Beware user experience overreach in your website overhaul

  • 5-Apr-2017

We're advising a large commercial enterprise in their selection of a new Web Content & Experience Management (WCM) platform. Concurrently this organization is also overhauling the user experience of their various digital properties. They've gone about it the right way: selected a reputable UX agency, figured out potential dependencies between the UX and technology work streams, and managed the overall effort as part of a holistic program that also includes careful attention to renewing their core content. All good stuff.

But I'm a bit worried. Specifically I'm worried about an over-ambitious UX strategy.

An Era of "Shelfscreens"

Usually such concerns flow in the opposite direction. Historically, user experience and information architecture experts have complained (rightly) about big hairy WCM platforms getting in the way of fashioning better user experiences. Even today, WCM vendor platform-creep remains a serious problem. Enterprises can still over-buy technology, and alas many do.

But I'm also seeing a trend where old habits of technology overreach are getting matched by UX overreach. Under the lure of big, beautiful UX plans, some customers are biting off more than they can chew, while failing to execute on the basics. Sometimes the push here comes from outside agencies who over-spec functionality that the customer can't sustain.

In lieu of shelfware, you can end up with shelfscreens: planned user experiences that you never roll out.

A good example of UX overstretch is promoting highly specialized personalization in lieu of more realistic segmentation strategies. (One of my favorite stories about this was when a senior US government executive demanded that a federal portal for small business owners display its content by business type and state, until a plucky underling pointed out that in fact, the agency had no content whatsoever "tailored specifically to a car wash owner in Rhode Island.")

Other examples of potential UX overreach can include:

  • Overly sophisticated "related content" modules that require unrealistically complex tagging and system intelligence
  • Ambitious content re-use visions requiring highly granular information models that become unsustainable over time
  • Devilishly complex navigation structures to support myriad potential user journey variants
  • Modifications to mobile and social experiences that require additional fields in the authoring environment
  • And so on...

It's hard for any digital engagement manager to say no to this stuff at first. The wireframes will entice. The new features will look delicious in Photoshop. The HTML prototypes will likely test well.

But then what?

A Reality Checklist for Agency Deliverables

I'd like to see UX consultancies include a special appendix when they deliver any spiffy new user experience plan. The appendix would contain a kind of "reality checklist" that itemizes the true level of effort and long-term impact for each proposed visitor journey:

  1. Here's the operational maturity and ongoing staff education you'll require
  2. Here's how your upstream editorial processes will need to change on Day One
  3. Here's the metadata savvy (and consistency!) you'll have to sustain across your enterprise
  4. Here's the impact on the technical development schedule
  5. Here's a weekly schedule for all the new professional image and media assets you'll need to refresh
  6. Here's all the various changes and additions to your content you'll have to make prior to migration
  7. Here's the battery of tests you'll need to run to monitor UX fidelity among multiple dynamic page components
  8. Here's how you're going to visually perceive all the variants for each content item, and all the downstream impacts of the changes you make
  9. Here's the performance hit at runtime
  10. Here's the new metrics you'll need to capture and analyze to prove value
  11. Here's the skillsets and level of effort you'll require on an ongoing basis to maintain this user experience
  12. This is what your repository will look like on Day 365

And oh by the way, here's the WCM functionality you'll require to execute the proposed experience.

Famous Bill Bass quote
Famous Bill Bass quote; but the opposite is true too...

Sometimes UX overreach can lead to enterprises investigating tools that are too complicated for them to deploy effectively. Those schedule and financial costs must get weighed against the benefits of each user journey.

What You Should Do

To be clear, I am a big proponent of UX methods. The right user experience should become your primary goal, with technology playing a supporting role.

Just take the same critical eye to the practicality of proposed UX plans as you would to the suitability of any new technology you introduce into the enterprise. Ask for that UX checklist.

And you need any help selecting technology or agencies, see how RSG is uniquely suited to help you be successful.

Our customers say...

"As high-end web consultants, we use a variety of research tools to keep on top of the evolving technology platforms. Among these, Real Story Group is by far the best--a sort of bible for our CMS consulting practice. We've used The Web CMS Research both to get a jump on understanding products in advance of a formal CMS selection, as well as to start the conversation about potential partnerships. It's also great when a client asks you about an obscure product -- and you can get back to them within an hour with a grounded, thoughtful appraisal of the product, knowing that the information is accurate and written by analysts with real perspective."

John Berndt, President and CEO, The Berndt Group, Ltd.

Other Web Content & Experience Management posts

Tech Selection Tip #3: Setting the Right Business Foundations

  • May 22, 2017

Take a clear approach to decision-making to keep the process moving and ensure that decisions reflect broader enterprise priorities. You also want to ensure you have an accurate picture of enterprise maturity and capabilities to incorporate new digital capabilities....

Updates to WCM Vendor Reviews

  • May 19, 2017

Major forces are buffeting the Web Content & Experience Management (WCM) marketplace, and key vendors and open source players are tacking in different directions in response. Some are expanding the scope of functionality, others are narrowing their focus, while others simply sail on like it's still the good old days....

Selection Tip #2 - Build the Right Team

  • May 16, 2017

The main point here is that people with different expertise and responsibilities should have input into the process, although a business leader ultimately drives the decision-making with significant IT input....