Article: User experience (and why it matters)

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Published:  July 30, 2015
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All words by Sarah Halliday

Last night I spent fifteen minutes standing in front of the work dishwasher, trying to turn it on. While overfamiliarity with one’s work dishwasher is not something any of us aspire towards, you’d expect – after some months – at least a degree of competence. But often fifteen minutes with the simplest whitegoods can make even the savviest designer feel like the school dunce.

Everyday products shouldn’t be difficult to use. So how can an appliance, relatively recently installed, all shiny and chrome – fail to fulfil such a fundamental requirement? And yet it does. This, in essence, is UX gone wrong. And it’s not only dishwashers. You don’t even need to get up out of your replica Eames chair to spot a device that seems – tragically – user-unfriendly.

UX or User Experience is the process of designing something for humans. It’s always iterative, and – more importantly – always about people. It might involve in-depth interviewing of people of a certain demographic, or gathering teams of people to engage in designing something together. Whatever the method, the main focus is finding out as much information about people as possible, and creating something that fulfills their needs.

It’s not about overshadowing graphic or digital design; in fact they go together like a wink and a smile. Operating side by side, they form the best design outcomes for the end user. According to Managing Director of Carter Digital, James Noble, UX is crucial when considering all things digital. Coming from a man who was “doing UX before it was even a thing”, that means a lot. Former Creative Director of Reactive, (and now founder of UX and digital agency Mass) Tim Kotsiakos agrees that for a design to be great, “it needs to be a pleasure to use.” Whether you’re within the digital space or not, UX is increasingly becoming crucial in giving businesses a competitive edge. “The most high performing brands are investing the most in creating positive customer experiences,” Kotsiakos says. “When businesses can no longer compete on price or product, a good user experience can be the difference between keeping customers or losing them.” Noble agrees that it’s a critical factor in a product’s bottom line. “With so many things pulling for a user’s attention, one wrong move and you will certainly be overlooked.”

It’s not hard to find proof the UX trend is on the upswing. So much so that major consultancies and professional services firms worldwide have invested in UX by either acquiring UX agencies or simply increasing their own digital and UX capabilities. Now most major banks have jumped on the UX bandwagon, evidenced by Capital One acquiring San Francisco-based design and user experience consultancy, Adaptive Path in 2014. UX isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

With such an all-encompassing field of operation, it’s safe to say that the golden age of UX has arrived. So let empathy into your design process, stock up on post-it notes and sharpies, and take a long hard look at your dishwasher. You don’t know where it’ll lead you.

THE UX PROCESS: A TWO-MINUTE GUIDE

The UX process can be broken into five simple stages:

  1. RESEARCH. Learn everything you can about your user. Define their key problems and benchmark any existing products that potentially solve that need.
  2. IDEATION. Thinking hats on. Brainstorm and find creative solutions. This traditionally involves mountains of post it notes and sharpies. As Noble says, “always find a solution with your imagination, not your computer.”
  3. PROTOTYPING. From lo-fi sketches to high-resolution prototypes, this is how a user and client will first experience your idea. As they say, “fail fast to succeed sooner.”
  4. TESTING. Take your prototype out for a spin and see how people respond to it. Your ideas will either be validated or unceremoniously booted off the island.
  5. ITERATION. Take all your findings from usability testing and incorporate them into prototype 2.0. Rinse and repeat.
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Sarah Halliday is a UX Designer hailing from the Stanford ME310 program. She’s currently involved in Nick Hallam’s digital consultancy Joan, Swinburne Software Innovation Lab and General Assembly. 

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  1. Pingback: Some great articles on UX & UI | User Interface Design

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