May 13, 2019 by Ann Brigida, CTS, CStd

This is the first in a series of blogs from members of AVIXA’s User Experience Design for AV standards task group.

AV thinkWalt Disney. I’m betting most of you know who Walt Disney was. If not, I’m betting you’ve been touched by one of his products. The name Disney is synonymous with words like “magical.” Walt created a spectacular world of imagination.

Why am I thinking about Walt Disney and his empire? Simple. I am trying to figure out how to compel you to change how you look at things and begin to approach AV in a new way. The world is becoming increasingly dependent on AV. It isn’t just an enhancement tool — it’s a necessity in many cases. So how do we, as the AV industry, deliver on a promise to provide the best experience possible? We take a page from Walt.

AV is different from other building trades; it functions more as the heart and soul of a space because it impacts how people experience that space. Don’t get me wrong: I know AV does not exist in a vacuum. Many things contribute to the overall experience. I have nothing but respect for the trades that provide wireless internet and creature comforts; I know the value of a comfortable chair and a warm enough/cool enough room when you’re trying to provide an inviting space. And without the infrastructure that includes IT, the world as we know it comes to a screeching halt. But AV practitioners have an advantage over the other building trades because they provide the means to an end. AV is the very visible/audible part of the experience (sorry, HVAC and plumbing).

AV systems aren’t at the intersection of art and science, they are the intersection of art and science. They are the direct line to the very reason people occupy a space in the first place — to learn something, see something, hear something, do something. People interact with our systems. We provide the necessary and the exciting!

So, how do we help people understand that AV isn’t only about the gear? That it’s about people and how they interact with our systems?

Think a New Way

We need to think in a new way about our business models, talking points, project goals, services, and most importantly, about the value of our contribution to the user experience.

It isn’t going to be easy. As we start the transformation, here are a few things to consider. If you try at least one, you’ll probably see positive results.

1. Instead of focusing on the gear, focus on the outcome.

The next time you chat with a potential client (or you are the potential client), see if you can make it through the entire introduction without mentioning equipment. That whole solution thing you do at the first meeting? Don’t do it. It’s premature and you may end up solving the wrong problem by providing the wrong solution. Focus instead on the purpose of the project (the why), the people, how they will interact with the technology, and the problem/opportunity that using AV will solve/provide. If your client mentions a brand, or a specific piece of equipment, take the opportunity to remind them of your expertise as the reason they’re wisely including you in the project. Bring them back to the conversation about the expectations of the user.

Walt Disney knew that cleanliness mattered to his users’ experience, so he took it upon himself to observe visitors to his first park and discovered that people would carry their own trash for a distance of about 30 feet (roughly 9 meters) and then toss it on the ground, so at every Disney park, trash cans that Walt himself designed are placed precisely 30 feet (9 meters) apart.

2. Instead of focusing on the gear, focus on the service you’re providing.

Most of the time, this term refers to bringing AV into the “managed services” arena by offering service contracts, leased equipment, etc. But there’s another important conversation that needs to happen as it relates to AV systems and it’s that each system you are designing, integrating, or requesting is just equipment until the designer, integrator, engineer, manufacturer or technology manager adds their expertise to the mix and determines the best use of the gear for the goal at hand. That expertise is the most important piece of your business. Try to think of the service you and the AV system are providing.

Disney provides a top-quality, reliable, exceptional experience. They have high standards that are used across the entire company without exception. That’s their service. What’s yours? 

3. Instead of going the ‘good enough to get by’ route, educate people on why your solution will produce the best result.

I can’t count the times I’ve heard that the low bidder wins, so AV professionals have to cut, cut, cut, and therefore don’t have the time/margin to do what needs to be done As a result, a system ends up being less than ideal. Money is definitely a consideration. But step back for a minute and consider why people are willing to pay so much for their phones? It’s because the service those phones provide is completely in tune with their needs. Can you imagine life without your mobile phone? Did you make your last buying decision based on which phone was the cheapest or which phone best suited your needs?

Why are people willing to pay so much money to go to Disney World? Do they look for a cheaper theme park? How you present your services has as much to do with managing expectations as it does the outcome. You may have to turn down some low-bidder business (which probably had a margin so thin it wouldn’t be worth it anyway) to begin to change the perception that “good enough” is okay.

4. Instead of focusing on your company, focus on their company.

Corporate goals affect budget. By considering the value that is placed on what you’re bringing to the table, you’ll be able to have the necessary conversations to increase awareness of your value, especially if you can convey your ability to provide the right user experience.

5. Instead of focusing on your expertise, focus on users’ expertise.

Listening is a skill. Use it. Users have a lot to say, and they appreciate being heard. Avoid yes/no questions and try to get as much information about how the system will be used. Then use your expertise to work on the solution.

6. Instead of focusing on how much user experience or design thinking will cost, focus on how much value it will bring by improving outcomes and returns on both investment and engagement.

I often hear that people can’t afford to add extra steps to their processes. I question that assertion, because until you’ve tried it, how do you know what the outcome will be? It’s been documented that incorporating design thinking into your practices can increase your profits. A study done by McKinsey & Company found that design-led companies experienced 32 percent more revenue and 56 percent higher total returns compared to other companies (based on 2 million pieces of financial data and 100,000 design actions over five years). Why not start with one pilot project and see how it goes?

Walt Disney studied the families that he hoped would visit his parks, and in doing so, created experiences for his visitors that last a lifetime. He had to think a new way — about trash, lines, music, and every detail of the magic that is Disney. I would venture to guess that highly successful companies already think this way.

If yours hasn’t started to yet, I urge you: Think about what you do in a new way.

Walt Disney may not have been the original design thinker, but he surely put it into practice in a way no one else had. You can do the same. The results speak for themselves.  

Today, AVIXA is working on tools to help you incorporate design thinking into your everyday work. An international task group is working on guidance for focusing on the user experience. Curious about some methods you can use right away? Stay tuned.

About Ann Brigida, CTS, CStd

Ann Brigida, CTS, CStd, is Senior Director of Standards for AVIXA. She has served on the Board of Directors for SES, the Society of Standards Professionals, and was the publications council director. A licensed educator and former business owner, Brigida has won numerous writing awards, including the 2013 World Standards Day Paper Competition for her paper, "At Work and Play and Everything in Between: Standards Keep the Ball Rolling." She was named as one of the industry’s influential women in “Power Players: Honoring Exemplary Women in the Industry” in 2015 by SCN (Systems Contractor News).