Audi City is not what is seems. The digital car dealership, based in Beijing, will allow you to test any Audi model without the need for a physical drive. Designed to tackle the challenge of growing real estate costs in China’s cities, it is the work of a roster of agencies, including Razorfish, and demonstrates how the “science bit” behind user experiences (UX) is yielding results.
Two years ago, UX labs were new to Asia and general understanding of consumer behaviour trailed behind Europe and the US. But development is catching up. Spurred by the rise of ecommerce and ever-faster testing targets, agencies are adopting real-time user research and ongoing optimisation to drive profits for clients.
Audi hopes the showroom in Beijing will mirror the success of its London shop where 50 per cent of its customers in the first half of 2013 ordered a car without requiring a physical test drive.
“The Audi City project is a great example of setting up physical spaces to emulate specific environments. In this case, customers can use a physical ‘lab’ space to electronically test drive new cars,” says James Chiu, executive creative director at Razorfish China. “This allows for agile, real-time prototyping.”
For other clients, the experiences are accessed through personal devices via apps, sales channels or websites. Razorfish’s Pampers ‘Easy up’ campaign in Hong Kong, for example, used motion detection technology to create an interactive 360-degree panoramic view that gave mums a first-person view from a crawling baby’s eyes. In 14 days, over 150,000 mums had engaged with the experience, increasing conversion rates ten-fold from the same period in 2013.
According to Chiu, there is special interest in China as a user-testing ground. “The combination of available space, technological maturity and, most importantly, the relative speed at which consumer behaviour changes make it the perfect testing ground for a global omni-channel blueprint,” he says.
An agency with a different model is Digital Arts Network (DAN), an organisation set up by TBWA in 2012 to unify its digital specialists. It now has 23 hubs, 11 labs and over 1,000 specialists working globally. One of those nerve centres is in Auckland, the lab responsible for broadening the group’s UX capabilities globally.
In Singapore, DAN recently launched projects with Yale-NUS College, National University of Singapore, to redesign their website, and in Auckland, for ANZ Bank to drive mortgage-and-loan calculations. According to Tuomas Peltoniemi, head of digital at DAN Singapore, demand is coming from two key sectors: travel and financial services, where ecommerce is playing a much greater role.
The reason, says Peltoniemi, is that testing plays a critical part in driving online conversions. “You can spend more money driving people to your services or you can convert those who are there already. Ongoing UX testing plays a huge role in converting more people from your present traffic, it’s simply more efficient,” he says.
Testing different methodologies is all part of the game. Currently, two have broken away from the pack. The first is ongoing testing. The idea is to start testing immediately on an existing website rather than wait and test the finished design. The second is contextual analysis or enquiry, an ethnographic research method that involves observing users interacting in their natural environment.
Most importantly, tools are also becoming simpler to use. “For creative agencies, the more hard-core UX practices, for example eye-tracking, are less feasible,” says Peltoniemi. “We are trying to find more nimble ways of testing that fit the day-to-day realities of our client.”
CASE STUDY From tests to conversions
When Maxis, Malaysia’s only integrated communications service provider, went to XM Asia Pacific last year the company had two basic needs: a new website and to bring down rising call centre costs. The UX team responded with a consumer-first approach based on human behaviour.
“We sat in on a lot of calls,” says Hema Thiagarajah, consumer experience director for XM Asia-Pacific. “We really understood the nature and type of calls then we designed a website that would not only provide content for consumers but also drive people towards self-help.”
Using eye-tracking technology and usability testing, XM were able to evaluate the effectiveness of different designs. For example, where to place the search box: initially, 80 per cent of participants located the search function within 12 seconds; in the second version, all participants noticed it within 12 seconds, with an average time of 5.02 seconds.
Within three months of launch, the number of people looking at the self-help content increased by 117 per cent, with a corresponding 17 per cent decrease in the amount of walk-in queries and a 15 per cent drop in calls made to the support centre. With 13 million subscribers to care for, this represents significant cost savings for the telco.
BIG IDEAS How to start up a UX lab without breaking the bank
Che Tamahori, managing director, Digital Arts Network in Auckland, TBWA
As a specialist UX lab, we are at the sharp edge of agencies’ desires to move beyond the campaign and into a broader provision of brand experience. Our job is to have empathy for users’ needs and bring those to the table. You don’t need expensive kit to undertake this type of research. In fact, we aim to lower the barriers so that this can be applied to almost every project. So how do agencies get started?
Real-time testing: When designing products the most important thing is to test early and often. A lot of agencies and design practitioners are used to holding the design process closely within the creative cuddle, sharing it with clients at certain points but not seeking to open it up to representative users until completion.
The traditional approach is to create painstaking mock-ups and paper-based schematics, then test. We are trying to move the process on, where you knock-up an interactive prototype and almost immediately test it on people outside the project. This is where you derive all the value.
Don’t be dazzled: If you want to set up a UX lab the easiest way to look flash is to buy a US$40,000 Tobii eye-tracker and fill a room with nice couches and a one way mirror.
This may look impressive but the problem is it is an incredibly artificial environment. You are putting people into quite an odd and uncomfortable situation. Eye-tracking gives you clues as to how a design is working but it does not tell you what is going on inside peoples’ heads. Interviews get the insights that push the design forward.
Use contextual analysis: This testing can happen anywhere: in the home, on the train or at work. For starters, we would use a Mac laptop installed with Silverback software, which costs US$50 or $60. This captures everything that is happening on the screen and the participant’s face via the web cam. The person who is facilitating the test can use a remote control to tag moments for later analysis — and even share with viewers in a different country.
Our view: While UX tracking has become a must for most agencies, new technology has rendered the need for a physical lab debatable.
Got something to add? Please write to Emily Tan, Insights editor