Every object or system we interact with has a user experience. It can be good or bad, satisfying or frustrating, depending on how much effort has been spent thinking about how people will actually use it.
Just as we may struggle with the remote control of the TV or with the company telephone system, we also have to tackle interfaces in the digital world. Often the experience of a single service or product may include several displays, since users are more and more likely to alternate between desktops, tablets and mobiles and even wearable devices.
If this experience is a bad one, all the hard work and resources on developing these systems is wasted.
So what makes the user experience a good one?
There are many definitions out there, the most official version coming from ISO standard 9241-11:
“Extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.”
In plain English, this means that the users should be able to complete their tasks in a timely manner and feel satisfied about the experience. This definition is particularly useful when conducting usability tests.
Another (in our opinion) very useful one comes from long-time usability consultant, Steve Krug: “DON'T MAKE ME THINK” is the title of his best-selling book and a must-read for anybody interested in web usability. It’s concise and funny.
The elements of user experience
To understand the total user experience, the actual ingredients go beyond the "official" and "simple" definitions:
A successful online user experience has to be accessible, useful, usable, and desirable.
Often overlooked, this is an important criterion: making an application accessible ensures that people with all abilities and disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate and interact with it regardless of the devices used. If you think this doesn’t affect your site, think again: with an ever-aging population, disability affects 1 out of every 6 Europeans. (source: EuroStat)
The system should respond to real user needs and solve a business problem, e.g. optimization of processes, visualization of data, enabling remote colleagues to collaborate efficiently etc.
Therefore, end users and business owners need to be involved all along the project cycle, from inception until post-launch to gather further feedback and continue to improve the experience.
- Design: The user interface needs to follow recognized design principles: a well-balanced and consistent page layout combined with clean and effective design elements.
- Content: The system needs to be understandable to the users – “speak their language” not “system language”. This applies to general content as well as instruction text, labels, confirmation or error messages.
- Navigation and interaction: The navigation structure has to be intuitive. The task flows and interactions have to be designed based on the way people think and work, which often is not the “out of the box” functionality.
Today’s users are more and more demanding, and rightfully so. With an overload of choices, they increasingly look for an experience that’s valuable, easy to use, aesthetically pleasing, and emotionally satisfying. It is not enough to create a usable application, it also has to win their hearts and minds.