User Experience

Understanding The User Experience

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User experience. It’s not a new concept, yet it seems that we all have our own ideas about what it is and what it means.

Based on definitions I glean from a quick Google search, “UX” describes the individual perception, thoughts, and responses with respect to a product, system, or service. It’s how we feel and think about, and how we perceive and react to a certain product.

Pretty straightforward, right?

Then why is it that there’s so much confusion about what UX really means? Why are we still struggling to get usability right for our users? Why is it such a challenge to create a truly great experience?

UX isn’t simple. It isn’t merely the result of beautiful design or great usability. Rather, user experience brings together lot’s of different disciplines and requires the full attention of them all.

Think of it like Apple or Porsche. They say that when you drive a Porsche, there’s something about it that just feels perfect. The handling, the location of the knobs and buttons, the aesthetics — everything. All the millions of little decisions that had to get made? None of them happened by accident. The UX is so beautiful and seamless, that at some point, you may not even remember the interface at all. You just remember the experience — or should I say — the user experience. You remember how it made you feel.

So, let’s take a closer look at some key aspects of UX and how they contribute to the big picture.

1. Usability

Let’s start with usability. A lot of times, people mistakenly believe that the usability (or, the ease of reaching the intended goal) of a website is the only thing that makes a great user experience. That’s not true. It is true, however, that usability is very important for good UX. It’s an essential piece of the puzzle, a prime ingredient in the recipe.

Without good usability, people aren’t able to reach their intended goals, or at least not within an appropriate period of time. The lack of basic usability principles can result in a negative experience, leaving the user confused, overwhelmed, uncertain, or even frustrated. I think we’ve all been there.

In order to achieve better usability, it is important to be familiar with your target audience and to have a clear idea of what your users are trying to achieve. Here are 5 key principles to keep in mind:

  • Availability & accessibility
  • Clarity
  • Learnability
  • Credibility
  • Relevancy

Usability is essential and maybe even determining for good UX

Usability is essential and maybe even determining for good UX

Usually, I look for positive examples to underpin my points. But this time let’s look at a negative example.

Acer is a huge supplier of digital products, such as computers, tablets, monitors, and more. One of their main product lines is laptop computers. That said, it’s obvious that most visitors will be looking for information about laptops.

But instead of making it as intuitive as possible to find this information, Acer actually makes their users search for and find laptops according to certain criteria.

Starting on the homepage, it takes me three clicks to finally get to an overview of all laptop computers. Then, this overview is very confusing.

All 29 products look the same, and there is no visual clue to help me differentiate between the different products. Also, there is no clear indication that I can compare products.

After I figure out that I need to select the products I want to compare, the comparison is limited by three items.

When looking at the filter specifications on the left, they are very limited and also confusing. For example, when selecting any of the three screen sizes smaller than 14 inches, there are no products available. Why even offer that filter option then?

Please do better than Acer! Make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for.

2. Aesthetics

The appearance of your website — how it looks — plays an important role for the user experience. Some could argue that it shouldn’t be second in a priority list but, personally, I believe that aesthetics are critical for good UX.

Why? Because the visual design and the look & feel of your system or product can have a huge impact on your users’ emotions.

Emotions affect how we perceive something and, more importantly, how we remember it. Emotional design can help you grab your users’ attention and influence their perception. In fact, psychology suggests that people mainly buy things according to how they feel about them, not by serious critical thinking.

If you shepherd your users and help them reach their goals in a more pleasant way, your design becomes fun and engaging. At the same time, emotional design helps you to build a positive relationship with your users.

If you use aesthetics the right way, it can make your design:

  • Appealing
  • Effective
  • Pleasurable
  • Memorable

The look and feel of your system or product can have a huge impact on your users’ emotions

The look and feel of your system or product can have a huge impact on your users’ emotions

Spotify makes great use of visual appeal on their website. With little text and a lot of expressive images, you get drawn right into the site.

The visual design of this website perfectly reflects the feeling that comes with the product. The environment makes you feel free, light, and happy. The design is simple and very focused. It’s about being flexible and about discovering the world — while listening to your favorite music.

When designing your own website, take into account the feelings evoked by your design. Does it match your core message? Is it how you want to portray yourself and your brand?

3. Customer Service

An aspect that is more practical in nature, but just as important, is customer service. We all know how annoying and frustrating it can be to call customer service for the hundredth time and to get the same vague answer every time. We’ve experienced the bottomless phone tree. Sometimes it can drive us crazy!

Bad customer service can scare off your users. And even worse — it can give them a reason to share their bad experience and advise friends against your product or service. As the old saying goes, if someone has a good experience they’ll tell 10 people. If they have a bad experience, they’ll tell 100.

