What is User Experience?

User Experience and you

By now everyone has heard the buzz about user experience, and if you’re planning a web or mobile application, you’ve heard about the importance of good UX. So you know you need it, but what is user experience, exactly? and how do you get it?

User-Centric Design

The concepts that make up modern UX theory began with the idea of user-centric design. User-centric design centered on the goal of breaking the barriers between computer and the user. User-centric design starts with the realization that it can be difficult to get users to interact intuitively with applications, and that the lack of intuitive interaction leads to difficulty and frustration.

User-centric design makes the user of the product its top priority, within the context of the business’s strategy. The aim is to improve the user’s experience with the application. This model of design has become the foundation of what UX is today.

Early UX designers figured out that by knowing what it was that the user expected they were able to provide an intuitive way for them to do it. This helped the business lead the user to do what the business hoped they would do. Good usability can be seen through an increase in key performance indicators such as revenue, referrals, retention, or any of a number of interactions with the product.

To better understand the user, today UX includes information architecture, interaction design and psychology (such as word selection and grouping, or structuring of objects), that helps us better understand the types of users and the journeys they go through when interacting with an application or a website. Combining this understanding of the user with visual design completes the story of the user’s interaction with the application, giving them the best possible experience.

UX is User Experience

That is what it’s all about. UX is a conscious, considerate design process with the goal to make it easy and pleasant for the user to interact with a business’s product. We can say that an app can have “good UX”, because it presents an intuitive and easy to understand experience for its users. Successful user experiences are thoughtfully and deliberately created following a measurable process. The process of arriving at a successful experience is nearly as important as the experience itself.

Get It All Figured Out First

The first method, sometimes called the “traditional” or “waterfall” model, is about as conventional as product design gets. It requires a lot of research on the front of the project, often requiring several rounds of design perfecting upfront. Ideally the result of this iterating is a product that perfectly satisfies the business’s initial requirements. It attempts to get the design right in the beginning of project in hopes of minimizing adjustments or pivots throughout the product’s lifecycle.

This approach works best when you have: a robust product plan, a relatively mature industry, and extensive knowledge about your user-base. With this approach you will find that you are able to build a robust product that will stand the test of time (to the extent that any digital product truly can).

Waterfall UX tends to employ the following linear process:

Discover (requirements, personas, user stories, journeys)

Explore (information architecture, wireframes, interactive prototypes)

Design (styles, mock-ups)

Check (product suitability, errors)

Test (feedback, measure key performance indicators)

Lean UX

For some startups, concepts, or business models the waterfall approach can be cost prohibitive or unnecessarily lengthy or cumbersome. If there’s uncertainty about the market your product is filling or who your user-base might be, sometimes it’s better to be flexible, and to test and verify that what you wanted to build is what users really want. By verifying assumptions up front via prototyping and user testing, you’re able to make changes early and often before investing major capital in product development. When this is the case, the process behind Lean UX can be a great candidate. Why?

Lean UX sets its sights on first building and releasing into the world a minimally viable product. What this means is that you can get a beautiful, sturdy version of your product out into the world that is well-built but without any potentially unnecessary bloat. You get feedback from real users and implement new features that you the know there is a demand for and make adjustments to what can be working better. The cycle here is build (the product), measure (success), and learn (how to improve). This ensures a product that is always improving and is never more than what it needs to be: exactly what the market wants.

UX is UX

At the end of the product cycle, neither approach discards the core principles of UX. You still want to give users good experiences while achieving your business strategy. The destination is still the same, but the roads to them are different. The waterfall approach focuses on structured preliminary research and, like the foundation of a building, it is sturdy, well-planned, and you can be certain what it is you will be building up front. However, when the product planning needs to shift due to a changing market climate or when there is uncertainty, the process can be slow and costly to adjust. Lean UX focuses on building only what you absolutely have to build, and evolves continuously. This lack of a predefined destination isn’t for everyone or every business. No matter how you arrive at your solution, the goal of user experience is always the same: create delightful and intuitive experiences that your core audience (users) love to interact with.

Originally published at www.seamgen.com on July 9, 2015.

Authored by Steven Cornell — User Experience Lead at Seamgen.

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