The Consumerization of User Experience (UX)

ux imageI’ve spoken before about the importance of user experience (UX) design associated with the development of applications that support knowledge management initiatives and efforts.  And in fact, I’m scheduled to discuss the topic again as a part of ILTA’s presentation track at LegalTech NY in 2014.  As I ponder this topic, and as I write a section about UX in my forthcoming book about KM in the legal profession, I am reminded of the idea that I presented in my first talk about UX: that we are undergoing a phenomenon that I call the “consumerization of user experience.”

This idea is similar to the familiar phrase “consumerization of IT,” which refers to people comparing experiences with their personal technology to the experiences they have with technology that they are “forced to use” in their professional lives.  Early on, this comparison was mainly focused on system performance (“my home PC is 10 times faster that this piece of *&^% that I have to use in the office”).  Some people even resorted to bringing their own personal notebook computers to work so that they could avoid the frustration of the standard issue equipment.  I recall, years ago, that I purchased (at a then significant cost) a 20-inch, wide view, flat screen Dell computer monitor to attach to my office PC because I found the office monitor (a small 17-inch flat screen) to be completely inadequate.  Happily, some things have changed.  More and more “office tech” started catching up to what people tend to have at home.

But now, the “consumerization of IT” has turned into the “consumerization of user experience.”  It’s no longer the system performance, or size of the monitor that people are focused on (although, who wouldn’t love to have a beautiful 27-inch iMac  in the office)… today it’s the entire experience.  In the last few years, people are again wishing things in the office were more like they are at home (or even on their commute).  The blame (or credit, depending on your perspective) falls squarely with Apple, specifically with the iPhone and iPad.  While there are now other, similar phones and tablets that provide a wonderful user experience, it is undoubtedly Apple that opened this Pandora’s Box of good UX design for all to enjoy.

After using these devices, going back to the clunky, confusing desktop world of Outlook, Word, and Internet Explorer is a chore.  The iPhone and iPad have ruined it for us because we are once again reminded daily of the difference between our personal experience on our iDevices and our work experience on our PC devices.

The one upside, at least for those in KM who are involved with application development, is that lawyers have taken note.  They are now expressing opinions (some more vocally than others) about how things should work.  They want applications (especially those supporting KM initiatives) to be simple, intuitive, and (gasp!) enjoyable to use.  In short, they are demanding a better user experience.  This goes double for any applications that are designed to be client-facing.  And by the way, even those who are not expressing those opinions still want a better experience – they just haven’t found the right person to whom they are supposed to complain.

So, while the “consumerization of IT” may be in our past (maybe), the “consumerization of UX” is alive and well.

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