Standardize the User Experience

Everybody says they have standards… but what does that even mean? Are we talking about a locked bill of materials? Did you mean that certain gear is non-negotiable but other stuff you have the flexibility to substitute (you mean whatever manufacturer you have the best back-end rebates from? yeah… we know)? How tightly are those “standards” controlled? How often are they updated as models come and go?

All of these are real concerns and depending on our environment, we can find ourselves on one side or the other of that scale. But you what seems to be rarely defined and standardized? THE USER EXPERIENCE!

I talked about this in my first article: Let’s not design a room, let’s design an experience. Here’s an example of what I am talking about.

At my last employer, we had a very simple setup — Poly(com) codec, Sharp TV and Crestron extender. Super easy to set up, right? WRONG! What we kept running into was that there was a gap between our expected experience and the way the dealer would set up the extender. The model we used had a scaler built in and some other EDID settings that could be set up. Many of the integrators out there learned how to install things from a person who attended training at Extron years ago and in those classes some nitwit told them they needed to use a scaler ALL THE TIME and then gave then lots of very valid reasons why. The issue at hand is that while this was true 15 years ago… it’s just not needed anymore. The entire ecosystem has gotten way smarter and for a simple point-to-point system like this, a scaler is just not necessary.

(OK, full disclosure… I am that nitwit — which makes the discussion trying to explain to the installer that the scaler isn’t needed even odder.)

At that company, our expected experience in the room was that if you plug in your laptop… then the codec would automatically turn on and display content. No button presses needed. And if you unplug, then the content turns off. BOOM! Super easy and consistent experience across hundreds of conference rooms worldwide. No control needed. Simple. But if there is a scaler enabled in the extender… then that’s not the experience users had. Because the scaler is ALWAYS outputting video (albeit black video), you are back to needing to use the tablet to turn content on and off. We actually had a room where everyone told us the system was broken and they could never use it, but it turned out that all that was “wrong” was that the integrator had enabled the scaler. So things did not operate as all the users expected.

Disable the scaler… Everything works fine.

So if we haven’t “defined the experience,” then the outcome will be a fail no matter how great the gear is.

Here is another example. Brand new big room… four of the Shure MXA-910 mics in the ceiling, QSC Q-Sys DSP… and the experience is terrible. Sure, we have great coverage of the room — yes, we can literally hear a mouse break wind! But this is actually the issue (not the mouse)… the set-up didn’t take into consideration how the room is used, which is primarily with a presenter at the front and then an audience that will participate at various times. All the mics in the system have been given equal priority. I had one person with a headset mic on who was talking, and then if I went all the way into one of the front corners of the room and gently snapped my fingers… I could hear it across the videoconference.

So the only way the room works is to shut the ceiling mics off. If how the room was actually going to be used had been considered, it could have been set up so that maybe only two or three lobes of the mic are active at the one time, with the wireless set in chairman mode (or however QSC describes that) that would cause the other mics to mute when activated.

In this case, I had some of the best gear available on the market deploys (and we’re literally violating the laws of physics, at least compared to how we understood them 20 years ago) but because the system was not set up with regards to the desired experience… I have an (expensive) system that the user community is rejecting.

Take the time to focus your efforts on understanding HOW and WHY systems are used. Understand the desired experience for customers and you will do far better! As a final point here… I want to clarify that this responsibility of defining that experience belongs to both the integrator AND the end user.  I have put a lot of effort into focusing on documenting the experience to ensure the integrator gets a better picture of how we want things to work. But the dealer needs to put a commensurate amount of work into it if we are going to have a great partnership. That is the info that must be communicated throughout the entire project cycle. If the salesperson and the PM know… but the programmer doesn’t, it all falls apart.

At the end of the day, I personally don’t care a ton about standardizing on gear. Sure, I care as far as manufacturer relationships that affect warranty, product lifecycle awareness and such, but if one room is Biamp, and another is QSC and another is Extron DSPs… I don’t really care as long as the experience is standardized. That’s what will meet my expectations.