It hasn’t been long since I started calling myself a user experience designer; before now I was merely someone who was into reading, learning, and having a wide and strange variety of almost clashing interests. Though I haven’t changed that part of myself, I have come to realize that it is those parts of my personality that seem to matter the most when it comes to designing a user’s experience. We are all users ourselves after all, and we are all different kinds of people with all sorts of quirks, peeves, and methods.
When someone asks me what a user experience designer does for a website or application, I often relate it to a department store: when you go into a department store, you can often tell where you’ll find what you need without too much searching. There are visual cues, signs, and similar patterns to other stores (aka best practices). If the store is not created on this pattern, it has to help the customer along through more interaction and hopefully an intuitive and logical order, or else you’ll need a help desk at every section, and your security guards will end up knowing which corner you can find childrens’ shoes. At the same time, unless you’re a large department store, people might not have a reason to visit your store instead of the more well-known ones. You’ll need something extra, something delightful to get customers to show up and become regulars. This is the same with websites. We stick with best practices, try to formulate industry standards, and use similar iconography and copy to help the users more easily navigate through a website or application.
The biggest difference is that, online, there is a lot more competition and choice. Why choose X when Y looks cooler, or offers a bigger discount, or why even bother looking for Y when I have found X first. The reason to go to one site over another is the interaction, and the feeling that the user gets when they visit your site. Do they feel welcome, that you’ve put in effort to help them get what they need, that you care about their experience and are trustworthy? These are the things that we need to focus on. We need to find out who the users are and how we can best serve them as they are, with their specific needs, specific thought patterns, specific quirks, and peeves, and methods.
Having a deep empathy and understanding for fellow human beings is essential to creating that user experience, but also for having a successful business. Oftentimes you’ll hear people say that the customer never knows what they want, but that isn’t true. They know what they want but they don’t know how to communicate it to us; they might not know what is possible or how to explain their thoughts. We have to interpret for them, and put it into our own language. They don’t like the button colour? Why? Distracting? Is it actually just too big, or maybe the background is clashing, or possibly the colour is actually just bad. Why would they think that? Are they a fan of the Vancouver Canucks and blue reminds them of their Maple Leafs rivals, or maybe they like the Maple Leafs but they aren’t doing well this season? It’s all about context.
Every user and customer is a person, and we designers, business people, developers, government officials… we’re all people, too. We all have stories and individual personalities and we, all of us, want to have good experiences and feel as though we are getting personalized, caring, and helpful service whether it is online or in person. We could just create website and applications that all look the same, feel the same, and are essentially effective, but we’d lose out on innovation, new business, and human connection. Let’s not forget the user stories in our work.