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June 26, 2017 /UX/UI Design /

What You Should Know About User Experience

User experience, or UX, is a popular term in the technology and design industries today. Because UX is a growing field that continues to be defined, many are unsure what UX means — and how to use the term correctly.

You’ll often hear people refer to UX when talking about digital interfaces, like websites or mobile apps. While that’s not incorrect, a deeper look into UX is essential for a full understanding of what UX is and why it’s important to know more about it.

In this article, we’ll address:

What Is User Experience (UX)?

UX stands for “user experience.” When we say “user experience,” we’re referring to how humans interact with a product–online or in the physical world.

You encounter designed user experiences everywhere. On a surface level, everything from the way you interact with a software product to the location of an on-off switch and how it is shaped, is an example of elements that build UX. The sum of your interactions with a product becomes the experience that you have when you use that product.

All of the objects around us have user experience — from touchscreen kiosks in the subway to high-end coffee machines that allow us to make a single serving of gourmet coffee. The ability to use a mobile phone or wearable device on the go improves the user experience, just like interacting with your car through digital touchscreens and voice commands makes operating your car simpler.

A product’s success, therefore, is based on how users perceive it. While using a product, people usually evaluate their experiences in the following ways:

  • Does this product give me value?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • Is it pleasant to use?

Whether or not individuals become regular users loyal to the product depends on the answers to these questions.

Digging Deeper Into the Elements of UX

Don Norman, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, is credited with inventing the term “user experience” in the 90s declaring that, “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

In his own words Norman said: “I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.”

In this video, Don Norman shares his opinion on the origin of the term UX.

To sum it up, UX is pretty much everything that affects a user’s interaction with a product.

  • User experience is about feelings. It goes beyond human-computer interaction (HCI) and puts special emphasis on the human side. People classify an experience as a personal moment.
  • UX depends on the context in which the product is used. The circumstances under which a product is used constantly change over time. UX involves understanding the larger context in which users operate, and discovering what part a product plays in their lives.
  • A user’s experience will evolve over time. A user’s experience with your product is dynamic. For example, when a new product comes to market, or a novice user tries a product, they may be confused and have mixed feelings because they have no context for what to expect. Later, when they are more familiar with your product and depend on its value, their experience will grow increasingly positive as they become emotionally attached.

In technical terms, UX includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful, and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Peter Morville’s UX honeycomb is a tool that helps you find the sweet spot between the various areas of an effective user experience.

Peter Morville’s UX Honeycomb

  • Usable: A product needs to be simple and easy to use. It should be designed in a way that is familiar and understandable.
  • Useful: A product must fill a need. If the product isn’t filling a perceived gap in the users’ lives, then there is no real reason for them to use it.
  • Desirable: The visual aesthetics of the product need to be attractive. Design elements can evoke positive emotion and appreciation.
  • Findable: If the user has a problem with a product they should be able to quickly find a solution.
  • Accessible: The product or service should be designed so even users with a disability can have the same experience as others.
  • Credible: The company and its products need to be trustworthy.

When a product design takes the outer six elements into account, then it will deliver value to the user — and maximizing user value is the ultimate goal of UX.

What Is UX Design?

UX is almost always followed by the word “design.” By the nature of the term, people who work in this field are “UX designers.”

In simple terms, user experience design (UXD or UED) is the process of designing physical or digital products that are useful, easy to use, and delightful to interact with. But it goes much further than that. Here are five items to consider:

1. UX Design Is More Than Usability

One common misconception is that UX design is all about usability. It’s easy to see why — usability means that a product is both usable and useful.

Usability is a quality attribute of the user interface, covering whether the product is easy to learn, efficient to use, pleasant, and so forth.

It’s true that usability is one of the most important factors in effective UX, but limiting UX to this one element will set your product back.

2. UX Design Isn’t Visual/UI Design

UX design is often mistakenly referred to as Visual/UI design. That’s because for many people, the word “design” is associated with colors and graphics. But UX design is different.

