In Ross Popoff-Walker’s post he said that UX design at digital agencies is fucked. This is a statement that has been made by quite a lot of people of late and I have to say I don’t agree. User Experience Design is not fucked within digital agencies. Digital agencies themselves are fucked. Now, it would be wrong to tar every agency with the same brush there are some who are successfully covering all aspects of digital development for their clients including applying the focus on users first into the clients services.
But here’s the thing. The problem is not that digital agencies are fucking up UX because they stack the front of every project with a period blocked out for UXD only to roll into the same waterfall method that has served them well in the past, regularly ignoring all the research and planning that has come from it. It is because they never changed their own business model to focus on user experience. A digital agency is a service model, one which means different things to different people, for me a digital agency constitutes any organisation who is capable of managing and leading projects across the digital spectrum. I’m not just talking about a websites, or a new web/native app. I am talking about end to end of the life cycle of your clients service or product. The agencies that perform this and do it well have staff numbers in the 100s, have departments that specialise in SEO, social media, Marketing, revenue, design, development, R&D, animation and 3D modelling to name probably only a smidgen of what these giant corps contain. Because of this they are able to offer a complete service, something that the lazy sales team will tell you as a client is ’360 service’. They are capable of completing development cycles that have a start an end and a loop. This is where user experience as with all development excels. The learning from doing, observing and refining. Lisa Reichelt produced one of my favourite presentations of recent years which centred on why most UX is shite. It’s a great example of this failing but from the focus point of the client, something which I will touch upon later.
This is why some agencies are failing to deliver the expectations of their clients and their clients users when it comes to developments, because UX is not about deciding how many pages you’re going to wireframe, neither is it about what the sitemap is going to look like, or that content must come first, it’s not even about user testing. User experience is about taking a look at a business as a whole and highlighting the parts which are fucked up and how they can be made more appealing to the intended audience. Yes we start it by looking at a website, but how many times have you visited a site that wasn’t bad or used a product that you liked only to be spoken to like an ass hole on the telephone or receive a letter that made you see red? The website you have needs to show your heart on your sleeve, people want transparency, honesty and integrity even if it is just for buying a book for five bucks on Amazon.
There are hundreds of people in the industry who will disagree with me, but I have always believed that if you want to have a great user experience then be prepared to scrap your business model and start again. Digital Agencies have spent the last decade expanding by tacking services on the sides. Pretty much every digital agency started off as a design company, whether web design or print design. At some point they got a developer, then Google started getting bigger and people wanted to be at the top of search rankings so then the agencies started hiring marketing teams to work on keywords and the like, then Flash boomed and it was animators, people with skills in this new action script language and so on and so on and so on, forever expanding by shoe-horning other bits into a space where the people at the top only ever knew one thing; design.
Now we reach today. 2012 and one of the largest buzz words for the last two years has been UX. I have spent the last few years listening to clients continually say ‘we want to have a good ux’ only to feel underwhelmed or disappointed in projects when they don’t get the ideal solution I have suggested because their business model doesn’t allow for the best possible experience. The agencies themselves suffer from the same fate and they will continue to do so until they accept that everything they knew when they started is today, wrong.