The Evolution of User Experience and its Role in “Winner Take All” Markets
As software continues to eat the world, many aspects of product development have been uttered endlessly to the point of non-meaning. One of these terms is UX or user experience. It’s become so prevalent and common-speak especially in pseudo-tech circles that most people identify it as simply the behavior and emotion of a user’s interaction with an application. While there’s a certain degree of truth to that, it’s scope has been limited to questions like “Is the app onboarding confusing?” and “Is the app frustrating or delightful to use?”
While these are important for sure, in my opinion, these should be some of the last questions to consider. An app, or any product, is merely a tool for something else, namely, the job it’s hired to do. You can have the most delightful onboarding experience filled with flashy animations and fluid interactions and can still come up short on the essence. How I see it, user experience design has evolved beyond the interaction with the tool. Rather, it’s the overall experience of an entity, all variables considered.
This starts with having:
- An extremely solid scope of the user and the friction they experience in dealing with a particular job-to-be-done
- A foundational understanding of the root of the problems that exists in the current implementation of this job
The more astonishing and accurate in detail, the better, given that it doesn’t succumb on delusion and confirmation bias. This is where it gets tricky: before assimilating yourself to a problem and the current solutions that exist, the absolute most important question to begin with is if it’s worth solving at all. (This is where Peter Thiel’s “secrets” concept comes in.)
Going back to the subject of UX, the companies, services, and products that provide the best user experiences do so beyond incremental improvements of the tools that currently exist. Instead, they attempt to attack the issue from a first principles standpoint and question the status quo: Why are things the way they are? What is the ideal scenario without thinking of the current constraints? A simplification of this is: If it worked like magic what would it be like? When it comes to winner take all markets, the experience of suppliers, distributors, and consumers/users have to be taken into account.
Any answers that come up will be ambitious, some bordering on the point of insanity, but that’s exactly the point. If you truly want to change a user’s experience, it requires tackling the biggest assumptions head on, and then working backwards from there. The goal is to reach a point where something is an order of magnitude more effective than the current solution but still technologically feasible. That requires prioritizing the user and her overall interaction with the job, not just the tool itself, but how she accesses the supply and distribution of said solution.
Ben Thompson’s “Aggregation Theory” captures this concept perfectly (emphasis mine):
This has fundamentally changed the plane of competition: no longer do distributors compete based upon exclusive supplier relationships, with consumers/users an afterthought. Instead, suppliers can be aggregated at scale leaving consumers/users as a first order priority. By extension, this means that the most important factor determining success is the user experience: the best distributors/aggregators/market-makers win by providing the best experience, which earns them the most consumers/users, which attracts the most suppliers, which enhances the user experience in a virtuous cycle.
UX is what determines winner-take-all, but it has to start at the very foundation and aim to nail the best experience in every level. This is obviously hard for startups to do from the very beginning as they won’t have the complete and perfect implementation; their biggest challenge is how to arrive at the sweet spot of solving the core problem a magnitude superior relative to the current solution and possible. From there is where the seed of disruption1 is planted and can grow.
You may not have the absolute best solution from the start, but thinking about how you will deliver the best experience across all layers overtime is imperative. The tool is a very significant part of that, but it’s not the only one. True UX is having an understanding of where we currently are and how we can make it exponentially better across all dimensions.
Another term that’s become jargon, but that’s for another post. ↩