User interface, or UI, is defined as a medium of communication between a person and a system. With the increased use of personal computers and mobile devices, this term is generally assumed to mean the graphical user interface (GUI) — the look and feel, the presentation, and the interactivity of a product.

Even though UI is obviously an important part of the user experience, UX designers aren’t creating things in the same sense as a visual or interface designer. UX designers are designing the function behind the visuals — the process that makes products work well for the people who use them. UX bridges the gap between how something appears and how it works or feels.

You can see in this graphic that UX encompasses every aspect of product design and use, but UI is mainly limited to visual and interaction design.

UI and UX are not mutually exclusive, and in fact, they always overlap. Image credit: Scorch

3. UX Design Is About People

UX is an approach to design that takes into account all the aspects of the interactions a person has with a product or service. It’s rooted in a deep understanding of user’s behavior, needs, goals, motivations, and the context in which they will use a product, with the end goal being a solution that satisfies those areas of the user’s experience. UX design is the art of service — creating value for people.

User experience design won’t accommodate every situation for every user because, as human beings, all people are different. What works for one person might have the opposite effect for another person. UX design is about reaching the best, farthest-reaching solution for your target audience.

Thus, to create a great user experience, the designer needs to have empathy for the people who will use the product.

4. UX Design Isn’t One Size Fits All

From a smartwatch with micro screens to the widest TV-screens, content should be developed to be viewed and interacted with across a range of screen sizes. But designing for different devices is more that just resizing content to display on different screens. It involves a lot of complexity: designers need to maximize the user experience for each device so users believe that the app was actually designed for their devices instead of being simply stretched to fit the screen.

5. UX Design Is an Ongoing Process

The UX design of a product will evolve over time as new technologies are developed and new feedback is received. As a product evolves and changes, the UX design needs to be refreshed as well.

The Role of the UX Designer

The role of a UX designer is complex, challenging, and multifaceted. Although the responsibilities of an individual UX designer may vary in different companies, an effective UX design team focuses designing and prototyping user experiences through information architecture, interaction design, information design, and visual design.

Dan Willis’ UX umbrella is helpful in explaining what’s really involved in UX design.

What Do UX Designers Actually Do?

When UX designers are creating a new product, user research comes first. UX designers define the target audience — who the most important users are for the product — and what goals and needs that audience has.

Next, UX designers try to satisfy those needs by focusing on the following areas.

  • Visual design. Creating an effective visual hierarchy for the user interface.
  • Information architecture. Satisfying the target audience’s goals by analyzing key tasks and defining user flow accordingly.
  • Interaction design. Optimizing the interplay between humans and product interfaces.
  • Usability. Analyzing how people use your product.
  • Content strategy. Aligning content with overall product strategy.

UX designers also spend a lot of time collaborating. Design is a team sport and it’s crucial for UX designers to effectively communicate design decisions across their team from the beginning of the project right through to implementation. The ability to empathize and understand the motivations of developers, product managers, marketers, and other designers is critical for UX designers. Their work influences many different areas and they should be able to collaborate effectively with all departments to create a successful product. For example, a user research report prepared by a UX designer may contain a lot of qualitative data on user behavior that can help the marketing team develop their content strategy.

Finally, UX designers spend a significant amount of time on prototyping. Prototyping is an essential part of the UX design process and is used to create sample products that can be tested and adjusted before a final version is produced and launched. A prototype can be almost anything, from lo-fi sketch representing different screens to a hi-fi pixel-perfect interactive interface. The goal of a prototype is to test products (and product ideas) before engineering the final solution. It helps resolve usability issues and can reveal areas that need improvement to better meet what customers want. Create prototypes faster with Adobe XD. It’s the first all-in-one solution for designing and prototyping user experiences.

Example of a high-fidelity prototype in Adobe XD.

Of course, it’s not only about the user’s needs. UX designers must also take into account the goals of the business as well. It’s no use having a product that people love if it doesn’t help achieve a business goal. A UX designer must strike a balance between users and businesses to create viable solutions.

