A World Without User Experience
Imagine for a minute, that our products and technologies were not built for ease of use. Imagine that you had to pop open the hood of your car every time you wanted to fill up your gas tank. Imagine having to turn the grocery store’s door handle to exit, while you carry your bags or push your basket. Imagine the world that your parents (or grand parents) grew up in, where you were forced to get up from your comfortable seat every time you wanted to change the channel on your T.V.
The point is: that every good product, technological advancement, service or system, requires a great interface or point of connection between two subjects when they meet or interact, and that interface must be designed with great focus on how the user will come in contact with the product. This is called User Experience design or “UX”, and it’s key to the success and acceptance of ANY product. It’s primary reason for existence is to provide users and consumers with the best possible experience and ease of use for a product, which in many cases can affect how an audience connects emotionally to a brand. This is why great user experience is great business. Consumers vote with their dollars, and ease of use coupled with effectiveness makes products POP-U-LAR.
What About Good Looks?
Did you notice that I did not mention aesthetic design at all? The reason for it’s omittance is simple: User Experience involves so much more than a pretty paint job. Sure, a stainless steel appliance may look phenomenal in your kitchen, and those high fashion heels definitely might make heads turn, but in the end, if they aren’t easy to use or aren’t comfortable, are they products that you’ll keep in your life or share rave reviews about? Probably not, and you aren’t alone in that either.
For many product designers, the aesthetic design is actually a secondary focus. For them, the products functionality, or how well it will work for a customer who has never been introduced to the product line or even the brand itself is the foremost important factor. The aesthetic design should then be dictated by the functionality of the product. This is where we get the term: “Form Follows Function”. Good UX is about how things work and ease of use. Users expect intuitive design that flows naturally, and if it looks good, that’s the icing on the cake.
More Examples of Bad UX
Websites with inconsistent navigation
Have you ever visited a site that had the navigation links at the top on the home page, but after clicking on of the links, the entire navigation system changed to an entirely new navigation system. If so, I’d bet you left that site very shortly after that. There are just too many better user experiences out there for you to deal with a poor experience.
Poorly designed or labeled instructions
This example is very personal and has always been a frustration for me. My previous vehicle was not built with an AUX Cord included, so my brother, knowing how much I love music, installed one that I purchased which works on an FM receiver in the dashboard. The problem is that it works better on different FM stations depending on the area I’m driving in, and I sometimes have to change the setting to a different station on the receiver and radio dial to get a better signal. The label that tells you how to change stations though, is illustrated upside down! You cant tell because the words are right-side up, so it’s not until you try to follow the directions that you find out, how poorly they considered my, the user’s, experience.
Here’s a photo of my FM receiver (set to 88.9).
In A Nutshell
Again, when we think about designing any product, service, or system, including websites, we must think and strongly take into consideration the experience of our users. If all else is done right, the UX will be the deciding factor on the success or failure of the product. So before we put our stamp of approval or consider a design completed, we must put ourselves in the users shoes. I believe that a great practice, especially when designing websites, is to go through the motions of the experience ourselves first, then ask lots of people to go through the use process or visit the site and write down or record their feedback. You’d basically be conducting beta tests with people that ultimately could be using your product in it’s finished state.
Learn to focus on ease of use and simplicity in how something works, cherish constructive criticism, put feedback to good use, think about the end user, and you will be on your way to designing great user experiences.
A great book about User Experience that I read as part of my pursuit of a Bachelors Degree in Graphic and Web Design with a Web Design Concentration is:
The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond, 2nd Edition, by Jesse J. Garrett. It’s a great resource that helped me to ultimately write this post.