New job titles pop up in the Web Development industry on a daily basis. One of the recent prestigious titles that spawned is "User Experience Designer". User Experience and UX Designer quickly became buzzwords while not even the Web Development world is quite certain what does it mean.
UX ≠ UI
UX Designer is most commonly tied up to the User Interface (UI) design and the whole UX buzz spawned from design community. While this makes some sense, saying that the only thing a user experiences while using a certain Object (website, application, device, …) is an interface – is completely wrong.
Yes, interface connects User and the Object, but that is not the only thing in the overall User Experience.
Imagine you are going out for a steak dinner in a fancy restaurant. Everything about that place was meticulously planned and designed. Restaurant looks nice from the outside, and from the moment you step in a rehersed and designed process takes place. Staff takes your coat and sits you down. Waiters explain to you items on the menu, and quickly bring drinks. The interior looks splendid, and from your table you can see both out of the window and onto the charcoal grill where master Chef is preparing your delicious meal. The Chef makes sure that the steak is prepared exactly as you wanted it, and that the plate is decorated to perfection. Ambient music is pleasant, lighting is not too bright and not too dim.
The waiters bring you your meal.
And then you notice that the knife which this restaurant uses is dull and not quite up to the task of cutting that steak. Everything in that restaurant is perfect, except one bit which tips every effort they made into abyss of bad experience. It's impossible to cut steak with dull knife, and you will have to butcher that piece of meat for the whole duration of your dinner. It will frustrate you and no matter what they do, your whole User Experience will be degraded.
User Experience designers would, in the above case, examine every step a visitor makes while "using" the restaurant and implement methods and objects which increase overall User Experience. UX Designers would not be focused on one specific step in the whole experience of dining out, rather they would look at the whole process and improve each moment in it. Also, UX Designers do not neccessarily have to know how to correct the problem which is erroding User Experience, but they at least need to identify it. Yes, it helps if UX Designer knows where to buy quality sharp knives, but it would be sufficient if UX Designer relayed the information to the Manager that dull knives cause problem, and let other people actually solve the problem.
The same is true for User Experience Designers in the Web Development industry. UX Designer looks at the entire process the user has to undertake to successfully use particular website and asks a question:
Will this experience be good for the user, or bad?
The list of responsibilities of good UX Designer is endless.
- • Does the user interface make sense?
- • Is it responsive?
- • Is it beautiful?
- • Do the lables on buttons communicate properly?
- • What's the first thing users sees?
- • How does the website parse credit card number?
- • How does the signup confirmation email look like?
- • Will that email break up if user has some awkward email client?
- • What happens if user forgets password?
- • Does the page look good in other browsers?
- • What happens if user has slow internet connection?
- • Is there a fallback method if browser does not support Flash?
- • What happens if user comes with Smartphone?
- • ...
And the list goes on and on while the goal for the UX Designer remains the same - remove dull knives from the equasion. Make the User Experience great.
It is good to point out that User Experience Design is not something new. UX Design existed and still exists in many other areas, but only recently Development community embraced it as part of the whole Development process.
Big shopping malls and supermarkets design how users move, what they see and overall how the use the building. From the moment they step in they are slowed down by fresh vegetables and fruit, and subconsciously move around aisles. Whole process is designed.
Good spas and holiday resorts have designed UX. From the welcoming drinks, to the check-in, to the room, to the place of your relaxation. The whole process is usually designed for comfort.
Many of the good consumer products have UX designed so that from the moment User opens the box he is delighted. The way the product is wrapped, the way all the small things are placed in the box, even the way the box smells once opened.
Casinos in Las Vegas are notoriously know for the UX design which is focused on keeping people playing. No clocks, no windows, no way to tell time. Machines placed in strategic locations, insider players which use Casino's money to play and lose a bit so that regular people can win a bit of the money before they lose. It is questionable is the Casino UX designed to be bad or good.
Yes, bad experiences can also be designed. Medieval torture was a designed process, crafted so the person would stay alive for as long as possible while suffering. Professional torturers were designers of pain.
Today's prisons (especially in the USA) are designed to maximize prisoners' discomfort. Movement is directed and prohibited, cells are organized in a way to limit communication between prisoners, inside of the cell is designed to reduce risk of self-injury (or to disable prisoner to use objects to inflict harm), etc.
Bad UX Design is a topic on it's own. Let's skip it for now.
- User Experience Designer has a task of examining every step of the process User has to undertake, and apply methods of improving overall effectiveness and increasing the good feeling User is left with when finished using the product. UX Design does not have a single focus, rather it is a broad spectrum improving every step and process of a certain Object.