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Real-Life UX, or Everything I Know I Learned at the Zoo

real life UX Real Life UX, or Everything I Know I Learned at the Zoo

By Dan Licht (@thedvl)

On a recent trip to the zoo with my wife and son, I realized this place was designed. Not just the signage, or the plaques describing the animals genus or place of origin. I mean the entire experience. Some may say “duh.” It’s an attraction, of course. But I’m talking

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By Dan Licht (@thedvl)

On a recent trip to the zoo with my wife and son, I realized this place was designed. Not just the signage, or the plaques describing the animals genus or place of origin. I mean the entire experience. Some may say “duh.” It’s an attraction, of course. But I’m talking even deeper than where they place bathrooms or the conveniently located gift shops.

They built the whole thing. All planned. All engineered. All done for the user experience of 3 parties. Party number 1 is us, the viewing public who fork over our money to view the amazing creatures. And with my segue-way accomplished we have user group 2, the animals. Zoos are designed so meticulously for this group. I’m sure there are still some of you saying, “DUH”. But for a moment think of what it would be like if they didn’t. Would that tiger you love seeing be as fun to watch if it was placed in an environment for, say, gorillas? And what if they didn’t take the specific needs of said tiger in mind – did you know that tigers are solitary and there should be only one in the exhibit at a time? The 3rd group should be fairly clear by now: the zookeepers and other zoo staff. They have networks of hidden walkways, rooms, and paths used to get them from place to place quickly.

Clearly, I thought this was an interesting idea or else I wouldn’t have wasted the past 232 words on it. Though as interesting as I thought it might be I wanted to get my peers’ take on it. At the recent Creative UnConference organized by The One Show, I hosted a session on this very topic. I wanted to probe the minds and gain some insight on what others do with real life and its obvious impact on digital UX. There were some interesting highlights, most notably the fact that these observations must be common practice in our industry. I cannot imagine a UX designer worth their salt that isn’t at least thinking about how users in real life would use their product.

I made the case with the following example. Zemoga’s client Sears had a need: how to increase sales online via guided sell. Basically, get people who don’t know exactly what they are looking for to find exactly what they want in as little time as possible. We came up with the idea of the Matchmaker. This is a small application that lives on Sears.com. It asks the user 7 simple questions that, no matter what they know about a given product, they should be able to answer. Some sample questions for the HD TV matchmaker are “How far to you sit from your TV?” or “What do you plug into your TV?.” These simple questions asked in simple visual manner with multiple choice answers are easy for any user to answer. But more importantly, they are easy for our target to answer.

In order to identify what our user needed, we looked to real life for the answer. We did the research, we made ourselves the customer. We asked real life sales people what questions they get asked, and how they answer them. This is the fundamental point. UX is based in real life. Not some virtual reality where rules and conventions don’t apply. Because, my friend, they do. We must always look to how someone would do something offline. Then we can better build our digital experiences around them. Though always keep in mind, some experiences are better left off line and in person.

So what have you learned from real life?

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