What is User Experience Design?
We’ve all used products. Some products are enjoyable to use or require no effort from our side because they’re easy to use and understand. Other products might not be easy to use at all, or confusing.
We tend to make snap judgements quickly. We judge whether a product is useful or not or suitable for our goal before we’ve fully explored the application. Of course, there are a few exceptions: If we’re highly motivated to use a product, we’ll force ourselves to master it.
What makes a product useful?
We might say that a useful product is easy to learn and use to accomplish our goals. The product helps us complete a task that is important to us.
A useful product is also accessible. It’s easy to access and is in the right place for us find, and we can use it regardless of our perceptual or motor capabilities.
A useful product might be attractive, pleasing to the eye, and to use. There is some merit to saying that beauty in and of itself is a function. You might choose a product that’s unoptimised but pleasant to look at and use. Think about MacBooks, they’re beautiful to look at and use, but competitor products at the same price range will get you a technically superior product. You might still find yourself getting the MacBook, and that’s just fine. Their beauty might make them more useful to you.
Maybe if a product is fun to use, then it’s useful too.
The product might make us feel more connected. It might connect us to friends or companies and stores providing services or products.
We should ask the opposite question as well:
What makes a product experience “bad”?
We might think a “bad” product is one that’s stressful to use. Maybe the product is too complex to use, and as a result, we might not know where to get started.
A “bad” product might even be unappealing or outright ugly. It could work well, but its lack of aesthetic appeal might put us off, and make the product unenjoyable to use?
Maybe the product has too many things going on, and as a result, it’s hard to tell where things go. It could also be inefficient and takes too long to do the things we want to do or force us to re-enter the same information multiple times.
Maybe the product is condescending, or inconsiderate. It might not allow us to use our full mental capabilities, or force us to do things a certain way.
Some products might leave us feeling empowered, but they might also leave us worse than off than where we started.
When you design a product, you’re trying to solve a problem for your users. You might find yourself trying to make ends meet between meeting the goals that drove you to design the product and making it useful to your users. You might be trying to get people to visit your website to buy something from your store, or use your services. You need to make sure that what you’re offering allows your users to experience success. After all, your users are more likely to come back when they’ve successfully used your product or service. They’ll also be more likely to recommend your product, and as a result, create a virtuous cycle where not only are your users returning to your product but also recommend it to others.
User Experience isn’t only about designing a brand new product and meeting user needs or goals. Sometimes UX design means you have an existing product, and you need to fix it. Sometimes your solution might not have worked as well as you’d have hoped. Maybe your users struggle to understand how to use the product, or perhaps the product is just broken. User experience here means updating the product or asking users to get a newer version.
Why is it hard to get the user experience “right”?
We all want to design products or services that are useful and enjoyable to use. No one wakes up one day and says “I want people to buy my product/service, and I want them to feel miserable using it!”.
One of the main problems you face as a user experience designer is that you are the designer and not your user. Even if you happen to be a potential user, you still don’t represent all your users, and it’s crucial to go out and ask your users what their needs are, and how they work to try to meet their needs, so you can design a system effectively for them.
One other reason UX is challenging is that most of the time you’re dealing with software. You have to design an interaction between an organic being and a computer.
Humans think very differently than computers. As a UX Designer, your job might also be a balancing act between translating what works, what’s easy to do with a computer, and what makes sense, all of which are very challenging to do.
Another problem with using software is that it’s so easy to add new features. You end up finding many products adding features and getting bloated to the point that they are no longer useful. Part of user experience is to ensure we focus on what is critical to add for our users.
It’s easy to get these things wrong the first time, and, you’ll rarely if ever, get things perfect on the first go. Part of the UX process is iterative design and prototyping.
As a UX designer, your process should be iterative.
You begin with researching your user needs and try to prototype solutions to very quickly test and observe them. You do this to try and fail fast and learn from your mistakes.
We apply user-centred research and design to iterate back and forth in a cycle. You observe you reflect, then you make, and loopback to “observe” all over again. The earlier you involve your users, the sooner you’ll get to hit the mark.
It helps to have an understanding of human nature. You don’t need to be a psychologist, but it’s beneficial to understand how people work and what helps them accomplish their goals.
Why do we do all these things?
We do them to apply common sense. Unfortunately, common sense isn’t easy to achieve. You need to go through an iterative process that uses user-centred research to inform you about human behaviour, your users, and your design process.
Your common sense is only your common sense and does not reflect the ‘general’ conception of common sense.
User experience is a vast field that attempts to create meaningful solutions for real problems. I do think there is a common misconception that User Experience only exists in the digital world, but the reality is, user experience is everywhere.
Think about a building you last visited.
How did that building make you feel? Were you quiet and formal? Or where you more at ease? Did the space make you feel free to wander around, or did it restrict you to a specific area?
In a future post, I’ll explore the similarities between user experience and architecture to explain how experience design is not limited solely to human-computer interaction but is far more expansive than that. I do not, however, mean to suggest that architecture and user experience are interchangeable. The methodologies are similar, but they both require specific sets of knowledge. I will say that the barrier to entry from one spectrum to the other isn’t all that high, and is limited to easily acquirable knowledge (if we were to ignore the legal barriers towards becoming an architect).
I do not mean to suggest that Human-Computer Interaction does not play a crucial role in UX design. HCI is perhaps the most ‘important’ factor UX Designers need to consider. We must also be ready to adapt to the new world of the Internet of Things and “Mixed Reality” where our interactions are no longer limited to screens, but rather involve very different experiences.