What The Heck Is User Experience And Why Do You Need It?

by 2 07/24/2012

Are you wondering what all the User Experience fuss is about?

User Experience (UX) is somewhat of an elusive notion with many different definitions, even amongst the UX community themselves. There is user experience involved in all product and service design however my focus here is purely on digital user experience (e.g. websites, intranets, applications, software).

There have been studies conducted, theories put forward, discussions and research has been undertaken – as a result of which there are now several formal definitions of User Experience that co-exist.

Formal Definitions of User Experience (UX)

ISO 9241-210 (Ergonomics of human-system interaction) defines user experience as “a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service”.

The problem with this definition is that it still leaves so much to interpretation. Designing the user experience is a combination of an art and science with many “rules” actually being guidelines based on user behaviors during testing.

Additional notes in the ISO definition go on to explain that UX includes all the users’ emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviours and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use.  That really is a lot to think about – with much of it out of our control.

Further definitions on UX can be found all around the web and in print – the result of the UX communities’ own efforts to agree on what we do, and how we define it.  A good list of links to all the various definitions is available on All About UX.

Number 4 in this list –

Every aspect of the user’s interaction with a product, service, or company that make up the user’s perceptions of the whole. User experience design as a discipline is concerned with all the elements that together make up that interface, including layout, visual design, text, brand, sound, and interaction.

This definition from the User Experience Professionals Association, is the definition I prefer to use as, to me, it is more specific and only includes areas I know I can control or influence when designing the user experience.

Peter Boersma describes user experience as the umbrella term that joins a number of related disciplines. He developed a T model diagram to show this, discussed below.

I particularly like this model as it has survived for some time (in terms of the web) and it is an accurate assessment of the key disciplines involved in being a User Experience Practitioner. This T-model has provided a platform for more in-depth analysis into Information Architecture, as discussed by Nathaniel Davis in UX Matters.

The six core disciplines of Peter Boersma’s User Experience T-Model:-

  • Research
  • Usability
  • Information Architecture
  • Interaction design
  • Visual design
  • Content

Generalist UX

When a UX person has a fairly well balanced set of the six disciplines, they have a broad understanding of all the disciplines and as such they are known as a UX Generalist (see diagram below). Each UX person will be different as to the weighting of the disciplines.

Generalist UX

Specialist UX

Many of today’s User Experience professionals started out their careers with a specialty in one of the disciplines. This becomes their specialty due to their depth of knowledge and they’re known as a UX Specialist in that discipline. They have some knowledge of other the other five UX disciplines. The example below shows this for a UX Specialist in Content.

Specialist UX

Hybrid UX

The T-shaped UX practitioner is a hybrid of a generalist and specialist. They will have broad knowledge in all the disciplines and have deep knowledge in at least one, if not two of the disciplines.  They combine depth and breadth and I’ve found that they are usually the more experienced UX professionals.

T-Shaped / Hybrid UX

UX professionals and the skills they have generally fall into these three types. Each of the types has different levels of knowledge in each of the six disciplines. As an organization, you need to think about which of the UX types is best for your needs, but having a UX generalist on board is always a good place to start, bringing in specialist skills as and when required.

Why you need User Experience

It is very likely that every person reading this article has had an interaction with a product or service that doesn’t work the way you expect or that doesn’t quite meet your needs. Think back to the time, and how it made you feel. Frustrated? Confused? Stupid? Angry?

When your product or interface doesn’t work the way your users expect it to, these are some of the feelings that they experience.  Generally your users are your customers and as such, any of these emotions are the last thing you want them to experience when engaging with your business.

In addition there are some key areas in your business that can be affected by the user experience you offer.

1. Customer Loyalty

In the simplest terms possible, if your users have a bad experience on your website, they won’t come back. So not only have you lost a customer, you’ve increased the likelihood that your customer will go to a competitor. If your user has an okay experience on your website, but a better experience on your competitors website, they’ll go back to the competitor.

You can add all the features and functions you want but when it comes to customer loyalty the user experience offered has a far greater impact. All your new fancy features and functionality won’t bring a customer back to your website – but a great user experience will.

It is also well known that loyal customers make some of the best brand evangelists. Having this kind of customer should be your ultimate goal and great UX helps achieve this.

2. Return on Investment and Conversion Rates

Having a really good user experience ensures that your company gets a return on its investment.  It ensures that all the money you put into the website generates into measurable value for your business. This value may be in dollar terms but it could also be in things like conversion rates. For example, because your user experience is good:-

  • Customers are loyal and frequently return to buy your products/services.
  • Customers think it is easy to find, use or buy your products/services.
  • You have the ability to convert “browsers” into “buyers”, increasing your “browser to buyer” conversion rates.

Keeping track of what percentage of users you convert into customers helps you measure how effectively your website meets your business goals. This percentage is called the conversion rate, and this is far more effective in measuring your user experience than actual sales figures.

3. Efficiency and/or Productivity

A great user experience improves efficiency as well – by either helping your users to do things faster or by helping them make fewer mistakes. If you’re looking at UX for an internal customer – such as employees who use an intranet, improving efficiency of your tools has a direct correlation to productivity and improves it.

The less time it takes to achieve a task, the more you can get done in a day.  Looking at this on something like an eCommerce website, the faster and simpler it is to buy a product, the more likely it is that users will buy multiple products.

4. Customer satisfaction

Your customers are your users. When it is easy, pleasant and natural for users to be able to achieve a given task, users are likely to do the task more often.

So if this customer was your employee an experience that was easy, pleasant and natural to achieve helps ensure the employee experiences a high level of satisfaction – which can help them become productive.

If the user was your customer, the satisfaction experienced because the product was easy and pleasant to use, means it is likely that the product (e.g. website) will be used more often which leads to higher conversion rates and often to higher sales figures as well.

I hope this article has helped you better understand what user experience is and why it should be important to your business.

Remember, your customers expect to be able to engage with you on their terms. Helping them do so can only help your business.

Your turn.  How do you define User Experience and why do you think it is important (or not important) to your business?

About 

Leanne Byrom is a Freelance User Experience Practitioner and Lead UX at Phosphor Digital with a focus on the role of digital in the end-to-end customer experience. Consulting with large and small companies alike in building best of breed online experiences.

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2 COMMENTS

Mark

Nice article. UX is undeniably important for businesses today. Not just online touchpoints but offline as well. Ensuring great UX can mean the world of difference between being remembered and being forgotten.

January 30, 2014 Reply


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