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Notes on a topic, to be discussed at: the workshop "Effective Teaching and Training in HCI". Many thanks to Jackie Moyes, Matthew Chalmers, and others who contributed to a brief GIST discussion on this.

HCI and marketing

by Steve Draper.

The question is: Should HCI include a study of marketing issues? and hence, should this be on the agenda for research, and on the curriculum in HCI courses?

There are 2 general aspects to this: is there an important overlap of subject matter in any way? and should we be seeking to recruit marketeers to the interdisciplinary teams for HCI and UI design? Here are some points.

Supporting the purchase decision

I'm interested in addressing what I think of as "the purchase decision task". I.e. most things, and certainly software, gets selected for use (and often purchase); this is a user task; designers should support it (even apart from commercial imperatives); this selection will have a huge effect on subsequent user satisfaction; and it may be that the limited spread of good usability is due to the fact that, like safety features in cars, purchase decisions are not (currently) driven by usability.

This may be the most sensible response to the recurrent moan that HCI has so little apparent effect in improving our average cultural standard of usability design: people buy bad interfaces because of their "features", not because of the wasted user hours and effort. If we aren't studying the whole user task set, it is not surprising our favoured designs aren't winning.

If we accept this, it is another case of most HCI failing to do more than a very blinkered task analysis. Most TA only looks at the actions a perfect operator would do to accomplish (with ideal efficiency) the most obvious tasks. Cursory observation of real users show that other tasks are important: error recovery being the most vital. But purchasing (or selecting for use) is another.

The website case

Websites are an acute inverse example of the issue. Many of both clients and designers feel they have to organise their website around serving the first glimpse — the moment when visitors decide whether to stay or go — rather than around any other user function such as being able to get information out fast, use it for quick reference frequently, etc. It is quite hard to avoid getting polarised on this; but presumably a rational view must take full and explicit account of both user "functions", and find designs that address both, not one at the expense of the other. (This will include beginning by analysing how important attention grabbing is for this particular web page, rather than some context-free guideline on the matter: after all, the main job of some pages is fast repeated information reference, but of other pages, to catch new visitors of all kinds....)

Once stated like this, we can start to see how to attack it. For instance, we could use as a metric, the number of repeat visits to a site: obviously, sites that don't attract anyone to stop in the first place will fail, as will those which arrest them but seem trivial and don't yield a fast information service.

Marketing people (and their goals)

Jackie complained about how marketing people don't care about the users' interests, but about grabbing their attention and manipulating them into actions that are profitable for marketers. On the other hand, they don't see the point of HCI people as they seem to be doing much the same thing (talking to customers).

I guess my provisional view would be:

Dual vision

An effect of this is to generate a set of issues which have quite different aspects — an HCI and a marketing aspect — of the same technical issue.

The theory of value

Matthew Chalmers pointed out that "the usual discussion" of such things is about how many, many purchase decisions are irrational (at least from a simple engineering viewpoint): people buy as a social, not functional, action: they buy the image, the hope, .... This comes down to theories of value and utility. If we design without researching our particular user group's implicit theories of these, we will get the design seriously wrong. He recommends Varoufakis' Foundations of economics.

See also?

  • A course on Internet marketing

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