Total User Experience – TUE

People buy products to accomplish a personal objective.  The companies that develop successful products help people accomplish their objectives in a compelling and easy way. To be truly successful in the long run, they must address the big picture. That is, the perspective that makes the customer glad they bought the product and compels them to be a repeat customer and an ambassador for the product.  The big picture is a challenge to create.

Some companies approach the challenge by loading their product with features, sometimes just one more than on their competitor’s product.  This will attract customers to the product and that’s the necessary first step to a sale.  A study (Rust et al, 2006) has shown that, in fact, peoples’ buy decisions are highly influenced by product features.  Based on the results of an experiment simulating an in-store experience, the authors concluded, “Consumers know that products with more features are harder to use, but before they purchase a product they value its capability more than its usability”.  The results of a related study in which participants performed typical tasks using working models of two products led them to conclude, “Once consumers have used a product, their preferences change.  Suddenly, usability matters very much”.  The authors offer several ways for developers to address the contradiction between more features and usability.  All of them are aimed at finding a happy medium between the two.

While this was a useful study that confirmed what many already know anecdotally, I contend there is much more to the big picture.  Feature bloat that influences purchase behavior must be balanced with the whole experience of ownership after purchase.  Performing typical tasks is only one piece of that entire experience.

The real challenge for product developers is to consider the Total User Experience (TUE) when developing a product.  The Total User Experience encompasses all encounters the customer will have with the product.  For consumer and business products which are comprised of hardware and/or software, my model of total user experience has six components:

  1. Acquire (all customer touch points prior to and including acquisition that affect customer perceptions)
    Examples: demo, trial, product literature, payment, advertisement, order, wait, subscribe, negotiate
  2. Prepare to use (all out-of-box activities prior to the start of learning to perform intended tasks)
    Examples: open package, remove, read instructions, assemble, set up, download, install, get situated, store
  3. Use (ease of learning and use, pride of ownership)
    Examples: appearance, affordances, instructions, productivity aids, navigation, terminology, carry, transport, clean, replenishment/replacement 
  4. Maintain (performing unplanned activities to keep product working properly)
    Examples: troubleshoot, repair, update, clean
  5. Get Support (acquiring knowledge needed to maintain product)
    Examples: help line, training, web site, service
  6. Terminate (properly ending ownership when no longer intending to use product)
    Examples: disposal, uninstall, store

Unfortunately, most companies have a fragmented approach to dealing with user experience.  Different components are handled by different areas of the company and are not coordinated into a big picture approach to the total user experience.  When I conducted a bench marking study of Human Factors organizations in six Fortune 500 companies, I learned from each interviewee, a manager responsible for the company’s Human Factors function who gave self-ratings of their function’s contribution to each TUE component, that their contribution to development of the user experience for the companies’ primary products was strong for the Use (#3) component as expected for a usability function.  Unexpected was their weaker contribution to all other components.  Only one company has a high or medium contribution for all components.

For the full report, please contact me, Stan Caplan.