When using a tangible device, such as a computer mouse, is it aesthetically appealing, does it fit snug in your hand or is it too big and cumbersome? Does the weight affect its ability to move as you require? Can you use it unconsciously or are you forever aware of its presence when using it to fulfil your goals? Likewise, when you use a non-tangible product, such as a mobile application, is it visually pleasing, easy to navigate and is the user interface intuitive. There should be sufficient cues to guide you without you getting frustrated or lost.
The aim is to have a seamless experience. This is just the beginning.
Design can impact our pleasure, satisfaction, motivation, and productivity.
User experience can be defined as, “a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service” (9) Basically, the term is generally applied to the positive, neutral, and negative emotions felt when interacting with a product, object, or service.
“Every product that is used by someone has a user experience: newspapers, ketchup bottles, reclining armchairs, cardigan sweaters”– Jesse James Garrett
As Jeff Johnson points out, “One cannot design a user experience, only design for a user
experience. In particular, one cannot design a sensual experience, but only create the design features that can evoke it”.
THE DISCIPLINE OF USER EXPERIENCE
There are many different disciplines when it comes to UX: visual and sound design, human-computer interaction, information architecture and interaction design. Ultimately, each one is responsible for ensuring that an experience is as simple, efficient, accurate and enjoyable as possible. Interaction design is the process of creating interactive products and it sits at the centre of every user experience. From flicking between windows, opening documents and apps, to listening to music or watching videos. As you unconsciously plot your next move, unaware of your own user journey, it’s the role of the designer to accommodate these constant, intentional shifts and provide features that give you smooth transitions and simple interactions.
As Jeff Johnson points out, “One cannot design a user experience, only design for a user experience. In particular, one cannot design a sensual experience, but only create the design features that can evoke it”.
Our interest in user experience has exploded over the last three decades, for a couple of reasons:
- Human-computer interactions now exist in almost every area of human activity. From ordering a new washing machine online, to video calling your mother in Australia. This is moving us away from usability engineering towards a much richer user experience where our feelings, motivations, and values are given as much, if not more, attention than efficiency and effectiveness which are the traditional usability metrics.
- Web and mobile app design have become crucial in combining the interests of different stakeholders: marketing, branding, visual design and usability. It’s vital that Marketers and Branding Custodians embrace the interactive world. User experience provides a platform to cover the interests of all stakeholders, making websites and apps not just easier to use, but more valuable and effective.
USABILITY: A PART OF THE USER EXPERIENCE
It may appear simple, but we often overlook or confuse the nature of usability. However, once we truly appreciate usability, we’ll be able to create much more effective user experiences and ‘usership’ will increase exponentially.
So, what is usability? Usability is a sub-discipline of user experience design. Although user experience design (UX Design) and usability were once used interchangeably, we now view them separately, with usability significantly influencing UX Design. We can measure usability, but not always user experience. A design’s features, together with its purpose and the environment that you perform the tasks in, will determine the level of usability.
A successful usable interface should have three key features:
- It’s easy to become and feel familiar with the interface on the very first contact with the website/application.
- It’s easy to achieve your objective. If you want to book a flight, a good design will guide you along the easiest and quickest path to purchase that ticket.
- It’s easy to remember the user interface and how to use it when you visit it again. Planning another trip? You would have learnt from your first visit and should be able to book a second ticket just as easily.
It’s important to analyse and test users’ performance and concerns as early as possible. Then a set of guidelines can be applied throughout which guarantee the features will improve usability. Guidelines can always be fine-tuned. Revisions might involve something small like tweaking a menu layout, or it might involve a more in-depth analysis.
It’s essential to consider the user at all times when determining usability. If designs are going to be “usable”, they have to pass the Heuristic test – a test designed to identify usability problems in a user interface – with a minimum set of criteria. If the product was a mouse instead of a website, you’d have to ensure it conformed to certain standards. But for a website, it might be easier to explore how your design ranks alongside your competitor’s.
There are further design considerations for usability which include:
- Server Speed & Downtime
- Visual Factors (Font Size; Colour; Branding; Layout; Navigation; Content etc.)
And what about users? A user could be anyone from your grandmother to a hipster on a unicycle. They make decisions steered by their logic and emotions. Naturally, the usability of a design is important. However, we need to consider usability alongside these other concerns to create a great user experience. The UX comes as much from graphical design, interactive design, content, etc. as it does from usability alone.
By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiators (7). However, UX design and user-centred design (UCD) cost money which means there are still plenty of organisations out there that will resist a UX design or UCD approach as part of their development methodology. After all, finances are rarely unlimited, and companies are battling it out in a cutthroat global marketplace. In fact, this is exactly the reason why it’s necessary. Why you and not your competitors? Companies are going to be concerned with return on their investment in UX. The question is can you afford not to invest?
THE BENEFITS & PROVEN ROI GAINS FROM UX
- Products that meet the user’s needs: If your users are involved in the design process, then your final product should meet their needs. It should deliver a more commercially viable offering, therefore higher profits.
- Products that require less tinkering: It’s cheaper and easier to tweak sketches, wireframes and prototypes than a product after launch. UX enables a company to rather work out what doesn’t work before the development phase.
- Products which are less risky to the business’s reputation: UX is a quality measure. When you release products that users love to use and that meet their needs, your business reputation will grow. If you don’t get it right, your reputation will suffer. Customers don’t return in the hopes you’ve fixed your product, you’ve lost them already. First impressions really do count.
- Products which are relatively immune to scope or feature creep: If you define the user’s needs and then design with them in mind, there should be a whole lot less feature creep (excessive addition of new features), making it easier to budget and define a delivery timetable.
- Create products that are competitive: The research phase of UX means you’ll understand what competitors are doing and how your product can be “better”. So, the design is based on evidence, rather than the “gut instincts” of the development team.
- Customer satisfaction: If the UX for a product is high, you’ll have happy customers reducing the burden on both support teams and customer services. And we all know the value of retaining a customer, as opposed to getting a new one.