May 23, 2019 by Pete Swanson, CTS

VideoCollaborationjpgWhether you are a technology manager for a client organization, a systems integrator, a design consultant, or a manufacturer – how much time do you spend dealing with complaints about a broken system or a perceived broken system? In my experience, support calls generally go something like this:

  1. The user is trying to work the system, but gets confused when the system doesn’t do what they want. They call to complain because they think the system is broken (user error).
  2. The user thinks that the system has a feature that it does not, such as expecting to be able to share two sets of content at once from a dual screen videoconferencing system, for instance. Frustrated because they can’t make it work, they call for help because it appears the system is broken (need training).
  3. There is a real fault with the design/installation and the system is actually broken.

In all three cases, the user experience has been compromised, and regardless of the reality, the system is perceived to be at fault, even when it isn’t. Many support calls fall under points number one and two, where  the system is not actually broken. These calls are often the results of misunderstandings, either because the user has expectations about how the system should perform or using the system is not intuitive.

What if I told you that adopting user experience (UX) design thinking is the key to reducing or even eliminating these misunderstandings? That’s right —  UX is where it’s at. It is the heart of AV systems design that considers the user first. If you deliver on UX, everyone is happy. For those focused on commercial factors, UX is where the margin is. It’s hard to commoditize an awesome user experience, so if you’re looking for a reason to expend effort here, look no further.

There has been a growing industry-wide interest and awareness of the importance of starting AV systems design with consideration of the user and the experience. While the concept has been around for a long time, it’s been popularized by new methods of adopting the design thinking techniques that can bring about new innovations and an outstanding user experience.

I have always believed in the power of delivering good user experiences, even when I didn’t know the exact term “user experience.” We have long thought of the user when we refer to the GUI,  – as in Graphical User Interface. Eventually, “GUI” has evolved to “user interface” and the “interface” is expanding to include things beyond the touch panel.

But the user interface, or control, is NOT the sum total of what experience/design thinking is about. Around four or five years ago, the word experience started coming into favor. The user experience (UX) seems to get the point across… that’s it, that’s what we’re supposed to be focused on – not the gear, not the technology, the experience! People pay for good (even great!) experiences.

To get to the heart of UX design, we need to change the way we look at the system and overcome the following myths:

Myth 1  Users Aren’t Smart

If users don’t understand a system you designed, that doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent – your system isn’t intelligent. Sorry, but that’s the reality. You have designed and built a system supposedly for your client, but the people who will use it don’t understand how to use it. That’s either a failure in design, in transition/documentation, or in the support model. On the flip side, get all these right and you’ve got happy users who want more of your services.

Myth 2  Feedback is Bad

Bad feedback is often feared by people. “I don’t know about these satisfaction ratings; what if the responses are negative?” This is the BEST news you’re ever going to receive. Your reputation is being tarnished by the work you did, and you have the chance to find out why and fix it. If you run and hide, they will still have a negative opinion and your reputation will be harmed without any input from you. If you get out front and fix it, they’ll be thankful.

Myth 3  UX is Time Consuming and Costly

Often, UX is dismissed as being too time consuming, costly, and maybe downright annoying because of users and their opinions. But you can’t afford to ignore UX. First, ask yourself if you will have time for the complaints that will likely emerge from the perceived “defects” after handover? Think about a recent project and how much time (and margin) it consumed. How much of that time could have been spent on early-stage meetings to validate expectations and understand needs/use cases? Taking the time to sit down and understand needs and use cases does not imply a “free for all” on requests/features and costs. Instead, it is an opportunity to align thinking, understanding, user appreciation of practical technical realities.

AVIXA is developing a standard: User Experience Design for AV Systems. This standard is being created to help everyone in an AV system design process to keep the users’ experience at the heart of the project. As one of our team members coined it, “We need to make sure that the experience defines the design, not the other way around.”  

Our task group is hard at work, and we’d like to bring you along as we develop the standard, so look for our updates. There is much to be done, but in the meantime, we already have one piece of advice:

Start every project by asking the “whys” so that you can get to the real purpose. For example: “Why are we building this system and who are the users?” Your “why” questions should be directed at the purpose for the project. Why does the client want this system in the first place? Keep asking “why” as you drill down to the specifics. You may be surprised at what you discover along the way. Lisa Perrine, Cibola Systems and fellow task group member, has more to say about designing with purpose. Stay tuned…

About Pete Swanson, CTS

Pete Swanson has more than 20 years of experience in AV, working variously as an AV systems integrator, a client-side AV designer for an investment bank, a consultant, a manufacturer’s representative and now for a global construction firm providing specialist technology input to major projects. He has also volunteered for AVIXA in various standards development roles over the past 10 years and put forward the proposal that formed the basis for the User Experience Design for AV Systems standard.