User Vision turned 15 years old in February – it seems like yesterday since we started but a lot has happened in the world of UX, as well as the company.
Our work has changed with the digital industry itself, evolving from usability to user experience, customer experience and service design to provide the best experience across the full customer journey.
A good time to be born?
User Vision was born at a rather inauspicious time. February and March 2000 saw the stock market floatation of the much-hyped Lastminute.com, whose plummeting share heralded the great tech and dot-com bust of the early noughties. The web-excesses and wayward business models of the time were exemplified in the demise of boo.com which confirmed to many that the web was not the magic money making machine that some expected.
Ironically, these early days when the value and role of web-based businesses were questioned was a great time to launch a business “focusing on the user experience” (our original strap line). Indeed, part of the reason why many web-based businesses failed was a disparity between their design and the expectations of the end customers.
This provided a solid platform for User Vision’s core proposition: that by understanding customers better and designing for them, businesses could avoid online pitfalls and reap the rewards of greater conversions and customer advocacy. This was a message that some web and eCommerce managers were keen to embrace, and we began enjoying exciting projects with clients in financial services, eCommerce, travel and government. We were off!
Usability vs Design : Which side are you on?
After a couple of years, the digital world licked its wounds from the bust and gave it another go. Usability guidelines began to be established and the standard of web design slowly improved.
At the same time the relative roles of usability and visual design were often hotly debated. Some even felt there was an inherent conflict between the goals of usability and good aesthetic design. Over time site design elements such as the Flash splash screens, frames and the ‘click here’ links fell by the wayside. Designers allowed their content to breath a bit more in white space on the page, and calls to action began to take on 3-dimensional reflective appearances.
Other digital trends took hold such as user-generated content, word clouds, tagging and ‘folksonomies’ as a form of IA created by the users themselves. Everyone was in thrall to the idea of “Web 2.0” and social media to publish digital content, and Rich Internet Applications introduced a new level of page dynamics that could greatly enhance (or confuse) the user experience depending on how it was implemented.
Web accessibility began to be appreciated more widely thanks to sites such as CSS Zen Garden which showed it was possible to combine attractive design with good code (something many did not believe). Businesses and agencies found that the web was the place to be again!
Meanwhile User Vision grew from its original offices into our current location where we created user experience research spaces of User Vision Focus and embraced the technology of eye tracking, portable usability labs and a more rapid, iterative approach to design enabled by rapid prototyping. Our client base grew in numbers and geography as we began providing services in the Middle East, beginning with Emirates Airline, still one of our most valuable clients and providing a rich variety of challenging projects.
In 2007 the modern mobile user experience was born with the introduction of the Apple iPhone. Despite Steve Ballmer’s derisory laughing at the iPhone it introduced a fundamental change in our expectation of what a phone can do. Smartphones were the must-have gadget; we discovered the joys and frustrations of directly manipulating tiny interfaces with our fingers, and for all of life’s problems “there is an App for that”.
The iPhone and native apps showed the potential to delight users, and the conversation tended to be less about “usability” and more about the “user experience”. It seemed every year was labelled as “the Year of the Mobile” as digital and marketing professionals saw more traffic arrive via mobile and tablets, and difficult decisions needed to be made about the relative merits of creating a dedicated mobile version of a site or even an app.
User Vision was an early adopter to the world of mobile user experience, performing research for mobile operators and handset manufacturers to research and design experiences as intuitively as possible. We expanded our testing equipment to include gooseneck cameras to better show the mobile user experience, and we began performing projects where the intended user journey crossed back and forth between mobile, desktop and even interactive TV. The world of the multi-channel user experience was being born.
Beyond products to services
As a company we have always understood that whilst the digital interfaces are very important, they are only part of the customer journey. Increasingly we are thinking about and designing for the overall customer journey, going above and beyond the many individual screens and gadgets to design the full customer experience. This is the exciting space where we currently find ourselves.
Although technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace (virtual reality, wearables and the internet of things surrounding us) there is always a risk that humans will be the weak link in the chain unless we design for their capabilities, limitations, desires and behaviours.
We have evolved over the past 15 years, and as we recruit more people to our team we will ensure that we have the skills needed to continue to shape the best customer experience.
We hope that you are looking forward to the next 15 years as much as we are.