Dear Technologists: User Experience Isn’t an App or a Feature. It’s Everything.

July 20, 2017, 11:12 PM UTC

When you think of a customer’s experience, what do you think of?

A product? A service? A capability?

Guess what: It’s all of these things. User experience is the end-to-end value chain for a customer and includes every space in between, according to product and design experts assembled at the 2017 Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, and you’re missing out if you’re adopting a myopic view.

It Needs to Make Business Sense

“User experience is foundational,” said IDEO partner and global managing director Diego Rodriguez. “It’s where you start. It’s probably where you end.” But you can’t only focus on that, he said. You’ll miss making a broader impact on people’s lives.

Some of biggest boons to user experience come from business model innovation, Rodriguez added. Consider the airline industry. Contrast the “failure” of Virgin America, which touted pilots with leather jackets, great safety video, mood lighting, and a widely praised great user experience, with the success of Southwest, which focused on technology (e.g. using all of the same aircraft model in its fleet) and talent (e.g. training people well enough such that even pilots would be willing to pick up trash as part of their job). There’s a reason one of those two carriers survives today, he said: Because Virgin’s underlying model, rather than its perks, didn’t align with customer behavior enough to sustain the company.

It Needs to Be Holistic

“Ring is not a smart doorbell company. It’s not a technology company. It’s a company to make neighborhoods safer,” said CEO James Siminoff. It’s not mere marketing. Siminoff explained that crime in neighborhoods happens in empty areas and “delivering presence”—the illusion of being home—helps prevent it. So he’s thinking about every aspect of his company’s offering, not just the camera or the product.

What about the unboxing experience? What about customer service? It all matters, Siminoff said. “Talking someone through downloading an app is user experience. It’s really the end-to-end [experience].”

Siminoff added that he often receives feedback that a competitor’s video doorbell has better hardware. “Who gives a shit?” he asked. “Our customers aren’t buying it because of that. They’re buying it because it makes their homes safer.” It’s the complete package that matters, he added. The only danger is to not get too far behind on technology relative to competing products.

It Needs to Be the Product of Diverse Views

One problem with user experience and the technology industry is its perspective, said NewDealDesign principal Gadi Amit. There are too many technologists in the tech industry to expect a fully thought out user experience; you need to add more disciplines to the mix.

“The tech industry is being driven by people that haven’t gone to liberal arts schools,” Amit said. “Diversity of mindset and philosophy. For me, having people from liberal arts or arts schools within the tech industry is very, very important as a balancing act….the only academic experience Steve Jobs had was calligraphy at Reed [College].”

It Needs Support From the Top

“We have a societal problem for how to deal with privacy,” Amit noted at one point during the conversation, which also included Slack vice president of product April Underwood and Fortune deputy editor Brian O’Keefe. There’s too much encroachment into the “family domain,” Amit said. Tech companies could stop short and don’t.

Rodriguez offered an example. He referenced the design of a Logitech camera that his firm did for that company in the 1990s. The original had a closing shutter for privacy, a feature that makes lots of sense in the cybersecurity-challenged 2010s. But the shutter was removed from the design because of cost and other concerns, he said. If we value privacy, we can design simple features like this back in. Executives need to be willing to sacrifice a little profit for a better user experience.

“Those are easy things we can do,” Rodriguez said. “But somebody in the room has got to argue for it.”

It Needs Common Sense

When we use terms like “design” and “user experience” and “design thinking,” we tend to fence ourselves in and not look at the big picture, Siminoff said. We overlook things. We exclude.

Rodriguez agreed. “I know a company’s dysfunctional when a person or team has the title of ‘user experience,'” Rodriguez said. “Change everyone’s title to what they actually do. Then ask them how they can make the experience better.”

Siminoff concurred. “Be customer first,” he said.

Correction, July 21, 2017: An earlier version of this article misquoted Amit in two places; both have been amended.

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