, produces training material and offers an ongoing mentorship program.

His clients include not-for-profits such as the European Commission,the UK's Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and Doctors Without Borders.  He was one of the founders of London-based Headscape, an organization that helps clients plan, implement and evolve their websites and other digital products. While he has moved on from the project, he is still a director and collaborates with the Headscape team on specific projects.

So why is user experience and digital success such a passion?

Q&A with Paul Boag

Roe: Why do people struggle with UX?

Boag: It’s a problem with legacy companies. It’s not an issue for startup companies, for post-digital companies. What it boils down to is that companies that have been around for a long time, before digital come along, have established approaches. They have an established methodology that has worked for them for years and years and years. It's baked into the organization

Organizations run on muscle memory, which is fine until the world changes around them, which is exactly what digital has done. It has changed the world. It has changed consumer behavior. It has changed the way we buy products. It has changed the way we interact with companies.

Roe: How have these organizations adapted?

Boag: Organizations haven’t really adapted. If you look at the mission statement of just about any company, it will talk about providing an outstanding customer experience or service. So organizations know it is important. It’s just that they are caught in behaviors that are engrained in the company culture. 

They don’t really understand the damage they are doing to the user experience. Let’s face it, most senior management teams and a large number of people in large organizations have very little connections or contact with the user so they are not actually exposed to pain points

Roe: So where lies the problem?

Boag: Well if you speak to the average user experience professional, you don’t need to teach them what needs to be done. You don’t need to teach them how to wireframe. They don’t need to be taught how to do usability testing. They know all of that. The problem is that they are often not able to do all that stuff in the culture of their organizations, because most organization are not optimized for that kind of activity.

Roe: How does this impact on the digital workplace?

Boag: It impacts the way work is done. User experience is prioritized on who shouts the loudest. Entire organizations are run in terms of business silos. Yet customer experience exists across those silos, so as a result, it falls between them all.

Roe: How is it impacting consumers?

Learning Opportunities

Boag: Take a consumer product like a laptop, for example. A few years ago if we wanted to buy a laptop, we had a handful of local places that we knew sold laptops. Now every person with a smartphone has access to every place on the planet that sells laptops.

That shifts the power from the company to the consumer. Add to this that those customers have a massive audience that they can share it with. Just look at how many people are following you on Twitter, and that’s just your immediate network. The problem is that a lot of companies don’t see the world in this way. They still believe that in this connected world, the power lies with them.

Roe: So how do you change this culture?

Boag: It is mind numbingly complex. It depends on the kind of company, the size of company, on all kinds of things. The presumption here is that this is not going to come from management. Management is not going to wake up one morning and change the way it does things, or get that this as a problem. So where does it start? It’s going to start with people that get it. It’s going to start with user experience people.

Roe: How should they user experience people proceed?

Boag: You have to find the people in your organization that get what needs to happen. Create a little community, a grassroots movement within the company. Start organizing them the same way you would in politics. You put a manifesto together, you start campaigning to raise the profile.

Then you introduce some pilot projects where you can prove the validity of the user experience, where it is uncoupled or unrestrained by politics or technology legacy.

You look at how you present that to management. Once management is on board, you can start addressing the bigger and wider culture issues in terms of how you train people, how your inventive people, how you motivate people.

Roe: So the key is changing the corporate mentality?

Boag: It’s very hard to separate corporate mentality and culture. When you talk user experience, a lot of people immediately think user interface and in truth most of the user experience has nothing to do with the interface, nothing to do with the pixels.

Take an e-commerce transaction. Yes, there is the interaction on the website, but after that there are confirmation emails, delivery issues, the returns policy, the after sales service.

Disney just spent $1 billion to renovate their parks for the Disney magic bands. The bands have no user interface at all, but create amazing experiences. Mickey Mouse can come up to your daughter and wish her a happy birthday by name. You know what rides are free and available to go on. You can unlock your hotel room door. You can pay for things without ever taking out your wallet. All these amazing user experience have been created without any interface.

Roe: Where is the future heading?

Boag: Incredible disruption on the way. We are going to lose a lot of major players. A lot of them are going to supplanted by a new generation of companies. I think there will a shift away from a mass media, mass advertising kind of approach to business to a situation where the user experience is the primary differentiator.

In the past the way you made a bucketful in business was though marketing and advertising. Now it’s about the experience, even more than the features of the product itself. The most valuable commodity in western society is going to be time and people will pay a premium to organizations that can save them time and save them hassle.

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