What Is User Experience?
What is user experience? Is it graphic, web or visual design? Is it user interface (UI) design? The answer is not a simple "yes" or "no." All of these fields of design are components of the user experience, but a good (or great) user experience goes beyond physical and digital design. User experience ensures that the everyday things people use work within our all-too-human limitations and maximizes how we get things done. How do you know if your users are having a good or bad experience?
In This Article
There is a lot of confusion about what user experience is.
Since 2004, business and technology interest in user experience (UX) has grown a lot.
A quick Google search for user experience returns about 6.4 billion results. If you limit your search to the exact phrase ("user experience" in quotation marks), you still get about 264 million results. That's a lot of content.
This wealth of online information about user experience is rich and varied, but can be overwhelming — and it can be hard to figure out what authors and sources are reliable and accurate.
What is user experience and why is it important?
To visualize what user experience is, ask yourself these 3 questions:
- Do you have to use a smartphone to get things done during your day?
- Do you have to buy things for you and your family from grocery stores, retailers, etc.?
- Does your employer provide you with a computer and software for you to get your work done?
If you answered “yes” to any or all of the above questions (and we would be curious to learn if anyone answered “no” to all of them), think about times when you've felt:
- stuck or frustrated;
- this is taking way too long; or
- thought: “This is tedious."
Feeling any of the above emotions is a bad user experience. Sometimes the bad experiences are subtle and perhaps manageable. Often times, they compound one another and can even lead to unsafe or dangerous outcomes.
Now think about the three questions we asked above.
This time, while referring to times when you were using your smartphone, buying something or using employer-provided technology, think about when you've felt:
- Empowered — like you are getting more done and doing it better than before.
- Effective (getting stuff done).
- Efficient (getting stuff done — like a boss!).
If you have ever felt the above emotions, you had a good (or great) user experience.
User experiences are everywhere
Basically, any thing that requires a human being to interact with it has a user experience (good, bad or “meh”). That could be a physical product, a digital interface, a process or an environment.
Consider how many user experiences an average person has with so many different things several times a day.
Just this morning, the majority of us probably started the day interacting with home appliances and televisions. Many will make their way to work by automobile or mass transit. During this time, there will be road, traffic and transit signs, and signals that are key and critical to get to our destination safely.
Throughout the day, most of us use websites and computer or mobile applications to communicate, create, collaborate and share. Many people use specialized equipment, machines or tools to get their work tasks done.
And to feed ourselves and our families, almost all of us will go shopping for food — whether it is our weekly grocery shopping or grabbing something to eat or drink on the run.
A lot of our day is spent interacting with things that someone else designed and built. Billions of human beings interacting with the same or similar things every day. It's awe-inspiring when you think about it.
Imagine that you are the person who is responsible for how something is designed, built, sold or delivered. You can have a huge impact on someone's daily life.
The user experience is your “product,” as that is all the person using it sees and touches. Most people who use technology don't think about the bits and bytes, the lines of code or the back-end data that makes it work. They are just trying to get one activity done so they can move onto the next one.
This is why user experience is important.
A thing's user experience influences whether the person using it feels overwhelmed or empowered, frustrated or confident, ineffective (this is tedious) or effective — whether they have wasted their time or are “getting stuff done like a boss.” How the human being feels will influence whether they use that thing a lot, use it as little as possible (if that is their only option) or quit using it altogether.
This one interaction or moment may be their only touchpoint with your company and brand. So, it is critical to ensure this is a good (hopefully great) user experience.
Focus on the human in every user experience
Our UX team of 50+ human factors and usability researchers, product and interaction designers, and front-end engineers are steeped in the discipline and rigor of designing products and applications that maximize human capabilities and performance.
We work as members of software delivery teams to ensure that our clients deliver solutions that are useful, reliable, frictionless (easy-to-learn and use), empowering and delightful in their inventiveness. We can mentor our client user experience and software delivery teams to incorporate human factors research, design, engineering and validation methods/best practices into their regular product research and design operations.
Learning from the past to sprint forward
The original (and still best) definition of user experience was coined by Don Norman, co-founder of Nielsen Norman Group and first Apple User Experience Architect in the 1990s: “'User experience' encompasses all aspects of the end user's interaction with the company, its services and its products.”
As user experiences transition from screens and digital user interfaces to voice and motion interfaces, what we need is a renewed focus on studying and understanding the capacity and limitations of human perception, cognition and movement/kinesthetics. To that end, in the coming weeks and months, we will be delving into the principles of human factors and its influence on human-computer interaction and user experience strategy — starting with how humans perceive signals in their environment and begin to process those to take action.