I received a message from Clay Northcutt at Dotcom-Monitor (https://www.dotcom-monitor.com/) to check out their service, and after a survey I’ve decided that their site provides a starting point for a discussion of how to implement Sustainable Virtual Design.
There are two things of interest. First off, most monitoring services are aimed at large companies and networks, while dotcom-monitor has explicit pricing support for smaller sites and businesses. Second, unlike most WPO and uptime monitoring services, dotcom-monitor has explict support for “higher level” Ux.
The reason this is important is that for most companies, Web Performance Optimization (WPO) remains the only relevant goal. Site uptime and WPO are typically siloed away from Ux.
But in fact, Ux is simply a way to improve efficiency, just running at a higher level. In Ux, one looks at user interaction, and adjusts the Ui or interface of the website in a way that leads to “Don’t Make Me Think” websites. This makes the user more efficient. Properly applied, Ux can take a long and confusing “clickthrough” through a web “journey” and reduce it to something better. In addition, because it is customer-centric, Ux design focuses on users completing tasks, rather than sporting a Swiss Army Knife of “features” found in old-school PC software.
For Ux-based design to work, you need testing. In the traditional Ux workflow, testing happens via market-research style work – interviews, A/B testing of mockups, and the like. While remote testing is possible via some new apps, most Ux work involves local testing of prototypes, ranging from paper to advanced interactive systems.
Now, dotcom-Monitor comes from an IT rather than Ux perspective. They were very early in the industry (starting in 1998), and offer site monitoring services similar to others (Pingdom, Gear5). So why do they tout their service as enhancing Ux? Their service suite goes beyond standard site-engineer work into a testing system that simulates user action, and records the results where there are errors. In addition to analytics for user behavior, the service flags user problems by capturing video of the interaction.
When errors occur they are automatically captured with UserView’s exclusive Video Capture technology, allowing you to playback errors and analyze how they impact end user experience.
From the Ux perspective, this is quite useful. Ux develops “customer journeys” include details of interacting with a website. Even greater detail is typically seem in Interaction Design “User Flow” diagrams, which show a sequence of screens and user interaction.
Using the Dotcom-Monitor scripts, a Ux or Interaction Designer (ID) could set up a script (or ask the site manager to do so) that runs interactions that test whether the designed Ux and ID diagrams actually match reality. By applying analytics, one can also test whether actual customer interaction with the website matches the goals for the design.
This fusion is great, and is in fact moves from efficiency to sustainability. By monitoring both user and machine efficiency, dotcom-monitor broadens the definition of efficiency. Their services implicitly encourage Ux and ID designers to work with site engineers, and vice versa. This would in turn create a better workflow where site engineering insights can feed back on visual and interaction design.
My one concern is just how creates and analyzes the Ux elements. My guess is that the testing for most of dotcom-Monitor’s clients happens at the site engineer level. In small businesses, site engineering is often completely decoupled from development of the actual. Small site operators are more prone to view web design as “drawing a web page” and hire a purely visual designer who sometimes incompletely understands the web as an interactive medium. A siloed developer then tries to shoehorn the big Photoshop page comp into code, with results disappointing for Ux and WPO.
In contrast, if a site monitoring service highlights their Ux skills right away, it may help small sites change their workflow in a more sustainable direction. If the Ux service was shown with Interaction Design or Ux schematics (e.g. Interaction Design “user flows” or Ux “customer journeys“) it would provide a fast intro to web sustainability.
So, while I are pleased to see Sustainable Virtual Design in the dotcom-monitor approach, my hope is that they highlight their Ux capability more – and promote specifically to the Interaction Design, and Ux communities. There is real potential in this integration, but designers need to see the benefit.