Up at 5AM: The 5AM Solutions Blog

5 Lessons on UX Design from Reality TV

Posted on Thu, Sep 26, 2013 @ 06:00 AM


We have all seen various versions of restaurant makeover TV shows. They usually feature a successful, opinionated and hot-headed celebrity chef, who works in guiding the business in a successful direction. They act as an advisor of last resort, and (usually) guide them safely to powerful transformations.  The problem we see is the overall user experience. 

Restaurant Image for UX Post 1 9 26 2013 resized 600



The Formula

Yes, there is a formula. The celebrity chef samples the food and tours the facility, and assesses the restaurant’s strengths and weaknesses. They ask the owners what they think is the reason they are struggling, and who they understand their customers to be.  

They observe all aspects of meal service, customer interaction, service delivery and kitchen operations closely. Most often the observation tends to be that the owners don't see the problems because they're too close.  They often can't fathom why nobody wants to eat at their restaurant.  

Frequently, owners try to address the problem by offering more and more menu items without finding out what customers crave, and this makes their inventories unwieldy (freezers full of rotting food, etc.). Sometimes the menus haven’t been updated in decades - and customers are just tired of the offerings.  Often the decor is outdated and worn, while competitors across town are hip and trendy.

Call in the "Strike Team"

The issues are then addressed one by one in a dramatic makeover.  First, they clean up the place, have the owners clear out the rotting excess in the freezers, and order in a “strike team” to update the decor.  

Then the menu is reimagined by simplifying the dishes in both number and complexity while focusing on cuisine that fills an unaddressed need in the community.  Occasionally this requires the restaurant to completely re-theme.  Often, real customers are brought in (especially ones who gave the restaurant a prior bad review) to speak face-to-face with the owners so they can get in touch with what is - and isn’t - working.


How does this relate back to UX?

It is all about UX, actually.  Many of the topics addressed in these shows are related to improving user experience in a physical space - but they are equally applicable to the virtual space.  Here’s how: 


1. UX Needs Regular Refreshes  

Like these restaurants, UX needs regular refreshes.  While it’s important not to confuse users who have invested in learning how to use your site or app, it’s also important to keep re-engaging them with fresh features and content.   


2. Feature and Content Bloat 

As sites and apps age, they tend to accumulate feature and content bloat, like the freezers and menus in the restaurants.  Regular attention to this keeps the level of confusion (due to wading through clutter) lower for users.  There is also less maintenance burden. 


3. Identifying and Re-Identifying Real Target Personas 

“Simplifying the menu” of features also entails identifying or re-assessing the real target user persona (or personas) and making sure the features address what they actually need and that the most important features are easiest to access (through attention economy accounting). Sometimes features get added over time without this guidance and never get re-assessed. 


4. Engage the Actual Users 

The best way to guide a UX makeover is to engage actual users in the process - whether this is in the form of focus groups with prospective or former customers, surveys of existing users, usability studies, etc.  There is simply no substitute for direct access to, and feedback from, real target customers - even when what they say isn’t necessarily what you wanted or expected to hear. Stakeholders can’t always see on their own why users are struggling with their site or app.


5. Consider the Pivot

If the feedback is way off from where the site or app is currently focused, it’s important for stakeholders to consider a pivot.  Sometimes the market changes, or the focus of the company shifts, and the product no longer serves the same market it originally set out to serve.  It’s important to identify this as early as possible and be prepared to act on it.  Sometimes the correct answer is to shut it down entirely.


One final caveat - while screaming fits make good TV, its not a good practice for dealing with stakeholders!  As UX designers, our charge is to work collaboratively, and not dictatorially.  

Do you have a lesson? Please share!


Tags: UX, design, user experience, revamp, content bloat


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