What is User Experience?
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
The Holy Grail of Marketing
Let's make it simple. All the interactions that you can imagine a customer going through with your brand, or your product, at any and at every given time of a customer facing experience, is user experience. For an FMCG product, it's the time a customer picks up a product off the retail shelf, and reads the ingredients, or it's the time a customer looks at a product while walking by, because the packaging appealed to them.
For a digital product, a user experience constitutes even a timely or late delivery of an actual product, or even the packaging a product comes in. Now let's make this clear, a lot of online shops are aggregators or marketplaces where third parties sell and at many times, even distribute their products to the end user. So you might as well be saying, how does that constitute a part of my user experience? The answer is simple, the customer bought the product from you, so in his or her mind, you are the brand he or she is dealing with.
That just broadens up the domain of user experience, doesn't it? Of course it does, user experience is broad, immensely broad as a practice, and simplifying it to a single interface, completely reduces the complexity and the importance of its domain. If i download an application from a QR Code, the QR Code is an essential part of my user experience. Let's put it this way, take all the possible interactions that a consumer or user could have with your brand and/or product(s), sum it up in it's entirety, and you have a schematic whole of a comprehensive user experience.
So why is User Experience relegated to Website or Mobile Applications?
Back in the day, and I am talking late 80s and early 90s, user experience was a much different term. It was called 'human system interaction'. According to the ISO definition, user experience includes all the users' emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviors and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use. The ISO also list three factors that influence user experience: system, user and the context of use.
As an interaction designer, we sometimes miss this point, moving fast forward to deliver a product that the client can touch and see, completely misunderstanding that the end product is resolved through hours, perhaps days and even months, of complex data analysis that makes us better understand the overall usage or consumer assumptions of these various elements. An interaction designer, we plan for those very moments, our core responsibility is relatively simple to make those moments positive and meaningful. And these interactions are not just the interface (that's just the UI - User Interface Design). It include all aspects of the software, the back-end logistics or processes involved, from management approvals to customer service to delivery, to anything that cannot be automated. It's the copy writing (a very neglected part of the user experience), the graphics, the layout, the customer flows through the various elements that make up the entire system, and finally to the actual physical experiences.
As an interaction designer, we are supposed to anticipate that, and for existing business models or existing models of interaction, we can use our experience to compensate for a lack of data, and the end results are very close to the final product. But for more novel approaches, or more unique business models that are non-existent in today's economy, it becomes a lot more difficult to rely on experience based judgments. We need data, and that could be obtained from extensive user interviews, stakeholder interviews, eye-tracking analysis, and so much more methods to quantifiably obtain relevant data.
Pay attention to the process
This is a process that could take days and perhaps months to gather, before even a single piece of user interface is designed, or a piece of code is written, and this is very the confusion begins. Trying to design a product in the dark, is like trying to fish for 'salt water fish' in a 'fresh water' river. It's just not possible. But customers generally ask that of us, because they are clouded in their understanding of the complexity of what is human experience.
Think about it this way, I have a bottomless pit full of money, and I give it to the architect for the express purpose of designing a building or a house for me. Do you think the architect would just be responsible for designing the house? No. He would take great care to design the surrounding greenery, the foyer, the garden, the driveway. He would take great care to design every inch of the property to suit and anticipate my every need. That is what makes a great architect so invaluable.
So is it the same with a great user experience consultant. They dissect your business relentlessly, expose its very weakness (so that you are aware of it before it becomes a functional problem to the business itself), understand the very nature of the customer that you are targeting, and base concrete decisions that may seem insignificant to you, but could have a dynamic impact on your consumer.
User Experience is not a website developer or a mobile application developer. Our landscape of design is a huge arena, that has significant impacts on every nature of your business. So please, next time you ask for a user experience assessment, understand clearly what it is your are asking us to do.
And those who claim to be user experience consultants, don't relegate our space to a mere website developer/designer, we are not just that, and you know it...