Now available: Design for Impact by Erin Weigel

UX consciousness in business magazines

09/10/2007

Last month, we published our research on the degree of “user experience consciousness” we found among the analyst firms. The results were quite interesting, so we’ve repeated our method to assess the UX consciousness of mainstream business publications. Here are the eight publications we chose, based on an informal poll of about ten colleagues who work at the intersection of business strategy and user experience:

  1. Harvard Business Review
  2. The Economist
  3. Business Week
  4. Fast Company
  5. Business 2.0
  6. Inc.
  7. Entrepreneur
  8. Strategy + Business

And here’s what we did:

We searched 21 UX-related terms on each publication’s site, tallied the number of search results, and determined what percentage of all results these terms represented for each site. This showed us what terms are drawing attention from each individual publication.

We then searched those same UX-related terms on the web via Google, and compared those percentages to their averages on the publication sites. This gave us a sense of how mainstream business publications’ UX consciousness compared to that of rest of the world.

What was the degree of “UX consciousness” among these business publications?

This table shows the percentage of UX-related documents on each analyst site retrieved by each term, as well as analysts’ overall averages and percentages for the web as a whole. (Click the image to display the full table):

Which numbers really stood out?

  • The Harvard Business Review dramatically differs from its peers in its information focus. Knowledge management (26.7%) and information management (61.7%) combined to account for 88.4% of its results, while the average for all of our business publications is 28.2% (8.5% + 19.7%). Of course, HBR is the most academic publication on our list. If this is the explanation, does that suggest that the research and academic side of the business community is more focused on information management issues? If so, why?
  • The Economist is quite focused—at the expense of all other UX topics—on branding: 96.7% of its results, versus a 42.4% average among all analysts. Of all the terms on our list, branding has been in use perhaps the longest. Does The Economist see newer topics as flighty and not worth deeper coverage?
  • Conversely, Business Week seems to have the most balanced coverage, with six terms accounting for at least 5% of the results each (branding, content management, industrial design, information management, knowledge management, and user experience).
  • At 9%, Fast Company is the leader in industrial design focus (followed closely by Business Week at 8.1%). But its chief focus is on branding (64.2%), trailing only The Economist in that category.
  • True to its name, Business 2.0 seems to lead in many areas that have started to gather attention relatively recently: experience design (11%), information design (9.4%), interaction design (1.5%), interface design (4.2%), search analytics (0.5%), technical communication (2.6%), usability engineering (0.2%), and user experience (9.9%). It’s also the most balanced in its coverage, after Business Week. Also of note: experience design and user experience combine for 20.9% of Business 2.0’s UX focus.
  • Like HBR, Inc. has a strong information focus, though with a slightly different mix: content management (41.1%) and knowledge management (41.9%) are by far its largest categories. Its content management percentage is far higher than the average (9.4%); only Business Week (25.5%) comes close. Do CMS vendors advertise heavily in Inc? Should they? Conversely, branding (3.1%) barely registers versus the average of 42.4%.
  • Entrepreneur also focuses exceptionally on a pair of categories: graphic design (12.2% versus the average, 3.0%) and ergonomics (3.6% versus 1.4%).
  • Strategy + Business hewed most closely to the overall averages, showing stronger focus on branding and weaker on content management.

UX practitioners might find that Business Week merits reading simply because its coverage is the most balanced, and Business 2.0 is worth checking regularly simply because it has the strongest focus on UX-related content, especially in newer areas like interaction design. Of course, these numbers suggest nothing about the quality of these publications’ respective coverage; anecdotally, the Harvard Business Review and The Economist always seem to float to the top of the list of quality business publications. Given their respective foci, information architects and knowledge managers might do well to subscribe to HBR while visual designers and marketing people might want to read The Economist regularly.

What level of “UX consciousness” did these business publications do compared to the web as a whole?

Here are the topics where business publications “led” the web as a whole:

  • Branding (42.4% versus 12.6% for the web)
  • Experience design (2.1% vs. 0.2%)
  • Human factors (0.7% vs. 0.3%)
  • Industrial design (3.7% vs. 0.3%)
  • Information architecture (0.4% vs. 0.2%)
  • Information design (1.4% vs. 0.2%)
  • Interface design (0.9% vs. 0.3%)
  • Knowledge management (19.7% vs. 10.7%)
  • Technical communication (0.4% vs. 0.2%)

There aren’t many especially notable disparities in this list. The two terms that stand out—branding and knowledge management—already register well on the open web. These two terms are more likely to be familiar to readers of business publications, who aren’t typically UX practitioners or academics.

Here are the topics where business publications “trailed” the web:

  • Content management (9.4% vs. 25.9% for the web)
  • Graphic design (3% vs. 13.4%)
  • Human-computer interaction (0.2% vs. 2.6%)
  • Information management (8.5% vs. 11.1%)
  • Search engine optimization (1.2% vs. 2.4%)
  • Usability engineering (0% vs. 0.1%)
  • User experience (3.8% vs. 7.9%)
  • Web analytics (0.5% vs. 9.1%)
  • User experience (3.8% vs. 7.9%)

It’s surprising that content management and web analytics, two highly concrete topics that can make a large dent on the bottom line, register relatively little attention from business publications. Also of interest: while business publications are half as likely to focus on user experience, they’re far more focused on experience design than the web as a whole. As these two terms are often considered synonyms, this is quite strange.

In our prior exploration of UX consciousness among the analyst firms, some clearer patterns—and questions—emerged. But the patterns are less clear with business publications; overall, their numbers seem more in line with the web as a whole. Of course, you might see something different in these numbers; we hope you’ll share your comments below (and let us know if you’d like the original spreadsheet).