The Commoditization of User Experience

Adaptive Path's Simple Solution series of reports is the first widespread commoditization of user experience practice...and it's worth thinking about what IAs and others should do in a world where $49 buys the fix to a common problem.

This week Adaptive Path launched their new reports. The star of the launch is a free report - Jesse's analysis of U.S. presidential candidate sites. Upcoming reports on Search, CMS, and ROI will make a profound impact in different circles.

But the reports that will have the biggest impact are the two small ones already available from the AP Simple Solutions series - Boutique Software Sites, and Registration & Login. For $49USD, you buy 5 or 8 pages with some explanation, site structure or flow, and wireframes. Forty-nine dollars buys you an IA solution based on design patterns, best practice, and AP's experience. How to integrate that solution or develop your own is something UX practitioners will need to face in the coming months.

Update:I should just add here that this is a good thing. Commodity comes from maturity, and our practice is growing up. There's plenty of other more worthwhile things to do than reinventing the basics of registration.

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Commodity comes from maturity

While we are still dealing with young disciplines in UX, the fact that there are some viable commodities is a sign of growing maturity. It also helps define a clearer distribution in the UX ecology from commodity solutions based on patterns to customized strategic drivers that will only work well for one situation.

So I don't think that commodification of some things is bad - it's part of growing up.

Commoditization, Reports vs. Books, and Value

The format here isn't actually new, it reminds me of Landay et al's Design of Sites.

What's new is the price point: Design of Sites = $54, AP report = $49; at a price per solution, Design of Sites' 47 solutions are $1.15 each, and AP's are $49 each. Which, if AP Reports sell well, will be quite a profitable venture. In any case, it'll be good publicity for AP.

Another way to view it is value: a meeting full of people reinventing the wheel is very expensive compared to getting 80% of the solution for $49. Someone else imagined AP's TV ad: "Reaching a solution on the tricky sign in problem: $49. Putting a smile on your customer's face: priceless."

Just think of all the money Razorfish could have made.

Make it stop.

1. I'm not sure what's "new" other than the price. Writing a how-to guide is as old as the pyramids (if not older). Yeah, it's cheap. It's not really news. If Jakob Nielsen invented a robot and it landed on Mars, that would be news...

2. What really irks me is, this, at least to me, seems to reinforce the trend that "any monkey out of the tree" can do IA. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? There's not "C++ for the Admin. Assistant" books, why IA?

First you have Wodtke's book that basically says the guy who scrapes gum from movie theater seats (not that there is anything wrong with that... :P) is qualified to map out the UX of your site. And now you have the lunch-time special where you can buy this report and "viola'" you'll get a positive experience.

Sure there's some ground rules and constants, but, essentially, every site is different, every situation unique. Following all the guidelines in the world is no substitute for research with actual users, good marketing intelligence/analytics, and testing. And that cannot be done for $49 bucks.

Personally, I work hard to stay current, to constantly learn and expand my knowledge base and expertise... If one more person writes a "hey, anyone can do your job" book, my brain is going to explode...