What is UX and why is it so important?

Nicola Francis

In Design, UX Posted

This is a question I get asked a lot in my job and it can be hard to explain at times.  UX (User Experience) isn’t simply limited to the digital world, it’s a part of everything we use, everything we experience, and how we perceive and interact with the world around us.

UX in the real world

To try and help explain the concept of User Experience to people, I try and use real world situations that they’re more likely to be able to relate to.  UX is present everywhere we go, we just aren’t aware of it as a lot of what we do and how we interact with the world has become second nature.  For example, it could simply be the light switch you use every evening when you get home from work to light up your living room so you can see where you’re going.  You know that you have to switch the switch in a certain direction for the light to turn on, you instinctively know where to find the switch, and you know exactly what the purpose of the switch is and what should happen when you press it.  When all these factors work perfectly and have been implemented properly, you don’t even consciously think about, or notice, all the individual interactions you’ve just made to achieve your goal of brightening up your living room.  This is GOOD user experience and one you probably haven’t even consciously thought about.

On the other hand, say for example one of the interactions you experience when trying to switch on your light either hasn’t been implemented in the correct way, or simply fails.  The switch could have been installed upside down, back to front, or you could have a power cut and the light simply doesn’t turn on.  It could even be that the switch has been installed too low down or too high up, or even on the wrong part of the wall, such as behind the door you’ve just walked through to get into the room, meaning that you have to work harder to achieve your goal.  Because this journey you’ve taken to perform a simple task such as turning on a light has been interrupted by something you didn’t expect, or not implemented as per your needs, you’ve now had a NEGATIVE user experience.

User Centred Design

When it comes to implementing good UX in the digital world, we have to consider multiple factors in ensuring what we design, build and ultimately deliver works exactly how the user expects.  We need to consider factors such as a users overall experience, their emotions when interacting with our products, intuition and the connection a user feels during and after using our products or websites.  We even need to consider any accessibility requirements to ensure users with any disabilities or additional needs are catered for and have the same positive experiences as regular users.

This is what we call “User Centred Design”.

“User-centered design (UCD) or user-driven development (UDD) is a framework of processes (not restricted to interfaces or technologies) in which usability goals, user characteristics, environment, tasks and workflow of a product, service or process are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process.”
– Wikipedia

Image credit: Colossom

When designing using the User Centred Design approach, we generally perform four essential steps in ensuring what we deliver will meet the goals of our target users:

Requirements gathering – Understanding and specifying the context of use
Requirements specification – Specifying the user and organisational requirements
Design – Producing designs and prototypes
Evaluation – Carrying out user-based assessment of the site

Why does UX Matter?

A lot of people focus their time on the overall design of a product or website, but UX isn’t only about how something looks.  UX is essential for complex websites because they need their users to be able to easily navigate the site and understand how to use it to achieve both the users goals and the business goals.  By not investing the necessary time or effort into UX, you will simply create a website that users will not return to, wont convert, and ultimately fail.

Conclusion

Creating a good user experience isn’t simply creating a website that looks pretty.  It’s understanding not only what your users want to achieve, but also the psychology behind their interactions and decisions.  Giving them what they’re expecting and making interactions as natural, second nature and simple as possible to provide the ultimate in user experience.