Getting Exactly What We Asked For

Jared Spool

August 20th, 2007

Someone in eBay’s user experience group must’ve rubbed the belly of a magic lamp last quarter, because a wish was definitely granted.

A month ago, the New York Times ran a story about eBay, reporting how eBay’s Chief Executive, Meg Whitman, is telling shareholders their number one priority for the rest of the year is to improve the site’s user experience.

According to the Paper of Record, Ms. Whitman told shareholders, “In the next six months, you will see more changes to eBay than you have in the last two or three years, whether that is an improved search experience or fun things that make the site better, like Bid Assistant, which allows you to bid on more than one item without worrying that you will end up buying five iPods by mistake.”

eBay is the 383rd largest company, according to the Fortune 1000 list. It’s really exciting when an F1000 chief executive is declaring user experience to be the solution to their lagging market share issues.

In fact, it’s exactly what we’ve been hoping for. For years, we’ve wanted executives to realize the benefits they could reap if they focused on user experience and, at eBay, it’s exactly what they are doing.

However, is it all good? After all, we’ve lived for years being the ignored black sheep, forever searching for an “ROI” message to convince people to realize the value in investing in UX work. At eBay, it’s clear the executive get it — the ROI problem has been solved there.

I asked Christian Rohrer at eBay if this was good news or if his life just became harder. He replied:

Great question! It simultaneously makes the job both harder and easier, because focusing on user experience means that we have to do even better work. It certainly gives us a voice!

The biggest work we have to do is transforming our processes to be more user-centered. That always takes time because we’ve spent so many years doing it differently. But it’s a refreshing change.

If you want to check out the kinds of things she’s talking about, visit this site:

which is a public space where we let people take a peak at some of the different experiences we are working on.

It’s true that much will change in the next 6 months. We have so many product rollouts that, by the end of the year, it may just look like a whole new site. But you know that this is only the beginning – lots of iterations will come after that. Nobody gets it right the first time (especially on the web :-).

If your executives took a major interest and started promising customers and shareholders for a dramatic instant improvement in your product/services user experience, would your organization be ready for it? Do you know what you would do?

I talked about this in more detail in a recent UPA Journal of Usability Studies article called Surviving Our Success: Three Radical Recommendations [PDF]. There’s no place to comment on the UPA site, but I’d love to hear what you think of the article, so please comment here.

5 Responses to “Getting Exactly What We Asked For”

  1. Design for MySpace Says:

    Tough call Jared. I think it is difficult to say whether an organization would be ready for such a call or not, perhaps Christain is right with his diplomatic but thoughtful answer

  2. Benjamin Ho Says:

    Hi Jared,

    The recommendations you propose are quite avant-garde for those who do not like change. I haven’t decided yet whether I’m one of those people. I do like those recommendations with a few comments:
    1. “Stop making recommendations” – I can understand how making my own recommendations from testing can seem imposing. I think what everyone in our design teams need to understand is that they are only the beginning to the discussion of changes, not the end. There still needs to be someone who compiles the data to make it readable. Perhaps I can do just the testing in our next design.
    2. “Stop Conducting Evaluations” – We’ve actually embraced the idea of everyone having to test their designs with paper prototyping. We’ve also found ways to “push out” the knowledge so everyone can benefit from the knowledge. This way, everyone gets a say. The caveat is that not everyone is proactive or available enough to do this so sometimes great ideas don’t get spoken. But there’s always the next iteration.
    3. “Seek Out New Techniques [to help the team focus on user needs]” – I like this very much and I think we’re doing a good job on it. Of course, there’s always room for improvement.

    Thanks! ..and great article!

  3.» Blog Archive » Getting Exactly What We Asked For Says:

    […] Someone in eBay’s user experience group must’ve rubbed the belly of a magic lamp last quarter, because a wish was definitely granted. Source: [Link] […]

  4. Justin Duewel-Zahniser's Blog » eBay and User Experience Says:

    […] Jared Spool of UIE Brain Sparks discusses eBay’s plan to focus on user experience. […]

  5. Lynne Says:

    just an update to this old post. take a look at the feedback forums on the new Beta programs in Ebay’s discussion groups. You will be amazed at the reactions of the users who are experiencing the “changes”. As one of the “few?” who were chosen to NOT have the option to opt out of MY EBAY in Beta format for 4 weeks. I would like to give someone my opinion. The feedback thread on ebay’s MY EBAY forum appears to be the only place it could be done. Emails are useless. I suggested a good comprehensive post-test survey.

    I was hoping for some kind of relevant survey although the odds of that are slim… or at least let me know what day the mandatory testing will be over, so I can go about listing again in the classic version before it goes down in flames. The data they collect from my participation in this forced test will be inconclusive since I have not used the new Beta page or even clicked on the link to it for 10 days.And I don’t plan on using it, since it is still incomplete and flawed. I was wondering if anyone here is aware of the issues in ebay similar to what I’m reporting? It would be nice to see some published “outsider’s” written opinions on this, since the ebay community seems to exist in a vacuum.

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