In the beginning websites had one thing to do and they needed to do it well. Whether it be selling the latest pair of shoes to a fashion conscious 20 something, or letting someone book a European flight from Bristol to Barcelona. With these single-minded user journeys the processes that grew up in the digital world work well. Design, test, build and deploy. Then optimise with more testing.
In the landscape of possible solutions this approach is pretty much guaranteed to get you to the top of the mountain in shortest amount of time. Efficient optimisation.
The game has changed.
It started innocently enough. The on-line fashion retailer wants to become a destination. Mixing editorial fashion news in with the product offerings. The airline wants to tackle those who just want a deal, not knowing exactly where or when they want to go.
To start with the solution is simple. Create distinct areas of the site for each specific user journey. When a customer needs to shop, send them directly to the shop. When they want to browse the news then they go to the news section. When a customer wants a flight from A to B then use the search tool. If they want to browse around go to the interactive map experience. Great our methods of optimisation continue to work as the two user journeys are independent. When you examine each user journey in isolation your old methods for optimising the experience do still appear to work.
However when you look at the bigger picture you can see something isn’t right. Customers are people after all and people don’t like being put in boxes. Someone reading an article on Rihanna wearing fuchsia will want to go buy something in fushsia. The customers who hits the site with a definite idea of where to go, change their mind and want to be inspired. The new customer journeys are interdependent. Changing one will have an effect on the other and visa versa. Chances are you won’t even have just two journeys to consider.
Science has a word for systems that have a high degree of interdependence. Complexity. Solving problems when things get complex is not straight forward. Just look at the weather. That’s an interdependent system with each weather system both effecting others and being effected by others. Even with massive super computers we can only make short-term predictions about the weather. The same goes for these complex customer experiences.
There is one strategy that works well with this kind of complexity. Evolution. Life has been dealing with the problem of complexity by letting solutions emerge. How do we apply evolution to a highly interdependent customer experience?
As with evolution the answer lies in building blocks. Small components that can be rapidly combined. Allowing the high-level customer experience to be tested in the wild. Winning combinations of components get to fight another day. The winners get combined and mutated slightly before being tested again. While each component will need designing and building. The cost of combining the components on the page needs to be low. Only then will the next generation of complex customer experiences emerge.