What Is User Experience Design?

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This is my first post in a series in which I will tackle the ins and outs of User Experience Design, offering a crash course in this evolving field.

So, what is User Experience Design (UXD)?

A short definition would be: Creating and coordinating between elements that affect the user's experience within a product, company, or website.

What are these elements? Let's put aside websites and applications for a moment and have a look at how User Experience Design affects our daily lives.

When you enter a bakery, you can smell the fresh bread (smell is an element in this case), you see the bread displayed (vision), you hear the baker greeting you (another element), you buy some (price is an element), and you enjoy the taste of the fresh bread afterwards.

You might think that this process is completely organic or random, but when you move into a different arena, for example, a supermarket, you’ll notice that products are laid out in a way that are easy for you to find, prices are displayed correctly, and lanes for 10 items or less (express checkout) are available, as are loyalty cards, perhaps a restaurant for you to have a bite in before or after shopping, or a day care for kids; a lot of elements are present to make your experience easy and enjoyable.

Another example that I often use is ketchup bottles. Who amongst us never struggled with a ketchup bottle?

Which of these two bottles is easier to get the ketchup out from? The glass one or the inverted squeezable bottle?

You get the idea…

As we move into the digital aspect of user experience design, the UX designer studies, researches, plans and evaluates how users feel about a certain web site or application, taking into consideration the utility of the system and its efficiency in accomplishing goals and tasks such as enabling users to buy a product, search for an article, or play a game.

A user experience designer will also test deeper processes within a site, for example, studying the checkout process of a web site or the ticketing system of an event site to make it easy and enjoyable for the user without sacrificing the business requirements and goals of the site.

This last point is crucial- successful UX design also takes into account behind-the-scenes aspects such as stakeholders’ business requirements and the financial and temporal limitations of the project.

In general, user experience design on the web is relatively new. The fields of ergonomics, library cataloguing, and cognitive science have existed for quite some time, yet the influence of these disciplines on web user experience design is much more recent. Dr. Donald Norman, a cognitive science researcher who was one of the first to start evangelizing about the importance of user centered design, coined the term “user experience” while working for Apple in the mid-1990s.

User experience design has become much more popular since then, and yet people still often design web sites, web apps for themselves, not for the users. Why should the needs and wants of the users influence design? Ultimately, UXD becomes important because the majority of people might have a different way of seeing and using systems then the website’s creator. A good user experience designer solves this problem by researching and creating a plan that suits the majority’s needs.

In future posts, I will further discuss this process of designing digital experiences.

Until then I welcome your questions and comments below.

[photo courtesy of User Experience Deliverables]

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