Years ago, every time I got ready to go on a trip, my joy was clouded by the anxiety connected to purchasing a ticket online. Even before I connected to the website, a strange stomach feeling preceded all the difficulties that I would face by selecting my destination and paying for the ticket.
This is what we could call a bad user experience and, as you might have noticed, it’s not restricted to the sole use of something, but it’s made of expectations and anxiety, together with the frustration that arises after we’ve finished using a certain website.
On the contrary, my first meeting with Netflix was easy and intuitive, without any sense of guilt; it was a new way to access all the movies and TV shows I loved and still love, without commercial breaks or service interruptions. I always wanted something like that. I wanted it before I discovered it, and once I got to know it I talked about it to everyone I knew. It’s evident that this was a good user experience.
Beyond these two very distant cases, there’s a whole spectrum of different experiences and, even though we might not notice them, they influence us for better or worse. Most of all, they determine a product or application possibility of success. A good User Experience Design is invisible, most of the times.
It’s easier to understand the meaning of User Experience (UX) now that we’ve brought some examples on the table. The unprecedented expertise of the Nielsen Norman group provides us with this definition, which can be found on their website:
“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.
Don Norman, one of the founders of NNG, was the first to use the term User Experience during the ’90s, while he was still working for Apple. Norman understood that the relationship with a product begins with desire and includes unpacking (which explain the success of all Unpacking videos). We now know that it was a very smart move made by Apple.
I would also like to look closely at the term “design”, thus adding to and completing the above definition (one interesting chapter regarding design might be found in the italian book Critica portatile al visual design by Riccardo Falcinelli, published by Einaudi in 2014, which unfortunately hasn’t been translated into English). The English word “design” derives from the French word “dessein” which also derives from the Italian word “disegno”. Within the Italian language, it’s easy to connect the word “disegno” to the artistic and creative dimension. However, in this particular context we have to think about it only in its basic form: that of the project. The design is a sketch, the starting point from which most ideas sprout in many different areas, even technical ones. Designing something also means – and I underline that – to consider the conditions in which what we’re planning is going to be built, used and reproduced.
Therefore, User Experience Design means: to plan a product or a service while always keeping in mind the interaction with a company, in such a way as to create a satisfying experience for the user.
WHY WE SHOULD INVEST IN UXD
The main reason why we should create a good UXD is that it helps us understand where the businesses and users’ interests meet, and I believe this to be essential. Placing the user at the center of the creative process: designing, planning, creating a product and testing it means happier customers and entails a positive echo that may affect both the product and the brand, while also increasing its economic value.
If this is easy enough to understand when connected to customers’ needs, I would like to point out that it’s not as easy when making products for business employees. Why should we invest and create easy and accessible applications for our employees? As a matter of fact, it is a widespread opinion that training can compensate for a non-intuitive application, and that an employee shouldn’t be lured in, because they cannot choose a competitor.
But truth be told, training has elevated costs and, if we add the employees’ dissatisfaction with the sum, we see that it will produce an echo on the environment. Furthermore, one could argue that the philosophy of happiness among employees is spreading across all companies and that a user designed application increases productivity and it’s generally more efficient.
WHO DOES IT AND HOW
This isn’t an easy question; how to design an experience? Everything starts with the knowledge of those we’re designing for. The tools to create something like this are many – you can find an interesting collection here on Ux recipe – and I cannot analyze them in depth too much. However, there are two main details that I would like to clarify.
First of all, even though the role of the User Experience Designer guarantees a User Centered approach, the designing process should be shared with every member of the team involved in the development of the software. Putting what we know about the user at the center of the process, and not our opinions on the matter, makes it a cultural approach rather than technical expertise.
Secondly, planning has to be considered as an iterative process, which predicts the management of errors and which must learn from them.
Therefore, we can say that the UX is more than a technical characteristic of a product. A good user experience is profit for business. However, in order to realize something like this there must be something akin to a cultural change at every level, either in the organization or in the company that designs such products.
APPENDIX: WHAT THE UXD IS NOT
Since it’s quite easy to mix up parts of the UXD, I think it’s important to define what UXD is not:
- It’s not usability. Usability is one of the characteristics of the product. The experience, as we’ve explained before, is a broader concept. If Netflix had a limited catalogue that did not mirror my taste in movies and TV shows, I would have a bad experience, even though the system usability might be the same. The usability is one of the essential ingredients for a good user experience, but the two do not coincide.
- It’s not visual design. Visual design is extremely important within the realm of user’s satisfaction, so much so that it can influence the perception of usability of a product. However, it doesn’t include all of the tools used to create a good user experience.
- It’s not UI. Sure enough, the User Interface is one of the characteristics of the products. However, it’s an essential part of the experience, but it’s not the same. The UI is not the experience itself.