User experience – actually poor user experience – has been a much discussed topic recently with the much-publicized launch of HealthCare.gov and its subsequent issues. User experience is a part of the design process that you don’t hear about unless something goes wrong. But it is something that should be an integral part of the design process, from early concepts to the final product.
So with this renewed – and very public – discussion about user experience, why does it matter to designers?
User experience – UX, for short – is how a person feels when interacting with a digital product. UX encompasses a lot of factors, some that are controllable by designers and developers and some that are environmental or just user preference. These factors include usability, accessibility, performance, design/aesthetics, utility, ergonomics, overall human interaction and marketing.
But UX is not exactly the same thing as usability, although they are related. UX is the experience, emotion, intuition and connection a user feels when using a site or product. Usability is more about the effectiveness of a site design and how user-friendly it is. Usability is a key component of overall user experience.
The term has grown to also encompass “user-centered design,” which is basically the same concept worded in another way.
Why It Matters:
In terms of design, user experience is just as important as visual identity. Seriously. It doesn’t matter what your site or app looks like if people don’t know how to interact with it. And moreover, they need to enjoy that interaction.
While UX is important for any digital product, it is even more important for certain types of digital products: complex sites or applications, retail or online sales, start-up sites and businesses, small-budget projects and projects or sites that are expected to last a long time.
UX is key for complex sites because users must be able to easily navigate the site and understand how to use it. Neglecting UX can result in a sloppy site that people will not come back to. Developing an interaction-rich experience will drive users back to a site.
One of the most complex types of sites can be those that include retail or online sales. Not only does the site have to be well-organized, it also has to have clear and easy to use signals for how to make a secure purchase. This is also true of sites that are expected to be around for extended periods of time, such as retail sites. Consider Amazon.com, it has worked using the same basic UX for years.
User experience is key for small and start-up businesses as well because the site is their first impression to users. This debut matters when it comes to directing future traffic and business to your product.
This same concept applies to companies with small budgets. User experience is important because it can create the momentum that propels the business forward. Remember, users decide in just a few seconds whether your site or app is worth their time. That’s the only opportunity you get to reel someone in.
When it comes to poor user experience, the issues are noticeable. Think about problems reported with HealthCare.gov and subsequent self-reported issues: inability to compare plans before creating an account, overloaded servers and downtime, problems with account creation, difficulty filling out applications and not enough user testing. All of these problems create a negative emotional connection to the site for users.
Further, the Usability Professionals Association defines six key benefits to adding UX to the design and development process: increased productivity, increased sales, decreased training and support costs, reduced development time and costs, reduced maintenance costs and increased customer satisfaction.
UX and the Design Process:
So how can designers start thinking about UX in the design process? You may actually be thinking about it already.
It starts with the principle of collaborative design, opening the process to a team of creative professionals with the common goal of solving a problem. The team needs to work together to create a set of great aesthetics, vision and goals for a design project.
Think about the connection and experience you want users to have: simple, surprise, formal and credible or emotional. Make sure your experience creates a shared story that will be familiar to all users. Then test, test, test.
Is the actual experience what you expected or intended? Do site tools work as expected with the correct outcomes? How do users feel about your overall site and their experiences using it?
Think about what the UX says about your brand as well. Does it convey a universal message? How does it compare to competitors?
Take those answers and work on revisions. The first design is rarely the best option.
But Why Should Designers Care:
Isn’t UX a developer problem? Developing and designing around a superb user experience is everyone’s problem. From the first sketch to the final product, how something works should be talked about every step of the way. So it is just as much as designer problem as developer problem as CEO problem.
Without an effective UX, digital products are likely to fail. It really is that simple.
UX and Identity:
When it comes to digital products, user experience can be just as important as visual identity and the two should be thought about in tandem.
Think about common applications you use everyday. We’ll use Evernote for this example: users go back to it because of how it works and the connection they have to thinking it is reliable or meets individual needs.
Most users probably know it is green, from an icon or home screen, but think very little about the color or elephant logo.
What users will notice is how the website works versus the application versus the desktop version. The company has worked hard to create a common user experience, where things work and behave in much the same way across platforms although they may look slightly different.
The key here is that users have the same feeling about the program regardless of device and use. That is a universal, and effective, user experience.
User experience is an art form of its own. You never can predict for certain how your site or app will be perceived.
What you can do is arm yourself with the tools to make informed decisions about UX in the design process.