As we move further into the 21st Century, all brick-and-mortar businesses are sure to continue their broad migration to digital. And one of the consequences of this move is that we will continue to experience the world through screens.
The temptation for designers and marketers working in this developing digital world then, is to think about their work in primarily a digital way. I think that’s the right way to think about it but there’s something else to consider: the focus on digital products may cause us to sacrifice our interactions with the real world.
Why is this important? Well, it’s pretty obvious isn’t it? We have to remember that talking with people face-to-face, obtaining physical goods, and learning about our physical surroundings, is still incredibly important. When designing for digital, designers must always consider the physical consequences of their choices. This helps amplify the effectiveness of both their design and business.
All About Choices
A talk at a Digiday summit last month illustrated the difficulty but importance of these choices.
Glen Hartman, Senior Managing Director at Accenture Interactive, discussed a design challenge he faced while attempting to optimize a client’s search strategy. Understanding that different consumers would want to reach out to the business in different ways, the company added a phone number and other CTA’s to the client’s search results. So instead of forcing consumers to enroll in one specific way, customers became free to enroll in whichever way they wanted, through a click-to-chat, a phone call, an email, a physical visit, or via the site.
Their effort increased sales. They also found that a disproportionate amount of consumers began coming through the web and completed their transaction through the call center. This increased profits but also limited the amount of sales attribution the digital media team received. Why? Because consumers used the call center instead of converting via the method that gave them the phone number in the first place. The digital team was displeased while the call center was thrilled. The latter team made more on commission than ever before because of a phone number in optimized search results!
Hartman and Accenture Interactive had to work with the client to revamp their attribution models in order to keep profits flowing while giving credit where it was due. This is an excellent case study in how companies must be aware of doing something as simple as optimizing search results. A small change like adding a phone number can cause a huge shift.
But it was also a study in the importance of the human touch.
The Personal Touch
Consumers, when given the chance, want to call in and speak with a real person to make purchases. In the example above, they weren’t going so far as to use search results to make an in-store appointment but were still seeking a personal experience than the web could provide. By giving people the opportunity to interact with a person, instead of completing their transaction online, the organization increased their sales. That’s a huge design detail.
In my own career, I’ve come across situations where real-world interaction had serious value.
In my day job as a University communications official, I often struggle to cut through the noise to get students to pay attention to the things we want them to. The hardest thing is ensuring we are telling students about the right requirements, issues, or events that are important to them in the right way.
In a recent student government meeting to discuss promoting their efforts, students brought up this concern. A group wanted a digital campaign highlighting their efforts that made them feel available and gave organizations a face. More importantly, they wanted to be physically seen.
They wanted to speak with students face-to-face to ask them what they wanted out of their government. To do so, they dedicated representatives’ time to standing in high-traffic areas on campus to ask students what they cared about.
I have to admit I hadn’t considered this. When students told me it was part of their plan, I was taken back by its simplicity. I also felt silly. Of course, it made sense. How could I not have thought of actual, real-life canvassing? Receiving an email about their efforts is one thing, but meeting and speaking with them is another. In my haste to design an optimal digital outreach strategy, I had forgotten to consider direct outreach tactics.
What’s Next In Design Strategy
As an example of the need to stay present, consider virtual and augmented reality.
While VR is fascinating and good for immersive experiences, AR is probably more useful. The surprising, if short-lived, dominance of Pokemon GO is a prime example. For a short period of time, you could visit major population centers and see a large number of people attempting to catch Pokemon digitally dropped into physical spaces. The participation was huge. When was the last time you strapped on a VR headset or dove into a 360-video on YouTube?
One of more consequence, though, can be found in Amazon’s forthcoming use of AR in online shopping.
Through Amazon’s mobile app, you can use AR technology to envision how a pot, or chair, or whatever else may actually look in your home. Technology like this is going to be preferable because we appreciate the useful integration to the real world that it provides. The design of the meeting of the digital and analog worlds, and their strengths, is the real benefit. People in design must see these kinds of opportunities when creating. They must resist the urge to only take advantage of the opportunities available to them in digital and seek out opportunities to tie analog and digital together, likely increasing their effectiveness.
As we immerse ourselves further into digital and further integrate it into our lives, all designers, communicators, and technologists must remember that it is just that, an integration. We don’t want to be lost to the world around us, our heads buried in a screen while we miss out on what’s happening right in front of us. When conceptualizing and designing new products, we would do well to remember that.