Make it pretty! A phrase I’m told a lot as a UX designer. When we hear “design”, most of us think “beautiful.” How many times have you heard or said: “This chair is so design!”, or “The hotel we stayed in was very design”?
I’m sorry to have to remind you that “design” is not an adjective; it is a noun. Even better, a verb. By definition, to design is “to decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or other object), typically by making a detailed drawing of it”. Here it is: form plus function. To design is to create a form that serves a function.
But what is UX design exactly?
UX design, a trendy name for user experience design, is a person’s perception and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service. You got it: UX design doesn’t stop with your screen.
Let’s take an example: you need (want?) a new smartphone. You go to the shop and immediately enjoy the way the latest smartphones are displayed and that you can try and play with them. This is part of the user experience.
A smiling shop assistant welcomes you warmly. This is experience design. He asks you a few questions about your needs and habits. You feel listened to, and start to feel this emotional connection with the shop assistant. This is experience design.
He shows you two models he thinks would suit you very well. You feel like he understood precisely what you were looking for, even when you didn’t have a precise idea yourself when you came into the shop! This is experience design.
Finally, when you go home and open the box, you appreciate how beautifully your new phone is presented and you remember the nice experience you had buying it. This is experience design.
Don Norman, a cognitive scientist, is credited with inventing the term in the late 1990s, declaring that user experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products.
It’s not much different in the digital world. The product could be a website, a software, an app, etc. It has a form - its layout, colours, fonts. And a function - inform, buy, help you write your presentation, stay connected with your peers, etc.
Think about your favourite news website or app. How easy and enjoyable is it to find and read the specific information you’re after? Think about the ecommerce website of a brand of clothes you like: how easy is it to navigate through the site? To browse a category of clothes? To judge whether a product is good or not? To choose the right size? How easy is it to finalise your purchase? Is it enjoyable? Are you looking for a big “BUY NOW” button but you can’t find it? How frustrating…
All these steps you’ve been through have been decided by the user experience designer. The elements that are on each page, and the way they link to actions - all this is the job of the UX designer. So, you can tell he or she has done a good job if you have both achieved your goal and enjoyed doing it.
UX, UI. What’s the difference?
UX, UI. It’s all the same. Well, not exactly. While UX design focuses on the flows of the experience of the product and how the user feels when using it, UI focuses strictly on the visual part. Choosing colours, fonts, sizes and styles of buttons, and so on, is when user interface design starts. The user interface designer needs to follow the company’s graphic or brand guidelines, which is a style guide that describes the brand identity.
We can say the UI design focuses on the ‘form’ part of the ‘form + function’ couple. Yes, this is the “pretty” part.
How do you know what works or not?
Excellent question! UX design is completely user-centred. This is why UX designers conduct usability testing. Usability testing is carried out with potential users to verify whether a product is easy to use, learn and adapt to and whether or not it’s efficient. Want to design a chess app and you’re asking feedback from your grandmother who has never used a smartphone and doesn’t understand the rules of chess? You probably won’t get valuable feedback. You need to understand the importance of knowing your users first. It starts with knowing who your target users are and what they need.
User-centred design requires analysis that is applied to human behaviour. UX designers need to be able to answer 5 questions: what, when, where, why and who would use the product. The designer needs to think of how the product would be used, who would be using it, and why. The designer needs to understand the context in which the product is to be employed. Then, usability testing will gather precious feedback about the product: how does it look? Does it work? How does it make the user feel?
As a user, even if you need to be taught how to use it the first time, if the product is designed well, you will never need to re-learn how to use it again.
In short, a good UX happens when a product or service make the user’s life easier and more enjoyable.
Especially in SaaS, a good user experience design helps to increase efficiency and productivity. So next time you use a piece of software, website, or object, ask yourself this: “Did it made my life easier?” “Was the experience enjoyable?” If you replied “yes” to both, congratulations, you got a well-designed product!
Nathalie Speter is a UX Designer at EROAD. Her typical daily tasks involve developing and analysing customer/user profiles, designing the information flow, the interaction model and the user interface. She then produces prototypes for team walkthroughs and user testing with customers to validate her design.