Preface

I wrote this article to attempt to answer the question how do I express the value of user experience design to chief executives in terms they will understand? Some constructive feedback has raised these points:

  1. If the vernacular definition of marketing overpowers the theoretical one I am borrowing, then none of this makes any sense. The definition of marketing I use in this article subsumes sales as an, if not the essential part, but a part nonetheless. In practice, I am fully aware these two manifest in organizations mostly as separate top-level departments which actually tend to compete with each other for resources. I wrote this expecting some contortion of paradigm might be necessary, but perhaps I didn't appreciate how much.
  2. The analogy I'm imagining between marketing and user experience design is considerably more abstract than a mere mirror image. In mathematics it's possible to express relations where the things on either side look nothing like each other, and the only thing they have in common is the relation itself. But the only everyday manifestation of such a phenomenon I can think of is the mirror and the general notion of chirality; I mean to replace it if I can come up with a better one.
  3. The activities expressed on either side of the diagram below only relate to each other insofar as their maximum distance from the sale event, i.e., if you imagined each domain as a set of dials you could turn, how indirect can the impact of turning those dials get—on sales (on the marketing side) and what a person experiences through the use of the offering (on the UX side). Otherwise the slices on either side have no significant relationship to one another. That diagram is a very preliminary crack at expressing the idea and I am well aware that it might fall short in doing so.

So yes, user experience design is a mirror image of marketing, for a certain definition of marketing, and a certain definition of mirror. And, I suppose, a certain definition of user experience design. But again, the point isn't to pigeonhole one domain or another, but rather put an an unfamiliar thing into a perspective that the people signing the cheques are familiar with. And, like everything I do on this site, it is only a sketch, meant to stir questions and discussion rather than impart answers.

It is also my policy not to redact, so I have left the rest of this article untouched. Here it is:


The mirror in question may be the looking glass that peers into Alice's topsy-turvy Wonderland, perhaps, but it produces an image none the less. The mirror is the event horizon known as the sale. On one side is the world of marketing, and on the other is the world of user experience design.

I should probably preface that I use Drucker's definition of marketing, which roughly equates to whatever you need to do to get your offering/idea/proposal into a position where it will be taken up. Not so much the vernacular, departmental definition of marketing, which is considerably narrower. Likewise, this argument—nay, suggestion—is about the principal target of concern for these domains, and has nothing to do with when actual people do whatever part of their jobs.

The practice of user experience design is, of course, nothing like the practice of marketing. But then the practice of calculating the square root of a number is nothing like the practice of calculating its square. And yes, the fundamental ideals of UX are different from those of marketing, to be sure. And if you're a UX professional, you might balk at the idea of your hard, noble, earnest work being compared to the slimy tactics of vacuous marketroids. But to paraphrase one Dr. Frank N. Furter, to the balkers of such a comparison, I didn't make it for you.

The human mind is a sucker for symmetry. The imaginary path between two concepts, that which is bisected by the symmetrical axis, forms an extremely strong analogy. And just like the analogical relationship between our left hand and our right, symmetrical needs not mean identical. So when the question is raised—what is the value of user experience design—a concept scarcely understood by those in positions of great economic and political power, you can answer with a question about a concept that is: what is the value of marketing?

That's easy. Marketing is everything. Marketing is the difference between being rich and being bankrupt, between fame and obscurity. Without marketing, no effort matters. Marketing is so important that business executives will throw untold resources at even the daffiest schemes without batting an eyelash. In many cases, a much greater quantity than the resources they allocate to their products.

Ah.

Depiction of marketing- and UX-related activities, organized roughly by distance from the sale. I'm defining distance as how far removed the activity is from the customer/user's everyday encounters with an organization. The lists of activities are far from complete—rather I intend for them to just evoke an idea of the arrangement. The activities on either side are not meant to be directly analogous to one another either, because, after all, the two domains are radically different.

If marketing is whatever you need to do to book a sale, then user experience design is whatever you need to do once that sale is booked. Why do you care if you've already got their money? Because everybody knows that the best marketing is a happy customer, who buys from you again and again, who tells their friends about your product, who talks you up in prestigious publications. With business models shifting away wholesale from the singular transaction of goods to ongoing service relationships, the repeat customer—the fan—has never been more essential.

By this point, our executive counterpart should be sold, and will immediately proceed to order his marketing department to spawn a user experience arm. Stop him.

Remind him that a mirror image is not a subset, that UX is no more a part of marketing than his right hand is a part of his left. The goals of UX are divergent from those of marketing to the point of being antithetical. The methods are different. The culture is different. But the outcome, and therefore the value, is the same.