User experience (UX) is how a person feels while interacting with a company, especially in the context of a website, web application or other digital technology.
User Experience Is About People, Not Design
User experience describes how people feel when navigating a website, using a mobile app or otherwise interacting with a company's digital products or services. There are many elements that contribute to designing for exceptional user experiences, such as user interface, usability and user research. However, user experience design does not equal user experience. It sounds redundant, but UX is what people actually experience, not the separate elements that UX professionals bring together to influence the experience. Optimizing and refining the elements of UX design can affect how the end user feels to a great extent, but there will always be some things that are out of the designer’s control.
Though there is no reason why user experience can’t apply to physical interactions, the term is usually reserved for interactions with digital technology. This is evidenced in the way that UX methodologies focus on areas like wireframing, usability and other digital-specific processes.
Aspects of User Experience
Designing for exceptional user experiences is grounded in making the end user happy. This means that, before the UX can be designed, companies must have a clear understanding of their users’ needs and priorities. In-depth user research allows UX designers to make decisions regarding the functionality and value of each aspect of UX.
Peter Morville has laid out these aspects in a honeycomb, to show that the UX process is multi-dimensional, rather than linear:
These seven elements can be used to guide the design of great experiences, as well as test, research and measure their effectiveness (for instance, see how User Testing has reframed them as questions a user might ask). To better understand each aspect, consider the experience of a commercial banking website:
- Useful: The website offers services such as account balances and bill pay.
- Usable: When you view your account balance, the information is accurate and searchable, so that you can review recent deposits and withdrawals. In other words, it works the way you expect it to and it works every time.
- Desirable: The interface makes it easier for you to manage your finances than visiting a branch would.
- Accessible: The website accounts for accessibility needs such as visual impairment or other disabilities.
- Credible: The site has secure access, as well as additional security features, such as automatically logging out once you have ended your session.
- Findable: When you want a new credit card, it is easy to find available offers and apply online.
- Valuable: The self-service features on the website decrease the support center costs and improve customer satisfaction, making it a worthwhile experience for customers as well as a good investment for the business.
While none of the above aspects should be overlooked in any user experience design, it is important for companies to know what their users’ highest priorities are, through in-depth user research. Sometimes, a team pours most of its resources into designing incredible functionality (usable), only to discover later that their customers won’t touch it because the visual design isn’t pretty enough (desirable).
Businesses should be careful not to confuse "valuable" with “unique” or "innovative" when reviewing user experience. The look and feel of a site doesn't encompass every part of the user's experience, and sometimes a simple solution is the best one. A site can be beautiful and modern, but still have poor overall user experience if it is unnecessarily complicated (i.e., if it has poor usability).
Uniting User Experience and Customer Experience
Customer experience and user experience can be seen as different approaches to the same question: how do we make customers happy? User experience professionals spend most of their time guiding the process of designing experiences, whereas customer experience professionals focus on the overall impression a customer receives from all of its interactions with a company. However, these two roles tend to be siloed within companies. By uniting user experience and customer experience, companies can create a feedback loop that balances customer needs with business needs.
For example, how do you decide whether to gate the content on your website? Requiring a user to give up her email address before being able to view an article creates a less desirable experience, so UX designers may push to remove that step. However, with an email address, marketers can send customers additional resources that encourage future purchases, so a CX professional may push for gated content. By initiating a conversation between the two roles, companies can constantly assess the best balance for their goals.
Having a really good user experience ensures that your company gets a return on its investment. It ensures that all the money you put into the website generates into measurable value for your business.
Key Benefits of User Experience
Because of the push for companies to become more customer-centric in their processes, investing in user experience should be a given today. Some of the benefits of designing valuable user experiences include:
- Better understanding of users and how they interact with your company.
- Driving long-term customer loyalty by continually refining the experience of digital products and services.
- A solid methodology for designing the kind of user experience that a brand offers. This will become more important as the number of connected devices increases, pushing companies to provide consistent user experiences across them all.
For any business going through digital transformation, investing in user experience helps ensure that digital offerings are well-received by new and existing customers.