May 16, 2012

User Experience Design - Overview

Now that you know why it matters, allow me to explain what User Experience Design really is. This post will provide a basic framework, and over time we'll dive into some specific techniques and real world examples of UXD in action.

What is User Experience Design?

At its core, UXD is simply the process of ensuring that a given product or service will sufficiently meet the needs of its intended users, and that it will become their desired alternative. This last part is essential to increase user adoption and customer loyalty. So what factors contribute to a great user experience?
  1. An interface should be easy to learn and use without any prior knowledge. The need for formal training is often a consequence of poor design - not an essential part of a product rollout as many organizations believe.
  2. Once learned, an interface must be efficient to use. As people gain experience with a product, it must allow them to do things faster – not hold them back with a “dumbed-down” interface.
  3. The interface should be memorable, just like riding a bike. Users shouldn’t have to relearn everything if they haven’t used the product for a while.
  4. Errors are unacceptable; user actions should be foolproof. Users should (almost) never be put in a position where something can go wrong. If we know enough to display a warning message or handle an error, then we should know enough to prevent the user from seeing it.
  5. Beyond simply being satisfied after engaging an interface, it should encourage loyalty. Particularly in situations where there are many alternatives, it is important to keep users coming back.

How do we “do” UXD?

Different applications are built very for different purposes, and the ideal interface will vary greatly depending on whether it is primarily supposed to deliver a fun experience or practical information (or whatever else). With a clear understanding of the intended users and their underlying behaviors and motivations, we can build solutions that suit them perfectly. In order to do this, a UX Designer must constantly ask three fundamental questions:
  1. Who are the users?
  2. What are they trying to do?
  3. How can we help them do it?

These questions cannot be answered sufficiently by a manager in a kickoff meeting. We must regularly interact with users and gather feedback to continuously improve our understanding of how they operate and what their true needs are. While I won’t go into detail on everything in this post, there are a number of methods by which we can better understand users and ensure that our solution is built with them in mind:
  • Using interviews, surveys, and questionnaires to identify user attitudes and behaviors. This should be done throughout a project, not just upfront, and the questions themselves should be continuously refined.
  • Modeling/analysis of current processes, culture, organization, etc.
  • Creating detailed personas based on research to ensure that our design deliverables accurately reflect what we learned about the users, rather than on our designers’ biases and assumptions.
  • Using process flows and other visualization tools to outline the solution and ensure that it is as simple and efficient as possible.
  • Constructing very simple prototypes to demonstrate functionality without the distractions of a full-fledged visual design, and sharing these with the users to gather feedback.
  • Engaging the users every step of the way throughout design and implementation of the solution.
I'll dive into each of these in future posts, but for now hopefully you at least have a reasonably clear idea of what UXD is and the type of work that a UX Designer is responsible for. If not, please leave feedback or questions below!

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