Many of us will know the old UI / UX analogy of the Heinz’ ketchup bottle: the original, glass bottle is functional while the improvement is clearly superior in allowing the user to get to the ketchup, but did this move actually help Heinz sell more ketchup?
One of the barriers I’m facing when trying to scale up UX at my company is that we’re a bit of a Heinz company; people buy our ketchup because it’s the best and they put up with a glass bottle because the tasty, tasty ketchup is so worth it. (Note: we don’t actually sell ketchup, it’s a metaphor.)
It’s compounded by the fact that our ketchup is sold through large deals direct to other corporations (who don’t use our ketchup), which provide that ketchup to their staff as the only option. It’s purchased based on the world-renowned quality of ingredients and research that we have, but none of our competition do.
To add a little more context: we’re also a not-for-profit, very large organisation, who puts as much of our surplus to good causes, so there’s always a goal of increasing our contribution, despite not much going on with financial optimisation. This can run counter to investing in UX that doesn’t generate return.
If I look at the HEART framework, by Google, for example:
- Task Success
Happiness, engagement, Adoption and Retention have no effect on units sold as we don’t sell to the user, but to someone who forces the product down on the user and they can’t move. Task Success is something independently measurable and I could make the case that this affects the costs that a customer has to incur and the costs we have to incur through support, but again, it doesn’t shift sales as the end user just has to put up with it.
A common approach is working to key objectives and KPIs, but the trouble here is that we don’t often work to KPIs outside of sales and quality of ketchup, which we have limited direct influence over.
What about empathising with stakeholder needs? This is partly affected by the lack of KPIs and partly due to a (possibly correct) interpretation that the ketchup is the only thing that matters in this model - either way there’s little unity in stakeholder needs, or burning desire to cause revolution as most of them are too busy making ketchup to think about the bottle, which doesn’t sell.
We have company values and vision / goals, but these are addressed by initiatives that appear and carry out work in a slightly invisible way and never appear anywhere near the bottle. Outside of these initiatives, projects don’t have these values and goals built into them and they’re not measured on how well they contribute or conflict with them.
Sure we can save money by creating better designs, which will cut back on support needs, but there’s a view that this is an accepted cost.
The ketchup we create is where we put all of our R&D and it’s the key thing that the purchaser is interested in.
The problem I’m faced with as a UX practitioner is I know how frustrating it is for people to have to deal with a glass ketchup bottle and this kind of thing is the reason I work so hard, why I fight for the end user so hard and why I’ve training myself up for so long, but I don’t have much of an argument for change if we have a captive market that has very little chance of changing.
We deal in ketchup that literally affects the future course of people’s lives, so people may respond to an ethical approach but we also have classic hierarchy and ownership challenges which can prevent people from championing change and championing causes.
How do I change the bottle so the user’s life is filled with a more satisfying, less frustrating ketchup’y life?