UX design is about finding the intersection of human needs and business goals.

Ultimately, the aim is to connect business goals to user needs through a process of researching, prototyping, testing, and refining that satisfies both sides. This is achieved by following a user-centered design process, where UX designers take the user’s needs into account at each stage of the product development lifecycle.

If you’re interested in becoming a UX designer, check out these articles: Thinking About A Career in UX? Now’s the Time, The Many Paths to UX, How to Create Your Web and App Design Portfolio, and 5 Tips for Graphic Designers Switching to UX Design.

How To Recognize Great UX Design

Jared Spool, an expert in the field of UX design, said: “Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it.”

Looking at examples of less effective UX design alongside examples of highly effective UX design draws three important lessons for UX designers.

1. Provide Enough of the Right Information

Let’s use a car dashboard as an example. The state of UX design in most vehicles today is widely criticized for not being intuitive. Car manufacturers have been slow to implement the quality of design that other industries assume as standard.

Poor UX: Tells the user the vehicle is broken

In the example below, the system is telling the user that there is a problem with the vehicle, but doesn’t provide any information about the source of the problem or the solution.

The car dashboard on the left displays cryptic icons and codes to indicate a problem. On the right, the dashboard gives the driver specific information about what needs to be fixed.

Effective UX: Tells the user what the problem is and provides information to fix it.

In the example above, the car dashboard interprets the vehicle malfunction and communicates it in a language most users understand without the need for additional clarification.

2. Avoid Visual Clutter

The news industry is the perfect example of a sector that has gone through a digital transformation over the past several years. Most news companies are leaving print for online platforms and are focused on engaging visitors to spend more time on their websites. Conflicting visual hierarchy and an abundance of advertising are the two most common problems users face when they visit news sites. These problems frustrate users and slow them down.

Poor UX: Prevents the User From Reading Valuable Content

Many news sites are looking for ways to maximize revenue wherever they can. Adding more ads is a natural reaction, but in most cases this has drawbacks for the user experience. In the example below, you will find an old version of the CNN website. You can barely see the news content because ads dominate the page.

News sites need ad revenue, but must also promote the content readers come to see.

Effective UX: Focuses on What’s Important for Your Visitors

By focusing on the most valuable content for readers, news organizations put the reader’s online experience front and center. This approach emphasizes readability because a user’s attention is limited. The example below demonstrates a clear visual hierarchy with the most important content having the most visual weight, with distracting elements, like flashy ads, minimized.

Creative design for a news website by Alex Lyubim. Image credit: Behance

3. Eliminate Friction in the User Journey

Friction is anything that prevents users from accomplishing their goals. It reduces conversions and frustrates would-be customers to the point of abandoning their task. One common example of friction is login walls — pages that ask the user to log in or register before proceeding. Let’s look at an online shopping checkout process as an example.

Poor UX: Forcing Registration Without Offering Value

Often, e-commerce sites and apps use login walls at checkout. Login walls have a significant interaction cost because users must take the time to create a new account and remember their credentials to purchase. Forcing registration too early can cause more than 85 percent of users to abandon the product. Even Amazon is guilty as charged. It forces the user to register before allowing them to purchase selected items, so many users just leave the site.

Amazon forces users to sign up or login before checking out.

Effective UX: Provide A Guest Checkout Option

The registration process can usually be simplified with a guest checkout option. For e-commerce apps and websites, it makes perfect sense to ask for billing info upon checkout but not force the user to register before allowing them to purchase selected items.

ASOS provides an option to sign up using a social network account or to continue as a guest.

Postponing account creation until after the purchase has been completed gives businesses a great advantage. Once users have smoothly completed their purchases, they may be grateful for a good experience and more willing to create an account (especially if some of the data they’ve provided during the checkout process will auto-populate in the create account form).

