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I met with yet another bank this week, this one in Singapore. They were smart and aggressive. They understood that their future success will be based on the quality of their digital customer experience. After all, they just can't differentiate by taking more customers out on the golf course. The technology is the new face of the bank. But then I described the golden thread and the fact that in most organizations it is broken. That again resulted in sideways glances and laughter. It's a punch line because it is so damn true.

To have effective digital offerings it is not enough to create usable software. The software must be an extension of 'executive intent'. This is the time-sensitive direction of the organization. It comes from the top level. And it SHOULD direct strategy. The strategy should direct innovation. And the innovation direct design (right, that then directs coding and deployment). The trouble is that the thread is usually broken. In the end, we see organizations whose technology group simply codes the functions for the type of application. And the executives and strategists writhe in frustration.

You might think that a usability group can fix this. Because it is our job to ensure that the technology team is NOT just coding functions, but meeting real user needs. And in fact, if we are there, things are better. But, most usability groups fail to connect to the golden thread of executive intent, strategy, and innovation. This needs to change!

Usability practitioners must be able to hear, discuss, and contribute up the golden thread. We need to understand the language of executives and strategists. We need to be able to bring them the value of our user centered insights. In Singapore, I was meeting with the top bankers in charge of the banking channels. We were planning how to make their bank truly differentiated in the market. Not just by making a usable interface (in fact, the need for that was a given). Not just by making the designs persuasive (though that will be part of the solution). We were looking for disruptive strategies and innovations that will take a commoditized business and make it differentiatied and profitable.

I think it's time usability staff went beyond writing for the web and started designing for the BIG. I hope I can help make that happen.



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Comment by akulashashi on May 12, 2010 at 11:29am
I know Pondy is lovely town and I also know that you sing for band... I would definitely inform you in advance and make sure i will meet when I am passing by :)
Comment by Eric Schaffer on May 12, 2010 at 11:23am
Pondy is a lovely town. If you are passing through drop me a line :) I always like to meet colleagues.
Comment by akulashashi on May 12, 2010 at 11:11am
I am have finished the 10 days course and I am writting my exam in next coming months. Today every individual who want to usability he going thourgh this pain face and thank's to you, If this bridge will happen, you will definitly be called "the carpainter of design". Eric, I guess you should call for a small camp meets in pondicherry for all those who have taken CUA course to share there experience... I am not sure who many would agree with me but I am one who is waiting to meet you soon... :)
Comment by Eric Schaffer on May 12, 2010 at 11:01am
You've got it! We just don't provide full value when the thread is broken. So it's not just usability. We also need alignment. I am just walking through the final review cycle on the new BIG course. Seeing the language and concepts we needed to cover made me really understand the gap between UX speak and the executives/strategists. It will be interesting to see that gap bridged. (Did you finish your CUA? Might be worthwhile!). (Jyoti is here with me now at the Pondicherry office, doing very well) Best Eric
Comment by akulashashi on May 12, 2010 at 10:50am
Hi Eric,
It’s really a B.I.G what you talking about Golden Thread, "The STRATEGY should direct INNOVATION. And the innovation direct DESIGN (right, that then directs coding and deployment)". I can feel that your innovation of Design for BIG will definitely be an eye opener for many upcoming innovations which are expected to happen in near future.
I agree that we cannot connect to executive intent, strategy, and innovation most of the times that might be due to lake of voice/Language. But your initiative of Design for BIG will give designer’s a better convincing voice and language to reach decision maker table.
I would personally thank you for the effort put in to bring the DESIGN in Right-in-Front of the decision making table, in simple words you are rewriting designer role definition which will play a key role.
It’s been long I wrote to you but FYI I have completed CUA 4 course training in Mumbai in last November 2009 batch and to let you know I am B.I.G fan of you, it might sound silly but that’s true. Infact I mentioned this with Jyothi Kumar who was our trainer for PRP.
Comment by Eric Schaffer on May 12, 2010 at 10:17am
Correct! That is what it feels like when the thread is broken. Awful!
Comment by Anindita Paul on May 12, 2010 at 10:08am
I experienced a similar situation recently when an insurance company wanted to get their wireframes evaluated. The usability team was asked to come and do a study with the wireframes. what lies before and after is immaterial. It is understood that lead generation is the primary goal for most of the businesses but at the same time a broader vision will help for effective decisions. It seems that the "thread" is knotted at places :).

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