Friday, June 16, 2006


The field of user experience (and all that it encompasses) is both exciting and intimidating, and I sometimes I can't tell which is the result of the other. Maybe it's both. Wrapping your brain around some of the developments within the field can be difficult, but something is most definitely going on, and it's fun being a part of it.

I pulled jury duty yesterday. Waiting in the quiet room for the court officer to make the inevitable "thanks for sacrificing your day to fulfill your civic duty" speech -- 6 hours later, of course -- I had an opportunity to read a multitude of magazines. According to one of them, Vice-President Quayle is getting some flack for criticizing an episode of "Murphy Brown." But a more recent edition of Time features essays about the world's 100 most influential people, including the founders of MySpace and Flickr. They owe the success of their sites to a trend called CUSTOMER-MADE, which I found recently on a site called

The site defines the trend as follows:

CUSTOMER-MADE: “The phenomenon of corporations creating goods, services and experiences in close cooperation with experienced and creative consumers, tapping into their intellectual capital, and in exchange giving them a direct say in (and rewarding them for) what actually gets produced, manufactured, developed, designed, serviced, or processed.”

It's incredible what some companies are doing to "co-create" products and experiences with their customers -- take a look at the Trendwatching site for examples.

As I thought about it, it occurred to me that, in a sense, the web truly is in its infancy with respect to how it's used, by both users AND by content/service providers. Companies used to publish what they wanted, and what users saw is what they got -- sort of like traditional newspapers and magazines. Online polls, user feedback forms, etc. all provided a modicum of insight into user behavior and/or satisfaction, but served only to provide some guidance for the next cycle of company-focused content. Then came user groups, blogs, ebay, etc.

This trend -- using technology to engage meaningful, active collaboration between companies and its customers to produce products and services people will actually use -- would appear to be a ground-breaking and innovative concept. But is it really? "Giving them what they want" is a concept as old as commerce itself (an echo from a previous post). Knowing what they want -- and why -- is the tricky part, and that's where the field of online user experience comes in.

Gerry McGovern summed it up thusly: "The websites that succeed are customer-focused. The websites that fail use organization-speak and are technology-centric. It's as simple as that."

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