I was very fortunate to be asked to speak at BZ Media’s SPTech Conference in Boston this week. My talk was “Way Beyond Portals: SharePoint as the User eXperience Platform (UXP)” where I explored the concept of utilizing SharePoint as an underlying technology for enterprise driven user experience based systems.
While there was a lot of talk at the conference about technical topics related to SharePoint, there were also quite a few sessions on branding, user acceptance, and maturity. Unfortunately, there was also a lot of chatter that seemed to confuse the topics. It got me thinking about the distinctions between branding, user acceptance, as well as maturity and how those things contribute and factor into user experience.
- Branding – I have never experienced a business application that was relevant because it was branded, but I have experienced many applications that fail because they failed to attract enough attention to be relevant. “Don’t put lipstick on a pig” was an analogy I heard mentioned, but I would argue that the only time you should build a pig is if your end goal is bacon, and if that is the case, bacon is a better brand than the pig. The distinction here is that branding is not something you decide whether or not you need, it’s a requirement. There are varying levels of effort that go into branding, but it’s just not optional.
- User Acceptance – There are two components to user acceptance, position and value. Branding fits on the positioning side of the equation while value determines how “sticky” the application is. There are many sites that are positioned well in terms of both branding and purpose, and pass initial acceptance, but over time fail to show sustained value. Information sites tend to fall into this position. I think that there is a place for information sites, but we need to make intelligent design decisions on how “sticky” we want those sites to be. If we want sustained acceptance we need to design in value that exceeds knowing something to include a connection to real work.
- Maturity – As the architect of the SharePoint Maturity Model, Sadie Van Buren is the pre-eminent expert on defining maturity for SharePoint installations. While branding is a component or indicator of a mature model, a branded site is not necessarily a mature site. While user acceptance is not a named component of the maturity model, it’s hard to imagine a mature application of technology where acceptance was not achieved. I think the real power of the maturity model is as an indicator of the willingness to leverage technology for real business purposes (value). Highly mature installations show both intuitive user experience and a clear business-based purpose.
- User Experience – Defining user experience as the culmination of the acceptance of a process and the ability perform a value-based behavior, it’s easy to see how important branding, user acceptance, and maturity are to user experience. It’s impossible to have a successful user experience if the design of that experience fails in any regard. User experience isn’t just a branding exercise; it also involves the performance-based design that demonstrates sustained value and maturity.
Clearly there are valuable distinctions between these topics but they are all critical components of successful technology implementations whether they are SharePoint sites or applications, and all deserve an effort in our design processes. As I continue to think and write about user experience it occurs to me that best user experience may not be a “positive” one. While we certainly don’t want to create negative experiences, if our experiences are truly intuitive and functional they are transparent in and of themselves. Positive and negative are only relative to prior experience. But I will write more on that some other time.