Thanks, #snowmageddon, for the UX reminder.

Hopefully all you East Coasters reading this have effectively dug out from what Jonas dumped on our fair region over the weekend. I’ve certainly seen my share of photos on my social feeds about shoveling, sledding, fort building, etc. so am guessing you are all past the enjoying the snow part and onto the more practical getting around part. I for one am sitting in my kitchen while I write this because Wilmington has decided our office’s street isn’t worthy of snowplowing, and I feel pretty confident my Mini Cooper isn’t going to make it through the mass of snow still blanketing the streets.

Speaking of streets, there is an interesting thing that snow can tell us about how our streets are used. When snow is left on the roads it gives a true picture of where people drive, and where they don’t.

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(Credit: Jon Geeting)

This can show wasted space that could be used for other things (small gardens? Pedestrian access?) as well as where drivers go where they aren’t intended to be motoring. That insight can help city planners think about how to make roads friendlier to all kinds of traffic, wheeled or otherwise. It also acts as a great visible reminder that no matter what is planned for people’s behavior, that doesn’t always pan out when compared to what they actually do. You can read more about what snow in roads can teach us here.

Similarly there is a type of photo that many of you may have encountered in a presentation about UX over the years, typically titled with something about the difference between user experience and design. Like the snow it shows that our best laid plans for what we want people to do is ultimately overridden by what they actually do. (One of my colleagues mentioned how a freshly vacuumed carpet can show the same thing so for a bit of UX fun in your home, the next time you run that vacuum around pay attention to how people wander around your space.)

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(Credit: The Angry Architect)

As marketers this lesson is incredibly important to take to heart. We can design experiences we think make loads of sense to our heart’s desire but without either bringing in the needs and wants of the audience while developing, or listening and watching closely afterwards, we run two risks. The first is to deliver something that the audience doesn’t really want, and so they try to find their own way, which may not be optimal for them or your brand. The second is to ignore the learnings of where people are going and finding information and refining the experience to delight them with more customer-focused offerings, like the lessons we can all take from the snow covered streets.

Take a lesson from Jonas and pay attention to your customers’ travels, and then help them by removing the proverbial snow and replacing it with something they actually want to encounter on their travels. I know they’ll thank you for it.