User experience goes well beyond what’s on the screen

By: Michael Frendo, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Engineering, Polycom

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One of my personal pet peeves is the way the tech industry defines “user experience.” If you listen  closely, you’ll notice many identify that experience as only what is seen on screen.  We often hear a device or application has a “terrible UI” or that it “didn’t have a real user in mind.” While that can be true, it shortchanges the work that many, many engineers and user experience professionals do every day.

The best user experience, after all, is one that doesn’t call attention to itself because it seems so natural. User experience goes well beyond the graphical user interface (GUI) and, as a technology community, we need to think this way. Let me explain.

Some companies have recognized the value of the experience goes well beyond the interface and have developed a dedicated customer experience organization designed to champion the end-to-end experience. They have groups which focus on everything the user experiences – from unboxing a device and setting it up for its first use to identifying and eliminating dissatisfactions that only arise after extended use. Sure there are minute details including things like “where is the “send” button” is or “what is the color of the “microphone mute?” However these are also major hurdles that need to be overcome in order to avoid eventual user disuse or disfavor.

If you’re an engineer, you’ve likely heard customer irritations about various product qualities, such as poor sound quality, erratic wireless connectivity, constant updates, lousy battery life and more. While some of these complaints might have nothing to do with the product itself, all of these issues ultimately impact and influence the user’s experience and need to be taken into consideration by any product developer.

As I focus on video collaboration technologies, taking this end-to-end approach to the overall experience is a critical element for dedicated teams using these platforms. These users do care about the GUI, but really they are about making the technology “disappear” as much as possible.

When you are trying to connect with colleagues, friends or family on the other end of the video call, you don’t want to be distracted or sidetracked when the technology asserts itself in the form of “glitchy” video, or accentuates background noises. Or even a remote that won’t work.

This is particularly important in video collaboration, because video technologies are the most sensitive to any network issues.

Background noise is also a constant irritation cited by many users. How many times have you heard, “whoever is typing, can you please go on mute?” Wouldn’t it be great if the system could recognize non-verbal noises and automatically mute them? No more keys clacking or chip bags crinkling!

As video is inherently visual, your ultimate goal is to see and interact with the people on the other end as if you were physically present in the same room. In most cultures, eye contact with others in the conversation is an essential component of communicating with credibility. If the speaker is moving in a room or a person who isn’t on the camera asks a question, you automatically lose the reason you’re using video in the first place.

Wouldn’t it be great if the camera automatically detected the speaker? What if the camera could detect the number of faces in the room, and adjusted its frame of view to accommodate accordingly?

Until people become familiar and comfortable with using high-quality video regularly, any hurdle to joining can be the reason they default back to the known quantity of just joining by audio. The biggest obstacles are in scheduling, and then joining, a video teleconference. Wouldn’t it be great if everything were integrated into the calendaring systems we already use with intuitive ways to join video conferences?

I encourage you to take a look at user experience with a broader lens and let me know what you think. What user experience would you most like addressed?

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