There’s a lot of confusion these days about the difference between designing User Interfaces (UI) and User Experiences (UX). The former is all about how we directly interact with products and services: the buttons (physical and virtual), menus, input devices, and the like that actually let us control whatever it is we are trying to interface with.
The latter is much broader, requiring not only that we have a means of using our tools but that we actually find satisfaction, even pleasure, in doing so. UX is the preplanning that goes into UI and the post analysis that facilitates modification and iteration. If your user is able to understand and use your design, congrats — you have built a workable UI. But if they don’t enjoy doing so, you need to work harder on your UX.
User experience is first and foremost about understanding what your users want and enjoy. It’s the bigger picture of how they feel about your design: “If you’re focused exclusively on what the user sees and does on your website/mobile app/desktop app/kiosk/whatever, but never plan for how they’ll get there, what they’ll do when they leave, how they’ll come back, and most of all, how they’ll feel about it a week later, you’re a user interface designer, not a user experience designer.”
Sometimes UX gets boiled down to a rule of thumb, but satisfaction and pleasure are bit tougher to measure than mere functionality. The traditional Three-Click Rule, which states that a user should be able to find any information with no more than three clicks, is no longer considered a hard and fast requirement. New research indicates that overall ease of navigation is a better metric for user satisfaction than mere click or swipe counts.
Time is another important factor: “It takes less than two-tenths of a second for an online visitor to form a first opinion of your brand once they’ve perused your company’s website, according to researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.” In less than a second, your audience has already sized up your offering. If it doesn’t look immediately inviting, or if the UI is inscrutable at first glance, chances are you’re going to drive away some potential visitors.
UX means seeing the world through your intended audience’s eyes. Frankly, the same is required of all good design endeavors. It’s not enough to make something merely functional or aesthetically pleasing. You need to actually test and see if your audience is having the desired reaction. Furthermore, designers can make the mistake of assuming that their tastes and needs are similar or identical to the people they are creating things for.
“…ease of navigation is a better metric for user satisfaction than mere click or swipe counts.”
Your users may have very different ideas about how they want their products to work. Great UX means putting your own values aside. You can’t improve usability, accessibility, and user enjoyment if you aren’t thinking about the users. You need to ask questions: Who is your user? How are they like you? How are they different?
“What is the flow of their day and their skills, attitudes, environment and ultimately their goals. Create personas for them: They have names, a family dynamic, a job and an entire life story. Create stories about them. Refer to them as team members in your meeting. Instead of thinking ‘Will Robert our CEO go for this?’, think ‘Will this work for Jim, the stay-at-home Dad?’”
So how do you find out who your audience is and what they like? By doing client interviews and competitor research, attending events that your users attend, and, of course, by doing traditional market research such as surveys and demographic analysis. “These deliverables will be key in the design approval process, especially if someone on the design committee says ‘Why don’t we make it blue?’ With the documents you can now say ‘our research shows that red will make users feel how we want them [to].’”
Also, did you consider the business side of the equation? “A true user experience designer understands their company’s goals just as deeply as they understand their constituents. That allows you to determine which of the constituencies needs should be addressed by the product, and make a case to the powers that be how doing so will positively impact the business in the long run.”
So, you’ve articulated a problem, identified a target market, prototyped, wireframed, and tested a solution that you think will work for both the user and the client. Now you need to check your outcomes. Did red actually make the users feel the way you wanted them to? If it didn’t, try A/B testing with a blue version.
Remember, it’s not about what you think works, or even what the research indicates will work. It’s about what actually achieves the desired result. Creating a great user experience is an ongoing process. Strive to delight your audience, never stop iterating, and always put the user first!