What is User Experience?
When you’re out having a drink on Friday night and you use the term UX or User Experience, most people just look at you with a blank face. And you know they’re probably thinking, “What does it mean?”, “Why are you telling me this?” or “Why are you using this wanky term?”.
And yep, I’ve been on the other end of it, so know how it feels. And even now, having worked in the digital industry for a long time and on user experience projects, I sometimes get confused by exactly what the term means, or, in most cases, what it does not mean.
With more digital design roles starting to appear these days and as more people begin to realise the potential value of UX in their business, it feels like it’s gaining a bit of a ‘snobby stigma’. However, I don’t think it’s fair for UX or UX design to be branded with this pretentious brush because when you pair it right back it really is normal, everyday life – something we are all part of, day in, day out.
Take the last time you used TV on demand for example. How easy or difficult was it to find the website or app, and when you got there how long did it take you to find the right show or even episode you were last watching? What does the language or buttons say to you? Those feelings and emotions you felt about that company are all user experiences.
What is User Experience all about?
I think Wikipedia does a great job in defining UX.
User Experience (UX) refers to a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. It includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership.
It also goes on to say that UX is “dynamic as it is constantly modified over time” due to changing usage and that “In the end user experience is about how the user interacts with and experiences the product.”
This is great as it mentions people’s emotions, but doesn’t seem to touch on one of the points that is at the heart of UX – respect for the people using the product or service.
In saying that, I really like Laura Klein’s version of UX design as she talks about fulfilling the needs of everyone who uses that product or service: “Good UX Design happens when we make these decisions in a way that understands and fulfills the needs of both our users and our business.”
Where does UX come from?
Although UX seems to be a relatively new thing, its roots and the ideologies that underpin it are actually quite old and are based on many different elements.
If you go all the way back to the Machine Age, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were people such as Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford, pioneering ways to make human labour more efficient, productive, and routinised. Although their ideas were definitely a stepping stone for UX, many thought they lacked the ‘human respect’ element. However, this all changed in the 1940s when Toyota introduced a ‘Human-Centered-Production system’ that not only improved efficiencies but also created a respectful environment for workers.
Industrial design has also had (and still has) a major impact on UX and UX design, particularly the works of industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss and Dieter Rams. Dreyfuss’s book Designing for People was published in the 1950s and yet still describes many of the methods that UX designers employ today. This was followed by Rams’ 10 Principles for Good Design in the 1970s, which included the principle ‘makes a product understandable’. So powerful are these ideologies that they are still very much engrained in UX design, and I’m sure design as a whole, today.
In the 1970s there was a major shift forward for UX and for the digital world, with PARC, a Xerox research center and their explorations into UX and computing systems.
However, it wasn’t until 1995 that the term User Experience was coined by cognitive scientist and designer Don Norman. His links between cognitive science and design had such a major influence over UX, and his book The Design of Everyday Things is still widely read and re-read by UX professionals today.
What is UX for and why use it?
With its roots based around industrial design and cognitive science, you can see how UX has become a great way to explore opportunities around digital design.
However, because UX is seen as a great way of understanding your audience and adding value to a product or service, its guiding principles can be used across many disciplines, such as furniture, electronics, museums, and not just websites or apps.
UX is not only seen as a great way of adding value to a product, service or company, it goes even deeper than that, drawing on cognitive science to really give users what they want – before they even know it.
If you’re wondering how UX will help your business you just need to think about one major thing and that’s how important the experience your customers have is. Awesome UX helps your customers understand your company, your products, and… also lets them get a real sense of your brand and what you are about. Having those awesome experiences can really set you apart from your competitors.
Improving your UX is a great way to enhance your business – no matter what you do. It lets you truly understand your audience and then try and create what they want.
Take this article for example. If I want to make this a great user experience I need to ask myself, “What type of person is reading this article?”, “What do they want to know?” and “What examples will help explain UX to them?”.
And from asking myself these questions I can put myself in the user’s shoes and start to feel empathy for them. From this, I can assume you’re trying to find out what UX is, so you’re more likely to be someone who hasn’t been exposed to UX before. I can assume you want to find out what UX can do for you and how you can apply it to your business or product. Am I right? Hope so.
At HEROIC, we base our work on the ideologies of UX design to help clients optimise all of their digital touch points, including websites and apps, so that they get to the heart of what users want. To ensure we’re getting it right, we use a 6-point UX design process to try and get to grips with your users as effectively as we can.