I just got back from Vancouver IxDA. Had a great time but seem to have kicked up a bit of a controversy by declaring that, as interaction designers, our medium is not technology – it's behavior. I must admit to a certain amount of surprise at the strong response, and I appreciate the immediate back up from my cohort, Jon Kolko (you can see my slides - mostly visuals - here). It is very interesting to me that this statement would seem controversial, even novel in this community. And I think it says a lot about the state of our discipline.
There is universal acceptance of a holistic approach to human centered design within this community – generally referred to as 'experience design' (not my preferred term). This approach considers all of the contexts surrounding use and then tries to build a unified interaction model to support user needs over time, across these contexts. It focuses not just on expressed needs but on those that are unexpressed: the emotions, motivations, and desires that shape user engagement over time. In fact, more and more of our clients are looking for our help in identifying these latent, unmet needs. So, it is interesting to find designers who are very comfortable, in fact insistent, on this holistic approach and yet spooked by the idea that we are in the 'behavior business'.
I had lunch with my kids at our local Middle Eastern restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn, yesterday. It has been there for a long time in a neighborhood that has exploded with cool cafes. The smell of warm pitas, fresh from the oven, practically brought my kids to tears. This place is getting more and more attractive to me these days. They provide good, cheap, fresh food – I can stuff the whole family for less than $30. But that's not all: at the end of the meal they always bring out some free honey semolina cake along with the check (they divide one standard portion into four little cubes for us). What a wonderful bonus...or maybe not. I would argue in this economy that cake is a critical element of their survival strategy. My neighborhood is flush with tasty restaurants competing for my shrinking budget. They all better be thinking of new ways to delight me.
In this economy the most pressing business imperative is customer loyalty. You better be thinking hard about how you are going to retain your customers over the next two years (even if you lose some real money doing it). I am paying close attention to the businesses that get this. The ones that are working extra hard to recognize regular visitors like me, even if I rarely buy (and never at full price). My presence in the store alone has rising business value these days.