Gastronomy & User Experience
By Rana Mansour, UX Consultant @ RBBi
People who have no idea what UX is about always ask me, “what do you really do? Websites?” But I always struggle to find an easy way of explaining it. Then I thought what better way of explaining something than using food as an example. (Also because cooking is my passion and eating is everyone around me’s passion!)
So, here it is.
“Saying a website is usable is like saying dinner was edible.” — Jared spool
When you visit a restaurant, you have certain expectations and needs. You expect the food to be tasty, service to be well organised, all within a wonderful ambience to enjoy your meal. All of these elements are tied to your entire experience of the restaurant. And that’s the UX motto as well: To create a memorable and pleasant experience for their users. For a UX designer, the main purpose is to study what the users of a digital platform would expect and need, and design a suitable experience to meet their expectations.
When you’ve had a good experience you keep longing for more. The chef is always mindful to please their customer and bring them back to the restaurant. Similarly, well-thought through UX services and products entices users — and always gets them back due to the experience they offer.
Emotions and satisfaction
A chef has a responsibility to satisfy more than one customer, possibly coming from more than one region. Likewise, a UX designer needs to make sure they consider and answer the needs of all different types of user profiles — an stressed-out PA, a frustrated husband, a busy mum, a bubbly kid… the list goes on!
Both the chef and the UX designer take senses and emotions into consideration to allow experiences to emerge. In gastronomy, smell, taste, touch, visual and emotional appeal are all in the mix for the diners’ experience; this is the same for digital users’ experience, though perhaps omitting taste and smell.
To bag the perfect blend of all the senses and emotions, the chef picks his ingredients carefully, maybe choosing them based on a family or traditional tried & tested method, a new well-received recipe, or from memory when he previously prepared the dish successfully. Similarly, the UX designer researches competitor and benchmark websites, best practices and new trends, and combines this with their own tried & tested methodology to allow them to create the perfect fit.
Before cooking, the chef scribbles his ideas down on a piece of paper, the equivalent of sketching in the design world. Following his ingredients selection, the chef contemplates the right utensils to use in order to make their dish. UX Designers are equipped with a set of tools as well that they use to develop ideas through to solution, such as eye-tracking devices, observation cameras, and a good old sketch book.
Presentation is everything…or is it?
The final stage before serving the dish to the customer is the presentation. You will have heard the quote, “People eat with their eyes first”, the chef takes that really seriously and spends a good amount of time to making the presentation on a par with their quality of food. Like the diner inspecting his carefully prepared plate on arrival at the table, users make initial assumptions and judgements based on what they see. The UX designer needs to present his design with carefully considered aesthetics for maximum user appeal upfront and throughout the experience.
Rule 101 in the kitchen is to taste everything before serving to the customer, making tweaks — a dash of salt, a rearrangement of garnish, to perfect their dish to suit their customer’s taste and expectations. In UX we also tweak, we just call it testing. We test the final product to validate its functionality, does it make sense to users? Is it intuitive? Does it look good? Can a user find what they are looking for? We test across practical, visual and emotional elements, and if there’s something not quite right, we tweak until perfected.
A never-ending process
Testing doesn’t stop here for the chef, he eagerly awaits feedback on the dish he’s lovingly prepared to understand your preference. If it’s good he’ll give himself a gold star, if it’s negative, then obviously the customer just has bad taste! Kidding, he’ll do all he can to improve and perfect the dish for your next visit. Similarly in UX, we monitor users’ actions and conduct further testing to give us feedback and help understand behaviour and usage patterns. Based on this data, and taking current trends and best practice into the mix, we modify, test again, validate and tweak, resulting in a product or experience that draws in returning users.
Building a great user experience is like cooking a great dish: it takes observation, trial and error, planning, craftsmanship and dedication to always make it better. It does take a lot to delight your customers, but trust us, they will give it back to you manyfold!