From Product to Ecosystem: User Experience as a Flow and Narrative
Every product or service is today part of an ecosystem: as a consequence our user experiences span more and more several channels and devices. In such a perspective information architecture and UX design have to embrace the idea of flow and narrative.
Today every artifact (product, building, place etc.) is more and more part of an ecosystem. A lot of tasks we perform every day, to be made, requires in fact a transit across multiple devices and environments, often spanning the physical and digital domain. For example, I could hear about a book on TV, search on the web for some reviews, and finally decide to buy it to the near brick and mortar bookshop. Once in the shop, I could however have troubles locating the item without the aid of a salesman; furthermore, the experience might not end with the purchase, but continue, for example on the Web, while I look for more from that author or more on that specific topic.
Thus, the focus shifts from the single item to the cluster, from the product or service to the ecosystem. The boundaries between the domains are becoming thinner and thinner: this is what trans-media and cross-channel refer to. Many studies estimate that approximately 60% of U.S. consumers purchase products in brick and mortar retails after having extensively examined them online (features, reviews, etc.); in Europe more than 50% of search engines queries are about products or services seen on TV or in other traditional media.
What does that mean for the designer? Plain and simple, the necessity of embracing a holistic vision: to design not with the single artifact in focus, but with the ecosystem itself, the interconnected set of environments and services. It means rejecting a silo approach and working towards creating continuity between the artifacts that belong to any given cross-channel experience.
The concepts of flow and storytelling, conceived as enablers of such experiential continuity between related domains, become crucial in this perspective. The notion of wayfinding itself becomes wider: from a simpler signage system to a global set of strategies ensuring that recognizable patterns are in place for seamless journeying from one point to another of an ecosystem. Wayfinding helps transform cross-channel space into place, building that sense of place without which no meaningful experience is possible. Boundaries, interstices, connections, become decisive key points that structure the user experience.
September 17th, 2012