4. Alleviate the User’s Uncertainty

For an example, let’s look at a form for an online purchase. Paying for something online with a credit card is simple, right? Yes and no. Yes, because most users are familiar with this experience, and no, because no two credit card forms are alike.

Poor UX: Doesn’t Support the User

In an ideal world, users would easily fill out a form with only the necessary information and successfully finish a payment. In the real world, though, that’s often not the case. Take a look at this example.

This form assumes that user will understand what’s required without any additional information.

 

When presented with a form like this, the customer will likely have the following questions:

  • What payment cards are accepted? Would it be possible to pay using American Express?
  • What is ‘Name’? Is it a name on a card or your full name?
  • What format should be used for Expiry date (MM/YY or MM/YYYY)?
  • What is the ‘Security code’?
  • What happens when I press ‘Next’? Is it a final step of the payment or will I be able to check all the data I’ve entered?

Effective UX: Visualize What’s Required

Sometimes, a simple improvement in the UX design of a checkout process could increase revenue by millions of dollars.

There are many ways you can alleviate a user’s uncertainty through design. Here you can see a modified version of the form from the previous example. You can see that each field has a proper label, and the form has dynamic contextual help, such as the card type, which is triggered only when customers enter the first digits of the card number.

Image credit: Waveapps

Below, is another good example. The form visualizes the results of user operations and makes clear what data is required.

Checkout flow by Ramakrishna Venkatesan. Image credit: Behance

Why Should You Care About UX?

User experience for your product will play a critical role in attracting and maintaining your customer base. People experience your products emotionally, and unfortunately, negative emotions are more memorable than positive ones.

When your product experience leaves the user with a bad taste, they will quickly take their business elsewhere. Thus, poor UX often translates to a weak bottom line for your business. On the other hand, the most effective UX earns the user’s interest — and most importantly their loyalty.

Good UX Is Important for Good Business

The business case for UX is a matter of survival. Today’s users expect a lot from your brand, which means each product must provide a good user experience. Companies have never been more invested in making sure their users, customers, and clients have positive interactions with their products. They look at UX design as a bottom-line investment. Forrester Research reports that, on average, every dollar invested in UX brings $100 in return, or an ROI of 9,900 percent.

Job Market Demand

UX designers are in high demand. According to CNN Money, UX design is one of the top 50 jobs in the United States. The median U.S. salary for the field is $70,000/year for entry-level, and $100,00/year for a seasoned UX designer.

Chart shows the average annual salary for two types of UX professionals in the United States. Image credit: NNG

Hiring Trends in UX Design

According to an Adobe survey most companies are hiring UX designers to work on web design and mobile app design. In five years, mobile is expected to be the top priority for hiring. While desktop-to-mobile (cross-platform user design) will also remain important, almost half of companies expect to hire UX designers who can work on virtual reality (VR) projects in the next three to five years. Looking at the recent evolution of user interface design might give you a sense of how user expectations have been changing and what’s coming next.

Conclusion

UX is essential to the success of your product and your business. Push for great UX throughout the entire development process. Make customer needs the core of your design. UX is all about users having the best experience. Continue getting feedback from customers to ensure you’re on the right path — and never stop in your quest to get UX right.

UX/UI Design

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Join the discussion

  • By Rachel - 3:14 PM on June 30, 2017  

    Hi, can you recommend the best places to learn UX Design? I’ve taken a few courses through Coursera and Udemy, but is there a specific certification you need, or is it more of a portfolio thing? Thanks for your advice!

  • By Todd Nelson - 6:32 PM on July 1, 2017  

    This article is extremely important for those of us who design GUI’s. As a remote control programmer, I don’t build a specific product, but do so virtually every time I design a program for a homeowner. The article was so informative about what we need to accomplish to give the homeowner the experience he, or she, is expecting. The interface needs to be both simple and effective to accomplish this. The good thing about designing controls, is that it gives us the opportunity to reprogram for the homeowner as his, or her, remote to suit their changes in ability and tastes.
    Thank you for this article