May 26, 2010

Word of the Day: Homophyly

ho·moph·y·ly [hoh-mof-uh-lee, hoh-muh-fil-lee, hom-uh-fuh-li]

–noun, plural -lies.

1. a resemblance due to common ancestry.

2. the condition of being of the same race.

An interesting segment on ABC Radio National's program Future Tense discussed "Echo Chambers" this morning - a label given to the phenomenon when we seek out people who share our opinions in environments such as Twitter and other networks. For a long time we’ve known that birds of a feather, flock together. But it’s interesting to explore what role the information age and internet play in exacerbating this phenomenon. Quite opposite to what many think; that the internet brings us closer to people from other cultures and divergent opinions; the evidence of behavior on social networks suggests that we actually talk very little to those we don’t know and/or don’t share our values and views.

It got me thinking about how this phenomenon can be better leveraged by user experience practitioners and business. We like people like us. If you’ve ever studied anything about body language, you’d know that we mirror people’s postures when we want them to like us. You may also know that we alter our digital identities on social networks in ways that we think will make others like us, maybe such that they are more like them. Take LinkedIn for example. Would you post pictures of your unguarded moments at a party on a network designed for making professional connections? We don’t because the people we want to like us would not think the best of us if we did. It's not the professional image we think employers would project of themselves.

This phenomenon of homophyly has many implications for the experience designer. Outside of the digital realm and into how we approach clients, it means we need to dress the same as our clients and talk using terms they understand if we expect them to like us, believe us and adopt our recommendations. Too often we flock together, talk to each other in our special language because we are human. We like people like us.

But, clients who pay the bills usually aren’t like us. They think we’re oddballs spouting jargon about things that don’t seem to matter to them. That is, until we make it real for them by speaking about the bottom line and how good customer or user experience positively affects that. Or about how they don’t succeed with their internal projects because there are just too many opinions; opinions that don’t ultimately matter because it’s not usually about the internal people at a company. It’s the customer’s opinion that matters and you can only hear that through the filter of the experience researcher and designer.

We are translators of customer needs, goals and can lead business strategies through this acumen. That’s our value and that’s how we must position ourselves if design is to be taken seriously and truly change the world for the better – bringing our clients success. But not in jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers when our clients wear suits. And not in a suit when our client wears jeans. And never speaking in terms they don’t understand.

Posted by Ant at 03:59 PM | Comments (0)