User experience design – back to the basics

I have decided to go back and study the basics of user experience design and in a series of posts I will cover what I learn along the way, so that one can follow and consistently build up her understanding.

UX vs UI

To begin I want to get one thing out of the way – user experience (UX) is NOT user interface (UI) design. UI design is one element of UX design, but they are not the same.

Simply, user interface design is concerned with what the user sees – such as colors, text, images, layout – the arrangement of elements that can be used for interacting with the system. User experience design is much more than that. It has a lot to do with psychology and how people perceive and interact with the different elements of the experience. This will inevitably include gamification, motivation, business goals, needs, what people want and what they are willing to go through or do in order to get it.

In other words, UI is part of UX. You cannot design UI without UX, because user experience goals define what an appropriate interface is.

Erik Flowers’ poster on the differences between UX and UI. For more

UX all the time by everyone

User experience design is not just for designers, because user experience is what each of us understands – we all interact with systems and we all know what works and what doesn’t – it is intuitive – it has to be. In other words, anyone involved in a project can do and contribute to improve UX.

At the same time we cannot become concerned with user experience just before we market and sell a product. User experience is a fundamental, defining concern from the very beginning. In fact, even coming up with a quality idea for a product that solves a problem relies on a concern and understanding of user experience problems. In other words, we need to integrate UX in every part of the process, always think about the user and their point of view, their goals and their pains and how to make things easy for them (or difficult if that makes sense).

UX is not just for apps

Nowadays, we tend to talk, listen and learn about user experience only related to technology – building websites, applications, software, using computers, phones and smart watches. But there is one huge source of inspiration and learning that we ignore when it comes to user experience – it is everywhere around us. Anything designed, includes a consideration of user experience. Architects think about the UX of their buildings and spaces, landscape designers think of the UX of their gardens, interior designers think about the UX of their chairs and tables, product designers….you get it.

Every time you are using an object or interacting with something there is a user experience occurring as part of the process. It is not something you need to think about or plan, it just happens. What we can do though is improve this UX by understanding the goals and needs of the one using/interacting and by better designing how the object, space, system looks and reacts to the utilisation/interaction in conjunction with the business goals of the company.

UX is not a choice – it just happens whether you want to design it or not.

Just think of a time when you have gone to a hotel and you didn’t know how to switch on the light, because someone wanted to be clever with the switch placement. And then you realise that you have to clap to turn it on. That is also user experience design.

“As user experience designers we have to find the sweet spot between the user’s needs and the business goals, and ensure that the design is on brand.”

Whitney Hess

UX is NOT easy

User experience is not a simple thing to understand and there is not a proven way that allows you to hit the bullseye every time. To have a great user experience you need to always be thinking and considering multiple things at a time and evaluating those against the business goals and the financial possibilities.

Dan Saffer maintains that a misconception “as common among designers as it is among clients, is that there is one secret method that will solve all their design problems.”

Whitney Hess

A UX designer is someone that needs to understand both the business and the users’ needs and goals. They need to care about the user, to motivate them, engage with them emotionality and provide an intuitive experience. But at the same time the designer needs to be very practical and to understand the real world constrains a business will have, the technical requirements and time that decisions will have in order to be implemented. In that sense, a UX designer must be flexible, interested in all these aspects and also stand their ground to protect the interests of the user and the long-term interest of the company.


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