UX (User Experience) is a vital part of digital design because making a digital platform or product look attractive with the right messages is not enough - it has to work well when you (the user, reader, customer, visitor…) uses it.
A wide-ranging discipline
Although the term User Experience tends to be written and talked about without the definite article or as as an acronym UX to indicate its status as a discipline and process, formalising it like this does reduce the clarity and simplicity of what it’s all about- ‘the experience of the user’.
Don Norman at Apple in 1993 is credited with first using the term professionally when he gave himself the title ‘User Experience Architect’ .
If you are new to UX it probably sounds like a good, worthy part of the digital development - like compliance and legal checks. Something you can’t say no to, but not a central activity. In practice it is much more than getting the basics right with user testing and accessibility checks, it is about considering all levels of experience and a design process that makes the user the focus of design, rather than the mechanics or the aesthetics.
UX: Optimising the experience at every level
Applying management guru Peter Drucker’s maxim that ’the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer’ (or user?) UX becomes a very commercially relevant and strategic discipline when taking into account ‘every level’ includes understanding what the strategy and objectives of business or organisation behind the digital product are.
Experience isn’t the icing on the cake
A positive digital experience isn’t an extra benefit or luxury it is a prerequisite, in the same way that sharp, clear messages are essential to good communications.
While messaging plays an important part in a digital experience, it’s the experience as a whole that creates the positive experience which in turn leads to the action you and the user want. Effective digital design is about taking actions and influencing behaviour, rather than providing a platform for communicating messages. Even a website whose purpose is providing information will not be effective if it is only designed to communicate, it needs to help you (the user) search, navigate, filter, digest and record that information easily, and those behaviours need to be designed for.
Optimising experiences to drive the right actions
The model for planning positive experience is simple, and starts with the experience.
Experiences in the plural
Creating a website or digital platform to give users / visitors a great experience means anticipating many different sorts of ‘journeys’ or experiences on it. Often the main journey or experience we are planning and designing for (e.g. to download information or materials) isn’t the one that can have the biggest impact positively or negatively on the user, for example:
- ‘First contact’ - what is it like for a user the first time they arrive or try to log in? Can they orientate themselves easily?
- ‘Simple transactions’ - can the user contact you easily when they’ve found the contact information? This could be the critical action for developing sales leads - is it a good experience? After going through a ‘nice’ website is the user just sent back to an open email with your contact@ email address in the ’To’ box? Do they get any feedback when they send a form or email?
- ‘Help’ - When something doesn’t go as expected or the user can’t find what they want, how do they find relevant help?
User Experience as a discipline makes sure these potential multiple experiences are factored in to design development to create a great experience.
As well as introducing a powerful process and discipline to digital design, UX brings a mindset that has no boundaries. It naturally overlaps with Customer Experience (CX) and Brand Experience (BX) - the disciplines of managing the total customer (and prospective customer) journey and bring the brand ‘to life’ throughout that journey.
There are continuing debates and territorial disputes about what each one covers. In practice there shouldn’t be cut-off points for UX with these disciplines, good User Experience should be holistic in its outlook.
“User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”