What is user experience?

I’m going to talk about UX, but here’s a great animation explaining IA, that you don’t want to miss.

User Experience Design

User experience design, according to Wikipedia, is a field of experience design that pertains to the creation of the architecture and interaction models that impact user experience of a device or system. The simple way of describing UX would be to design the interface / system to enable users to do what they need to do. Ultimately, UX is the art of making something a joy to use: the creation of a system that users will take delight in interacting with time and time again.

Determining User Needs

Photo by Dave Jones

That dreaded 0:0:0:0 date/time in which nobody knows how to set

The first step of this process is to figure out what the users want and how they do their tasks. We can go ask them… however often times they don’t really know what they want or how they do it, even when they think they do. Just think of home electronics, say the DVD player. The one that looks the best at the store would be the latest model with all the bells and whistles. Yet how many of those special features do we end up using or even know how to use? Take a look at the number of players with the blinking 00:00. Most people (myself included) just stick the disc in and hit play.

This is why the best way of understanding user needs is by observations. Field studies are the best, but they’re intrusive and costly to do. So we often study server logs to look at what people do in the past. Here’s where UX involves a ton of data analysis to tease out the common tasks and the users’ preferred work flow.

Once we understood what the users need, we can then design the process of the web app or the structure of a website to help users carry out their tasks quicker and easier.

Onboarding — Make Learning Easy

More accomplishment with less effort equals a winning experience. How to decrease effort? By reducing the learning curve, make it easy and intuitive to learn. They call this “onboarding”, the process of helping the user to get started by removing the deer-in-the-headlights feeling of “Ummm…. what am I suppose to do here?”

It all depends on the context and our users. Sometimes we can use wizards, offering suggestions on the things they can do and walk them through the process. Other times, we can borrow from a process that the users are already familiar with. For example, most people are familiar with the iPhone two-finger pinch gesture for zooming. Other multi-touch interfaces should use the same gesture for similar tasks… like zooming in to view details of an item, or resizing an item. However, an elderly person, who have never interacted with an iPhone before, would not know what to do. In this case, a button with a magnifying glass symbol may be easier to learn, despite the control being slower to use. This is the reason UX practitioners spend a fair amount of time doing user research to figure out what will work best for the particular case.

Making Recommendations

Photo by NathanaelB

Always start with wireframe sketches

Next comes the physical part… summarizing our thoughts and recommendations in the form of user personas, site maps, user flow diagrams and wireframes. This is one of my favourite parts working in UX, the hands-on paper and digital sketches.

The web designers and developers then take these documentations as the blueprint to build the actual website. This is usually a back and forth process. We offer suggestions, the designers and developers, in turn, tell us what’s feasible and what’s not. We go through several rounds to produce a user-friendly website.

Even after the website is complete, work is still not finished. We also do usability reviews and usability tests to ensure what we’ve built works well for the users. Actually, this is an iterative process that should be ongoing through website development and post-launch. We invite users to try out our website, or prototype or even just paper mockups and see if there’s any problem areas with the current design. This can be formal test lab sessions in which participants come in to do the testing, or it can be completely informal in which we grab people online and show them the designs. We then summarize our findings and offer recommendations on improving the web experience. Then we do more testing in a continuous cycle to further enhance the user’s experience.

As UX of systems and devices continue to improve, the user will be able to complete tasks more efficiently and have fun while doing them. Also with the advancement of touch-screen & 4-D technology, there are more opportunities than ever to custom tailor immersive experiences for the users. Actually, some of these are already here. Check out Samsung’s 3D game on YouTube.

And this is what UX is about: researching, testing and making recommendations in order for the web development team to deliver addictive products that surprise and delight you. All this is brought to you by your local user experience professionals.