UX - Conversion vs. Inspiration

A UX designer is a lot of things these days, from Visual Designer to Experience Researcher, the role has a broad range of responsibility that is rarely ever clearly defined. What makes a good experience for a customer or user? Obviously this responsibility falls somewhere into the hands of a UX designer, but that doesn't answer the question. I can go on Amazon or Ebay right now and find nearly anything I am looking for, pay for it, and have the item shipped to me with absolute ease and very little thought. Craigslist is an even better example of an easy to understand interface, the UX of Craigslist is basic, simple to understand, and completely uninspiring. For these companies, good UX is all about conversion. Amazon is known worldwide for their ability to get what you want as fast as they can. The job of UX at these retail sites is to drive conversion up, whether it's better recommendations, effective merchandising placements (the visual placements of products on the product walls), or "1-click" buying schemes. Knowing that conversion is there main goal, it's easier for the UX team to focus on how to improve site. User research, A/B testing, and data analytics are likely at the focus of their UX budget, all of it going to drive up sales on their website.

Now, let's move on to something a little more complicated such as Nike or Gap. Both are major brands that sell clothing and have a story to tell. Their websites sell millions of dollars of product a month which may potentially cannibalize their brick and mortar stores. What is the purpose of the website then? Is the UX team responsible for driving the website conversion, like Amazon,  or the overall conversion for the company by telling an inspiring story?  

Having been obsessed with everything soccer growing up, I can tell you the old Nike.com was the most inspiring thing I have ever seen on the web. Incredible videos, mind blowing graphics, and all of my heroes playing soccer in Nike gear, there was nothing that spoke to me like it and I have yet to find anything like this since. But there was one caveat, the site literally didn't sell anything. The user experience was in a league of its own, but its purpose was to inspire me. Did it work? Of course it did. Did it lead me to buy Nike products? Not at the time, but it definitely shaped my mind set of what I believe Nike to be as the coolest and most innovative sports brand around. My guess is that's what most consumers believe from the constant barrage of Nike branding. The UX over a decade ago is now causing me to go buy Nike today (now that I have a job and have a disposable income). How do you track that data? Where is that ROI found in the balance sheet? It's not.

Inspiration and branding is losing in today's world of data analytics in the field of UX. I see the UX team at my current company driven by only a few key factors - 

  1. Conversion Rate - Did the person buy something?
  2. Visual Design - Does the format of text and borders match our brand image?
  3. Behavioral Flow - How easy was it to navigate the site?
  4. SEO - Are we doing everything we can to have Google find us?

Where is the beauty of the site? You could argue visual design does that, but look at every major brand, Apple, Nike, & Coca-Cola, they all look the same. Minimalistic design, white background, HD images.... where is the inspiration of the old web? It's no longer there for a lot of reasons, but I believe that a UX designer can be the champion for creating a truly inspiring experience for potential customers that will drive them to keep coming back to the brand.

B Parsons