Despite the growing interest in user experience, there’s still confusion about its exact definition. Whether you’re a designer, developer, product manager or CEO, you are going to need more than a superficial understanding of UX if you want to create truly great experiences. Here’s a primer that will get you up to speed:
What user experience is not:
When most people think about design, they think about visual design. While the surface aesthetics of a product is an important part of UX, it is not the whole story.
So what is user experience again?
Part of the problem is that UX is a broad concept that involves a lot of different things. It’s also a fairly new discipline.
“It’s everything. It’s the way you experience the world. It’s the way you experience your life. It’s the way you experience your service,” according to UX expert Don Norman, who popularized the term UX in the 1990s.
If a UX is “everything”, what does that include? UX consulting firm the Nielsen Norman Group says that "user experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products.
”For a more technical definition, a diagram created by Jesse James Garrett, the author of the book The Elements of User Experience, describes UX as consisting of several planes, with the top layer being visual design, and the layers underneath consisting of interface design, information design, navigation design, interaction design, information architecture, functional specifications, content requirements, user needs and site objectives.
How do you achieve a good user experience?
Whatever your definition of UX, the most important thing to know is that achieving a good UX involves following a user-centered design process rooted in getting to know your users. The basis of this is the trio of research, testing and iteration.
First, start with research, possibly the most important part of the equation. User interviews, or more simply, talking to your users, allow you to get to know them and determine their needs.
The point of this is to design based on your users’ actual characteristics and needs, rather than starting with your own, most likely flawed, assumptions about users’ behavior.
The next step is to create a prototype and test it on your users. Observe people closely while they use it, making note of where they have difficulty. Frequent and brief cycles of testing are essential to catch problems as early as possible in the product development process.
The prospect of conducting user tests can seem daunting, but it can be done very simply with few resources if you don’t have access to an observation lab or researchers on your staff. Simply find someone to try out your product, sit next to them, have them complete a few tasks and make some notes about where they have difficulty.
Based on this knowledge, create a new prototype and test it again and repeat the cycle until you are satisfied with your product. Your product will be much better for it.