Building the Next-Generation Web Experience

NEW YORK — Corporations building the next generation of user experience will have four attributes, and companies will need five skills to meet the challenge, according to Moira Dorsey, Forrester Research vice president and research director, who spoke at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum 2009.

She said that the ideal Web experience of the future will be Customized, Aggregated, Relevant and Social (with the acronym “CARS” as a mnemonic). She pointed to several services that take advantage of social networking and aggregation to deliver customized and relevant data to users.

Many mobile applications fit the bill — but certainly not all. One that does is the Wikitude travel guide that aggregates content from multiple sources, uses GPS to determine where the user is, and then tells the user about their location.

Another is an app called Shop Savvy for the Android and iPhone that lets users search for an item, find out which stores nearby have it, and either call the store and reserve it or put them item on a wish list for sharing or to receive price alerts.

Stop imitating paper and be the Web

These sites succeed by taking full advantage of the Internet. “New forms of technology start by imitating older forms and then evolve into their true forms,” said Dorsey.

As an example, she pointed to the Benz Patent Motorwagen of 1886 which looks more like a carriage than a modern day car. Even the famous Ford Model T required a hand crank to start. “The Austin 7 RK Saloon of 1928 was a car that you or I could start.” She meant that in the Austin 7, the controls were located where a modern driver would expect them to be.

The first Web page appeared in 1991. In 1992 it still looked like a piece of paper.

“We’ve been working on the Web for ten years,” said Dorsey. “It took the car 50 years to find its true form. The online experience has yet to find its true form.”

But indications of change are in the air. Dorsey pointed to the increasing adoption of mobile devices, to the development of new interfaces, and to the proliferation of new Web sites and content creators as forces that will drive change within corporate Web design.

Follow customers and don’t expect them to come to you

“We need an online experience that can span devices, sites, and locations,” she said. She added that there are five things that companies can do to get ready.

Ccompanies will need to conduct more in-depth research to find the devices and channels that people use. Companies will use this data to create multi-channel personas, prototypical customers that will influence how a company tries to reach customers.

Dorsey said that surveys are not enough. Companies will need to conduct virtual ethnographic research in order to find out what people are actually doing — not just what they say they’re doing.

She said that companies will need to “atomize content and functionality to send content to where the customers are” and pointed to a recent Avis ad in which customers could reserve a car from within the banner without going to the Avis Web site as one example of how to do it right.

She said that companies will be developing new things that are so complex that they will need to test the user experience before they deploy.

Finally, Dorsey said that companies will need “mad design skills.” She said that designers will need to build projects that span sites, devices and applications and that the developer experience will be “like designing software.”

In the question and answer session, she admitted that not every company will need to have the most advanced online program. “Find where you can offer the most value,” she said. “Deliver an experience that enables you to get the most value. It has to be useful first, then enjoyable.”

But there’s no avoiding some complexity. “Once you move from within your own Web site to delivering an online experience, the training wheels come off,” Dorsey warned.

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