Illustration: Leah Buley, 2009
The term ‘User Experience’ was first conceived in the 1990’s by Don Norman, while he was Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple. User experience as an emerging trend essentially describes how a person interacts with a product, system or service.
The practice of developing and improving the user experience is referred to as User Experience Design, which considers the emotional response and how a user feels about, perceives and interacts with a product, system or service. The decision to become a regular user or visitor will depend on answering key questions such as “does it give me value?” “Is it easy to use?” and “Is it pleasant to use?
“I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose it’s meaning… user experience, human centred design, usability; all those things, even affordances. They just sort of entered the vocabulary and no longer have any special meaning. People use them often without having any idea why, what the word means, its origin, history, or what it’s about.”
Don Norman, 2008
Who creates the User Experience and how does UX translate to the web?
The User Experience Designer’s role is to impact the overall experience a person has with a particular product, system or service. They are enablers who define and improve existing systems in order to enhance the experience for the user. UX Designers come from a wide range of disciplines, and often have a focus in one particular area of UXD. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s focus for example, is almost exclusively on web usability. The User Experience Designer will cross a range of disciplines to develop an optimum experience for the end user. This can incorporate any or all of the following:
- Information Architecture (IA)
- Search and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
- User Interface (UI)
- Systems Design
- Interaction Design
- Digital Marketing
SEO and the User Experience
Having a high ranking site amidst the endless lists of search engine results pages (SERPs), particularly in Google, is of paramount importance to the online User Experience. Your site may be a dream to navigate, well written with lots of useful info and look like it was designed by Apple, but unless it instantly appears when a user searches on one of your keywords, the User Experience can be destroyed.
The Search and Social Media Marketing course here at Salford is a mine of information on all aspects of the SEO journey to help you in your quest for search engine domination and improving the user experience for your customers. Sessions cover:
- Keyword Research
- Understanding how Google and other search engines work
- Using Google Analytics to learn from your website visitor’s behavior
- Integrating social media into the mix
Speakers from industry attend the sessions every week, to give a commercial perspective on SEO and how it’s being used by business for competitive advantage.
Why does User Experience matter and why should we care?
The way a user feels about, and interacts with a product, system or service is of growing importance to the organisation as well as the end user. The ever-increasing complexity of technology and the role it plays in our lives, coupled with the rapid expansion of the web and the vast number of sites continually being created, simply perpetuates the demands of the highly discerning consumer who is only ever one click away from exiting your site.
The Internet has evolved from the early days of Web 1.0, which provided an extremely linear process where the author published to the web and the reader received the information. Now that we have reached the heady heights of semantic Web 2.0 and beyond, users can read and write to the same space enabling the mass multi-linear sharing of data, and creating an environment where networking online is taking collaboration to an unprecedented level.
The rapid growth of social networks and online communities reflects this huge change in the way the web is evolving, and the canny UX Designer can tap into this wealth of collateral to provide a comprehensive user experience not only through their corporate web channels, but also across a range of online media, networks and applications, in order to:
- Increase conversions, turning visits to sales for their customer
- Increase the early adoption of new technology by the end user
- Enhance customer satisfaction through a sublime user experience
- Act as a key differentiator in a crowded market
Illustrating how the web went from the old 1.0 system of one to many, to the more recent 2.0 environment of many to many, exposing the web to unparalleled levels of sharing, interaction, collaboration and community building.
Developing the Online User Experience – what’s involved and where to start?
The UX Designer will find themselves involved in a variety of tasks and processes at the beginning of a UX development project, and may need to wear many different hats when dealing with a diverse range of people and practices. This could include exploring all the areas below, or focusing more in-depth on one aspect such as User Research for example:
- Discovery phase
- Competitive analysis
- User research
- Information Architecture
- Usability testing
Identifying business objectives and the target market are primary steps in the process. It’s also imperative for the UX designer to gather a project team of associated professionals within the organisation, and also to look further afield towards additional staff who although may not be UX or Design professionals themselves can still have a creative and positive input into the process (in 1987 Peter Gorb and Angela Dumas termed this phenomenon ‘Silent Design’). The User Experience Designer always sees the wider picture.
Cartoon by Tom Fishburne, illustrating the ‘Silent Design’ phenomenon found in many organisations. This can be of particular use to the UX Designer in helping to develop the ‘bigger picture’ of the User Experience.
Challenges to the User Experience Designer
Often UX Designers work within organisations as a single practitioner, sometimes with a lone voice, which can present huge challenges in terms of engagement with those who have a non-design or digital background. San-Franciscan Leah Buley presents her experience as a self-styled UX Team of One and all-round UX Superhero, offering tricks and techniques on developing the user experience and overcoming some of the issues facing the UX Designer.