Customer service is important because it shows your users that they can trust you and that you are available in case they need assistance.

Customer service is about building relationships with your users. It’s about starting a conversation, about listening, and about talking back. Having a relationship. Good customer service makes the user experience more personal and increases brand loyalty.

Good customer service makes the user experience more personal and increases brand loyalty

Good customer service makes the user experience more personal and increases brand loyalty

An example par excellence for good customer service is the brand Brabantia. Their ambition is “to develop solid household products that retain their beauty and performance for up to 20 years.”

Brabantia is not a cheap brand, but one that develops “solid, reliable products that are made to last.” With this promise in mind, a lot of people are willing to pay a higher price. I’m one of them.

But does Brabantia live up to the “long-term guarantee” for their products?

They do. I have a 150€ (about $150) waste bin at home, and a few weeks back, the lid wouldn’t close anymore.

It turned out that a small part of the closing mechanism was broken. A new lid costs 40€, which I wasn’t too excited about paying. After calling customer support, I was able to order a new lid. For free!

It took me less than 2 minutes to order the new lid on their website. It was delivered to my house the following day. Seriously, I love that brand!

Want loyal customers? Cultivate great customer service.

4. Brand Consistency

Another important aspect of a good user experience is a consistent experience.

What do I mean by consistent? Your customers must recognize your brand immediately — whether they visit your website from their desktop computer, tablet, or mobile, and whether they visit your physical store, buy your products, or see your advertisement on television.

A consistent look and feel is important to create a sense of familiarity and trust — and brand saturation.

You want faithful customers, right? Then don’t let them down. Don’t confuse them. And don’t expect them to make the effort of keeping up the relationship — that’s your job.

Customer loyalty is all about recognition, identification, and keeping our lives as simple as possible. As long as we are happy with one brand, there is no need to take on the challenge of switching to another one.

Customer loyalty is all about recognition, identification, and keeping our lives as simple as possible

Customer loyalty is all about recognition, identification, and keeping our lives as simple as possible

Apple is the master of consistent customer experience. No other brand can match it.

It doesn’t matter if you visit their website or one of their stores, if you buy their products or see their billboard in Times Square, the look and feel is always the same.

Apple is always about simple, clean and elegant design. It’s about the product and the customer. It’s about a relationship between the two that is … well … almost creepy.

Apple is a lifestyle. This lifestyle is shared by many people around the world and it cannot be changed from one day to the next. Apple has promised their users innovation and uniqueness, and for the price we pay for their products, it’s what we’ve come to expect at every encounter with the brand.

Once you set high standards, you also raise your users’ expectations. Satiating these expectations can become a true challenge. But it’s a key to better user experience.

5. Personal Impact

Last but not least, the personal impact your product or service has on your users contributes to the overall user experience.

Only when we interact or engage with someone/something can we draw valid conclusions about our experiences. And these conclusions are important for how we remember something.

Negative emotions are easily eliminated from our memory. Positive emotions, on the other hand, help us remember. By creating a personal experience and getting your users engaged, you significantly increase the chances of triggering positive emotions.

Also, we like to share positive experiences with others. So a positive impact not only motivates people to come back, it’s good for word of mouth advertising as well.

A personal impact motivates people to come back and tell others about their experience

A personal impact motivates people to come back and tell others about their experience

As an example, Slavery Footprint creates an unforgettable first impression. This site is an awesome initiative for building awareness and creating action against modern-day slavery.

When visiting the site, you get welcomed by one single question: How many slaves work for you? You then proceed through an interactive survey to find out the answer and discover how closely you’re connected to modern-day slavery.

The site is created in such a simple, yet engaging way, that it’s shockingly effective.

After learning about how this issue affects you and your lifestyle (and vice versa), you have no option but to accept that the topic is serious, that it’s happening right now, and that we must do something about it.

Slavery is a very delicate topic and also one that is easily pushed to the back of our mind, especially me in Western Europe in the year 2013. Yet, the innocent and friendly design of the site and the straightforward way of asking people to get involved leaves little room for denial.

This personal impact has nothing to do with the usability of the site. Still, it is a very essential part of its user experience.

What About You?

As you can see, user experience is far more than usability.

By incorporating elements of design, customer service, branding, and impact, you can create a user experience that far exceeds the norm. You can create something that people will remember. And, if it’s done correctly, they just might remember it for the rest of their lives, like Apple or Porsche.

Do you struggle with creating a stellar user experience? What are your challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

is founder of UXkids and head of product at Usabilla. While her education and interests are broad, Sabina is passionate about improving interactive media for all ages.

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