User Experience (UX) is a business buzzword that has attracted quite a bit of attention in the past few years. As more and more companies jump on the bandwagon of delivering services targeting “User Experience”, a true understanding of what the term really means gets lost and confused.
Defining User Experience
With the plethora of user experience content available on the internet, you may think that defining what user experience is would be as easy as typing a quick search into Google. But, you will actually find a multitude of definitions out there to define the term “user experience” with many of them tweaked toward a particular use case or industry. In fact, AllAboutUX.org lists 27 different definitions from a wide range of different well-known sources. To keep things moving, we’ll go ahead and refer to the definition of UX offered by the Neilsen Norman Group:
The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company’s offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.
If we break this definition down into pieces for examination, we can begin to see where mismanaged user experience projects can end with unsatisfactory results.
Giving Customers What They Say They Want
Businesses focused on increasing their customers’ happiness know that user experience is important. But, knowing that it is important doesn’t mean that they understand how to achieve optimal user experience for their products and services. In reality, many of them struggle to even describe what or how they envision increasing levels of user experience. They just know that they want it.
Providing Checklist Features
The challenge of describing the user experience updates a business wants but cannot clearly communicate often produces overly complex project descriptions with every bell and whistle tacked on in fear of leaving out a trendy feature. The overall intentions are good but many times those requests include unnecessary pieces that can actually detract from making a better product (house 1 in diagram).
The checklist of features requested by a business unit can result in chaos and failure even if it is left in the hands of a team comprised of top notch project leaders, analysts, and programmers. That’s because each of those professionals working alone can and will solve the problem in terms of their individual disciplines. A project manager will make sure that the plan includes time, materials, and details to cover every step in the customer’s request (house 2 in diagram). The analyst will structure each piece to function (house 3 in diagram). And, the programmer will create code that logically works (house 4 in diagram). But, without a unified user experience team, these projects quickly lose the simplicity & elegance that is necessary to achieve end user satisfaction.
Seamless Merging of the Services of Multiple Disciplines
A true user experience team packs in all of the talent found within each professional discipline and works together to ensure that their individual goals do not interfere with the users’ needs. To achieve that sort of result, these teams incorporate overarching processes such as interviews, surveys, and focus groups to lay the groundwork for user experience solutions. Professionals well-versed in just one area of expertise may see these additional processes as a waste of time because their day to day projects do not focus on end user satisfaction. However, it is often those particular processes that directly influence and ultimately affect the success of a user experience project.
Producing Products That Are a Joy to Own – A Joy to Use
When a skillful user experience team lays the groundwork for a project and helps interpret both the business client and end user needs, the results can be phenomenal (house 5 in diagram). And, even though the outcome may be far from what the business had originally envisioned, it will certainly be optimized for the people that matter most – the business’s customers (house 6 in diagram).
Without a doubt, the term user experience encompasses many fields and can derive highly complex project solutions. But in the end, a truly excellent user experience project is celebrated because of its simplicity. That’s why companies in markets with extreme amounts of competition find that one easy way to stand out from the rest is by offering an intuitive product or service that customers love and want to use.