Understanding The User Experience
User experience. Not a new concept. Yet, it seems that all of us have our own ideas about it.
Based on definitions I compile from a Google search, UX describes the individual perception, thoughts, and responses with respect to a product, system, or service. It’s how we feel and think about, and how we perceive and react to a certain product.
Pretty straightforward, right?
Then how come there is still so much confusion out there about what UX really means? Why do people still get it confused with usability? And why is it such a challenge to design for a truly great experience?
UX is not simple. It is not the result of beautiful design, or great usability.
Rather, the user experience brings together many different disciplines and requires full commitment of all of them. Let’s take a closer look at some key aspects of UX and how they contribute to the big picture.
Let’s start with usability. A lot of times, people mistakenly believe that the usability of a website is the only thing that makes a great user experience. This is not true. It is true, however, that usability is essential for good UX.
Without good usability, people are not able to reach their goals, or at least not within an accepted period of time. The lack of basic usability principles can result in a negative experience, leaving the user confused, overwhelmed, uncertain, or even frustrated.
In order to achieve better usability, it is important to be familiar with your target audience and to have a clear idea of what your users are trying to achieve. Here are 5 key principles to keep in mind:
- Availability & accessibility
Usually, I look for positive examples to underpin my points. In this case, I’d like to look at a negative example.
Acer is a big brand for digital products, such as computers, tablets, monitors, and much more. One of their main product lines is laptop computers. That said, it’s obvious that most visitors will be looking for information about laptops.
But instead of making it as intuitive as posssible to find this information, Acer actually challenges their users to find a laptop according to certain specifications.
Starting on the homepage, it takes me three clicks to finally get to an overview of all laptop computers. Then, this overview is very confusing.
All 29 products look the same, and there is no visual clue to help me differentiate between the different items. Also, there is no clear indication that I can compare products.
After I figure out that I need to select the products I want to compare, the comparison is limited by three items.
When looking at the filter specifications on the left, they are very limited and also confusing. For example, when selecting any of the three screen sizes smaller than 14 inches, there are no products available. Why even offer that filter option then?
Do better than Acer. Make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for.
The appearance of your website plays an important role for the user experience. And though you could argue that it shouldln’t place second in a priority list, personally, I believe that aesthetics are critical for good UX.
Why? Because the visual design and the look & feel of your system or product can have a huge impact on your users’ emotions.
Emotions affect how we perceive something and, more importantly, how we remember it. Emotional design can help you grab your users’ attention and influence their perception.
If you guide your users and help them reach their goals in a more pleasant way, your design becomes fun and engaging. At the same time, emotional design helps you to build a positive relationship with your users.
Using aesthetics the right way, can make your design:
Spotify makes great use of visual appeal on their website. With little text and a lot of expressive images, you get drawn right into the site.
The visual design of this website perfectly reflects the feeling that comes with the product. The sphere that is created makes you feel free, light, and happy. The design is simple and very focused. It’s about being flexible and about discovering the world — while listening to your favorite music.
When designing your own website, take into account the feelings evoked by your design. Does it match your core message?
3. Customer service
An aspect that is more practical in nature, but just as important, is customer service. We all know how annoying and frustrating it can be to call customer service for the hundredth time and to get the same vague answer every time.
Bad customer service can scare off your users. Worse, it gives them reason to share their bad experience and advise friends against your product or service.
Customer service is important because it shows your users that they can trust you and that you are available in case they need assistance.
Customer service is about building relationships with your users. It’s about starting a conversation, about listening, and about talking back. Good customer service makes the user experience more personal and increases brand loyalty.
An example par excellence for good customer service is the brand Brabantia. Their ambition is “to develop solid household products that retain their beauty and performance for up to 20 years.”
Brabantia is not a cheap brand, but one that develops “solid, reliable products that are made to last.” With this promise in mind, a lot of people are willing to pay a higher price. I’m one of them.
But does Brabantia live up to the “long-term guarantee” for their products?
They do. I have a 150€ waste bin at home, and a few weeks back, the lid wouldn’t close anymore.
It turned out a small part of the closing mechanism was broken. A new lid cost 40€, which I wasn’t too excited about paying. After calling the customer support, I was able to order a new lid. For free.
It took me less than 2 minutes to order the new lid on their website. It was delivered to my house the day after. Seriously, I love that brand!
Want loyal customers? Develop great customer service.
4. Brand consistency
Another important aspect of a good user experience is a consistent experience.
What do I mean by consistent? Your customers must recognize your brand immediately — whether they visit your website from their desktop computer, tablet, or mobile, and whether they visit your physical store, buy your products, or see your advertisement on television.
A consistent look & feel is important to create a sense of familiarity and trust.
You want faithful customers, right? Then don’t let them down. Don’t confuse them. And don’t expect them to make the effort of keeping up your relationship.
Customer loyalty is all about recognition, identification, and keeping our lives as simple as possible. As long as we are happy with one brand, there is no need to take on the challenge of getting used to another one.
Apple is the master of consistent customer experience. No other brand can match it.
No matter if you visit their website or one of their stores, if you buy their products or see an advertising poster, the look & feel is always the same.
It’s always about simplicity and a clean and elegant design. It’s about the product and the customer, and about a relationship between the two that is… well… almost creepy.
Apple is a lifestyle. This lifestyle is shared by many people around the world and it cannot be changed from one day to the next. Apple has promised their users innovation and uniqueness, and for the price we pay for their products, that’s what we expect at every encounter with the brand.
Once you set high standards, you also raise your users’ expectations. Keeping these expectations satisfied can become a true challenge. But it’s a key to better user experience.
5. Personal impact
Last but not least, the personal impact your product or service has on your users contributes to the overall user experience.
Only when we interact or engage with someone/something can we draw valid conclusions about our experiences. And these conclusions are important for how we remember something.
Negative emotions are easily eliminated from our memory. Positive emotions, on the other hand, help us remember. By creating a personal experience and getting your users engaged, you significantly increase the chances of triggering positive emotions.
Also, we like to share positive experiences with others. So a positive impact not only motivates people to come back, it’s good for word of mouth advertising as well.
As an example, Slavery Footprint creates an unforgettable first impression. This site is an awesome initiative for building awareness and creating action against modern-day slavery.
When visiting the site, you get welcomed by one single question: How many slaves work for you? You can then go through an interactive survey to find out the answer and discover how your are connected to modern-day slavery.
The site is created in such a simple, yet engaging way, that it is shockingly effective.
After learning about how this issue applies to you and your lifestyle, you have no option but to accept that the topic is serious, that it is happening right now, and that we must do something about it.
Slavery is a very delicate topic and also one that is easily pushed to the back of our mind, especially here in Western Europe in the year 2013. Yet, the innocent and friendly design of the site and the straightforward way of asking people to get involved leave little room for denial.
This personal impact has nothing to do with the usability of the site. Still, it is a very essential part of its user experience.
What about you?
As you can see, user experience is far more than usability. By incorporating elements of design, customer service, branding, and impact, you can create a user experience that far exceeds the norm.
Do you struggle to create a stellar user experience? What are your challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments below.