A year at SapientNitro: U to C and back again

by boon

I recently passed the one-year mark at Sapient, and I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about it but have been procrastinating. Part of it was because I wasn’t sure if I had anything worth sharing to another UX practitioner that they didn’t already know.

The more I thought about it, the more depressed I got. Am I really learning anything or doing work that’s valuable? It was hard to put it into quantifiable terms. A hear people talking about the insights they’ve learnt from usability tests, designing a new reading experience for the iPad, writing books and inspiring articles, improving their UX process. I found it hard to say with conviction that I’ve learnt something new that someone other UX person hasn’t experienced so far or find valuable.

I began to ask myself why.

A lot of my work revolves around concepting, defining specifications and communicating UX strategy through wireframes, flows, user journeys and other deliverables I have no name for because sometimes I just cobble things together to make a point. But thinking in terms purely in terms of artifacts doesn’t answer the question of how effective one is in solving problems related to experience design.

So, I started thinking about the design process. Again, it was hard to put a finger on it. Some projects I work in run in a semi-agile format, with standups, sprint-like charts with weekly deliveries and design reviews fixed at specific times. Other projects I’ve worked on have been less structured. Again, I can’t say for sure what works best.

I also began comparing myself with the UX world beyond me. After my UX conference marathon which began in February 2011 with UX Hong Kong and ending in Interaction 2012 this year, my head was filled with all sorts of ideas about “The Future of UX”, “Lean Everything”, “Making Stuff”, and Unicorns. The more work I did, the more distant I felt from these ideas and lessons. Still, I soldiered on – believing that the inspiration had entered my unconscious and was working its way through my hands and tools.

I questioned the applicability of these ideas. How would a unicorn fit in a place like Sapient? How would Jeff Gothelf run a UX team here? Would any of our clients embrace The Future of UX? Would our clients really succeed if we convinced them decided to ship early and iterate through continuous testing and learning?

To an extent, I think my work has some evidence of that, but not entirely. Because a lot of these ideas have been put in specific frames, and those frames don’t exist in many places. It’s also very hard to flex organisations and practices around a new frame than it is to reshape the frame and change what’s inside it. Many of these frames are also owned and acted on by imaginary, ideal agents. In the real world, ownership and responsibility is far more subtle and complex.

Also, clients are very different than UX designers.

In fact, clients are very different from each other. And it makes for exciting as well as difficult projects. In some projects, I think a lot more about our clients’ business than I do about UX.

And then I start to wonder why UX people don’t talk about clients and their businesses.

That led me to realise that project success isn’t always measured by UX-related metrics – so a lot of my work (and thus, learning) is influenced by something other than UX. In fact, it’s measured more by Customer Experience (CX) metrics, which changes depending on which client you’re speaking to.

I had wrongly assumed user experience equals customer experience. It’s not. It’s like different set of cultures and beliefs, although they may share some anatomical similarities. This is probably why most business people don’t attend UX conferences.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that there’s a gap between UX and CX, like two brothers who refuse to talk to one another but are forced to live together somehow. And it’s like UX wants CX to be more more like UX, and vice versa.

So, then I asked myself if I’ve learned more about CX over the last year. I probably have, but it’s hard to say exactly what about CX I’ve learnt – partly because there seems to be no hard definition of CX as of yet. I could probably make one up and sound like I’m making sense.

I do know, however, that I’ve contributed to both my client’s understanding of UX and my understanding of the CX of their business. We’ve learnt to translate each other’s languages a little bit to hold a decent conversation.

So in summary, translating UX to CX (and back again) is what I’ve gotten better at doing in the last 14 months, and it’s something I’m thinking more about from now on. This makes sense to me, as I happen to work for an organisation that calls itself the world’s first customer experience company.

Related reading:

Customer experience vs. User Experience - Leisa Reichelt, disambiguity.com
What is an experience strategy – Steve Baty, Johnny Holland
Understanding customer experience – Harvard Business Review