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Discoverability drives choice, adoption and loyalty in the digital market

by Simon Pulman-Jones , 04.01.2012

Pleasure for its own sake is becoming as crucial to the effectiveness of digital operating systems as the fundamentals of UX design. We are seeing a new dimension for UX: discoverability - the joy of discovery for its own sake. Discoverability is about three key success factors: personalized discovery; game-like engagement and viral appeal. This new dimension is about understanding how to engage digital consumers – encouraging them in exploring, finding, trying out – ‘experiencing’ new digital stuff.

User Experience – or UX – has historically been the discipline that has kept technology design honest. When all around them are losing their heads about the next shiny new technology feature, the UX experts are there, soberly insisting that any new design must first and foremost be seen from the user’s point of view. Is it usable? Is it useful?

So when one of the founding fathers of UX starts getting carried away about the intimate sensuality of a user experience, we might be forgiven for thinking that we’ve reached a watershed in the evolution of technology. That’s what the iPhone did for Don Norman (1): “the iPhone felt like a piece of delight. It really is neat to go from one page to the other not by pushing a button but by swiping your hand across the page. The correct word is intimacy; it is more intimate. Think of it not as a swipe, think of it as a caress.” (2).

Norman is not losing his sober UX grip. He’s recognizing the fact that pleasure for its own sake is becoming as crucial to the effectiveness of digital operating systems as the basic UX fundamentals. We love to do that caressing swipe so much that we take every opportunity to turn the page, to flick the button – to find out what delight is hiding around the next corner of the digital interface.

What we are seeing is a new dimension being added to one of the core principles of UX: discoverability. Discoverability has always been a fundamental requirement for effective user experience: “the ability for a user of a design to locate something that they need, in order to complete a certain task.” 2 First you have to be able to discover that a piece of functionality exists, and then you have to be able to discover how to use it. But a new twist on discoverability is rapidly becoming one of the defining characteristics and key success factors for digital user experiences. This is the joy of discovery for its own sake – the pleasure of trying out an intriguing new App or widget, seeing if it’s enjoyable or useful, and either adopting it as part of your repertoire, or throwing it away.

In the increasingly mature market for digital experiences, with intensifying competition between the main digital ecosystem offerings (Apple, Android, Blackberry, Windows), the ability to drive exploration and trial of new functionality and services is vital. ‘Discoverability’ is the new user experience phenomenon providing this ability, combining Amazon-style, pleasurable, personalized discovery of new product and service options, the engaging and immersive experience delivered by the gaming industry, and the ‘viral’ infectiousness of quirky personal discoveries typified by YouTube.

The incremental enhancements intended to lock customers into a given digital ecosystem – whether it’s Apple’s Siri, or a television service provider’s 3D TV offer – depend for their success on customers being tempted into exploring and discovering them. How can companies foster the necessary urge to discover?

One powerful tool is fun. Volkswagen recognized this with their Thefuntheory.com initiative (“This site is dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better”). The Piano Stairs commercial shows commuters exiting Odenplan underground station in Stockholm and being seduced into using the stairs rather than the escalator when they discover that the stairs have been converted into a giant electronic piano keyboard that plays when they walk up or down.

Many digital experiences have reached a stage of maturity at which usability barriers about how to use functionality have been largely overcome. At the same time, however, we are confronted by a new set of challenges – challenges to do with choice: what to use? - Which App to use? Which combination of Cloud and connectivity solutions to adopt so that it’s possible to enjoy valued content wherever and whenever it’s wanted? Which device should become the dominant ‘home’ or ‘hub’ device amongst our ecosystem of larger- and smaller-screened devices?

This new dimension of discoverability comes to the rescue of both consumers and companies. It can enable consumers, confused by too many options, to make choices that feel like happy, ‘meant to be’ discoveries rather than random or forced choices. And it can provide brands with a vital way to engage consumers and lead them towards new products and services.