Deep expertise and focus: Why it matters

March 1, 2013

A speaker at a conference I recently attended made a series of statements that really resonated with me. I felt as though he was able to put into a few words something that I’d always been aware of, but had never been able to articulate, or describe.

Here’s what he said:

“Intelligence comes from pattern matching.

Pattern matching comes from repeated application of expertise.

Repeated application of expertise comes from focus.”

Since the conference, I’ve spent time considering why and how it applies to what we do at Crux Collaborative. I think it helps explain why we are experts in our own UX niche. Yes, our own UX niche. Crux Collaborative’s focus is in data-driventransactional user experiences.

To put our own spin on what the speaker said, I’d change the statement slightly. I’d begin with the depth of our experience, and further clarify how our expertise fosters ongoing evolution in the field of user experience. Something like this:

“Our years of experience and focus have created deep expertise with transactional user experiences.

Our ability to apply that expertise in new areas allows our work to evolve, and strengthens our expertise.”

Ok, so how does this ability to evolve manifest at Crux Collaborative? What are our areas of “deep experience”? Here are three examples.

1. We have deep experience in usability testing and user research.

Several of our past Point of View articles (like this one and this one) reveal our expertise in usability testing, but it’s worth repeating. Because every time we’re able to conduct user research – in any format – we learn something valuable that helps improve the user experience. We can then integrate the findings as a core component of our process.

And we know it will be impactful. We don’t just think so, we know it. We know it because our experience has shown it, so we are able to apply our experience as demonstrated expertise and use the time and budget allocated to go after the data we don’t confidently know. For example, we do know that…

  • Users who don’t work in the field of interactive design really do want a home button. It’s a myth that everyone knows that you can click on a logo to get back to the home page.
  • Within a task-oriented experience, users really don’t want to “explore.” They have something they need to do, and they want to be able to do it quickly and with confidence. Make it easy for them to do what they need to do, and they will consider the experience a success.
  • Meeting user expectations for established web behavior and processes is critical. User expectations for the web have changed, and defacto standards have evolved. Users expect navigation at the top or left side of the page. Like they expect a steering wheel to be in front of the driver’s seat. Moving the navigation to the lower right, (or the steering wheel to the back seat) doesn’t make a delightful experience, it makes an irritating – and unusable- one.
  • Users correlate online experiences with offline competence and trustworthiness. The era in which the average user believed that an organization whose website was unstable, insecure, or ineffective but whose business practices and stability were not is over. A mediocre (or negative) experience will have a direct, and negative impact on user perception of an organization.
  • On many sites, “expert” users are not significantly more successful than “novice” users. The difference is, novice users blame themselves for their mistakes; expert users blame the website.
  • The number of clicks the user needs to make in order to complete their task is not nearly as critical as the ease in which they go down the path. A 3-click process is not necessarily a better experience than a 7-click process if a user experiences confusion at each of those three clicks.
  • The best time to present a new piece of information, product, or service is following successful task completion. Promoting a new product or service prior to login is not nearly as effective as waiting until after the user has completed a key task.

After over a decade of rigorous usability testing many business-critical, highly transactional sites for Fortune 500 companies, we are confident in the depth of our experience. Therefore we can provide the known, critical insights up front and work more effectively to partner with clients on focusing research efforts on the unknowns. And because each testing experience is unique, we know that we’ll gain valuable insights from user research. Every time.

2. We have deep experience in planning business and mission critical user experiences.

At Crux Collaborative, any statement that begins with planning is almost always followed by a qualifier of, ‘based on business objectives and user needs.’ There is always a balance between business objectives and user needs. When these objectives are not in conflict, but rather in harmony, we help create an optimal user experience. We have learned that by presenting key business objectives with the nomenclature and labels that reflect user objectives and mental models, we can ensure that both business and users meet their objectives more quickly, effectively, and successfully.

We have also learned that identifying key content and functionality up front, and whether that content and functionality exists, needs to be revised/edited, or created from scratch can help an organization manage expectations with both internal stakeholders as well as end-users.

3. We have deep experience in adapting to new (or just different) interface formats and constraints.

Embracing constant evolution is part of our DNA. It’s required in the interactive space, and at Crux Collaborative we relish each opportunity for growth. We don’t advocate change for the sake of change; we avoid anything that might lead to re-inventing the wheel… unless the wheel is actually broken. We do actively seek opportunities to apply our expertise to new challenges.

There are far more constants when it comes to business critical and transactional user experiences than there are differences- no matter if the experience is delivered via a desktop computer, a proprietary piece of hardware, a touchscreen kiosk or mobile device. What we’ve found is that with each new challenge, we’re able to draw on our past experiences to evolve our expertise.

For example, more and more projects that we work on require Responsive Website Design (RWD). There is much about the final output that makes it different than a traditional website, but what’s not different are the core influencing factors that drive the content and functionality of the website.

Responsive Website Design is just one example of our experience in constant evolution. In the past twelve years, we have evolved the documentation and tools that we typically use to collaborate with team members and with our clients to support the changing user experience landscape. But the purpose of those tools and documentation hasn’t changed. While we have identified additional considerations and questions to ask, that doesn’t indicate a change in our process, but simply different inputs (and outputs). Our ability to apply our expertise in new areas allows our work to evolve, and strengthens our expertise.

In Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, there is a chapter called the 10,000-hour rule. In that chapter, he asserts that a qualifying factor contributing to a person’s ability and opportunity to be truly exceptional at something, is that a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice are required.

Huh. That sounds a lot like pattern matching, and focused repeated application of expertise. By my rough estimates, at Crux Collaborative we collectively have around 300,000 hours of ‘practice.’ Our clients (and the users of their products) can speak to whether or not we’re exceptional but I have no qualms about asserting that when it comes to transactional user experiences, we have the deep expertise.

To learn more about our expertise with transactional user experiences, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

By Mahtab Rezai
Principal & CEO

Mahtab has spent nearly two decades as a user experience designer, researcher, strategist, leader, and mentor. She has designed user experiences for companies ranging from startups to the Fortune 50.

View Mahtab's Bio

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