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Why the "One Experience" strategy doesn't work

"One experience" refers to the consistency a computer user finds within a milieu. The new Windows 8 (opens in new tab) touch interface is actualising this idea, as it will be on the phone, the computer, and the tablet. If done with total sincerity, it should become a fractal so the experience will also be reflected in the Office suite and each individual application of Office.

This idea sounds good in meetings but makes no sense in the real world because such a strategy cannot be optimised for more than one or two items on the laundry list. And the idea is annoying to most users. It's a schema designed for the lame-brained user who cannot tie his or her own shoelaces.

One experience is actually a form of branding thought up by marketing people. I've seen it tried over and over to no avail. It can kind of work if applied very superficially, so it only involves some look and feel, with little common functionality.

(opens in new tab)Adobe manages to provide its users with a common design and a faux one experience, which is probably as good as it gets. If Adobe was actually to integrate the experience of Photoshop with Illustrator, for example, chaos would ensue.

I've talked to the company about this and the reality is that there are too many idiosyncratic ways to do things on each individual Creative Suite application, so unifying tasks would confuse the professionals. And when you think about it, who benefits from complete one experience command consolidation? Newbies, maybe.

To make such an idea work, you must find common denominators and dumb down the product. The process does not work for specialised products that were developed with a specific vision. Changing the interface changes the vision, and it changes the way a product works. It may even change the appeal of the product.

Microsoft has done this over the years with good products that it buys and changes. FrontPage, an advanced web development tool that was far ahead of its time, is a prime example. Eventually, Microsoft began to muck about with the program to bring it in line with its other concepts. In a few short years, people stopped using the thing (as it became unusable) and then Microsoft shuttered the operation. This, to me, epitomises the problem with a one experience strategy.

The only way one experience will ever work is if the exact same team is developing the entire line of products. That's nearly impossible because that is not the way software works. Just look at the team that is listed on the credits for Adobe Photoshop. At a rollout of Windows, I recall the dev team took up the whole stage!

Now, you can pay homage to the one experience notion as Adobe attempts to do with Creative Suite, but anyone who actually thinks it applies when you move from module to module is nuts. The same holds true for the much simpler Microsoft Office. What does the UI of Excel have to do with that of Word? Nothing.

This entire topic comes to mind because Yahoo is discussing this as a strategy. I was personally wondering when Yahoo would find new ways to fail and this is it. Yahoo has bought Flickr and Delicious. What UI would merge the experience of these two platforms? None that isn't all wrong.

Yahoo has spent most of its existence trying to shoehorn various products into the Yahoo experience. Now it is talking about doing it more than ever. How many times can Yahoo shoot itself in the foot before it notices?