What is user experience (UX) Design?


The aim of this short lesson is to equip you with the fundamentals of user experience (UX) design.  UX design is about the experience of a product. UX design is sometimes confused with user interface (UI) design or general website design. Although these are very much all inter-related, UX design focuses primarily on the following:

“How the user feels about and experiences a product”

What is user experience (UX) design?

User experience (UX) design is about the experience of a product. UX design is not about how a product looks and functions. Is the product actually needed? Does it solve a problem? UX design is a process of ongoing iterations. These iterations involve user research techniques, analysis, prototyping, validation and testing. It’s only after this user experience process is complete that a product gets designed and developed by engineers. Ensuring the user experience is properly explored can save a lot of expense and problems further down the line.

What UX design means

Imagine you’re booking a weekend getaway and are looking at hotel accommodation for your special trip. You read through the reviews of different hotels. The user reviews for the first hotel largely reference the size, cleanliness and facilities of the hotel. The user reviews for the second hotels largely talk about the experiences they had. A coffee machine, kettle, little welcome note from the owners, flowers in the room, information about local dining and trips, chocolates on the bed, a special vegetarian breakfast menu, locally sourced food and a communal lounge where you can meet fellow travellers and socialise in the evenings. The second hotel has focused on the UX – the user experience of their customers stay. They’ve made it special, watched and learned what makes the experience extra special. It shines through very clearly in their reviews.

Similarly a well built car will have gone through a UX process. How does the car feel to the driver? Does it have comfortable seats, how does the ride feel, does it have a large enough boot for their target market?

A user experience (UX) design master

Donald A Norman is a celebrity in UX mastery. In his book, “The Design of Everyday Things” he talks about “we have to accept human behaviour the way it is, not the way we wish it to be.”

He uses a striking example of how not to do UX design by referencing doors. This really helps to sum up UX design very nicely. We’ve all experienced the following scenario, somewhat more often than we’d like to. Imagine you’re about to go into a shop. There’s a handle bar on the front door. This signifies “pull” so you pull the door. However, the door doesn’t open and you feel like a bit of a “wally”. You try again, but your brain is fixated on pull because of the very large handlebar. You then realise after a bit of kafouffle that you are meant to actually “push” the door. Ahhhh! You walk sheepishly into the shop. This affects  your whole user experience and the way you feel in the shop. The fact is that you are not the “wally” here. Indeed sometimes, you will see a large sign saying “push” together with the handlebar. This is better than no sign, but something as simple as opening a door should be intuitive and not need a sign. Better to remove the handle all together.

To sum up user experience design is about understanding users goals and their experience related to achieving these. It’s about working with, not against, pre existing “mental models”, the way a user has already learnt to use something through an evolution of existing functions. A handle bar signifies “pull” and a large button on your homepage signifies “click” so it’s a good idea to work with these modals that users are already familiar with.

Need help getting your user experience design right?

We offer user experience (UX) design services. If you’re building a new company website, app or software get in contact with us and we’ll discuss how we can help.

The UX process

UX design is first and foremost a problem solving and process orientated discipline.

The process of user experience (UX) design is an iterative and important aspect of all user interface development. This helps to ensure that product desirability  remains at the forefront of your products. You want your users to feel confident, in control, smart and engaged. The process is agile and sprint based, iterative, ongoing and broadly adopting the following:

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Prototype
  • Validate
  • Build > Test

We will delve nice and deep into each stage of the process in the following modules.




Understanding end user goals

Good processes in user experience (UX) design help to uncover one of the most crucial factors for making your business a success: is you product desirable, viable and feasible? All of this matters. That means identifying if there’s a problem, is your product or service solving a problem? and is the experience great? Often products get water-logged with over loaded features when sticking to a code of simplicity is much better for the end-user. What are the main goals of the end-user?

Define the problem. Solve the problem. Avoid building products that do things for all people.

Understanding end user contexts

We’ve highlighted a user scenario to understand the importance of user context.

Local farm shop v big supermarket chain

When a user visits a farm shop they’re probably not expecting to do a huge monthly shop. They’re looking for unique, locally sourced products. Perhaps a bit of a treat and something with decadence. They’re visiting to experience a more artisan and individualised place and most likely prepared to spend more money for an elegant product; such as a pint of local milk in a glass bottle. The user experience is all together different. They’re not anticipating to bulk-buy, see shelves stacked high or buy milk in a plastic bottle. The value is in the originality of both the products and the shop itself. However, if a user is in a supermarket they are most likely expecting the opposite. Basics (so budget milk in non glass bottles is ok), lots of choice and everything under one roof.

What does this mean?

It means that the context and mindset for both shopping scenarios is completely different. Tailoring your experience to these contexts is extremely important. This applies to software and services.

The importance of mental modes

An important part of UX design is to consider existing mental modes, this means taking into account:

Existing behaviours that users are already pre-programmed to exhibit

For example, with software, 99% of users are used to clicking buttons for further information, scrolling down a page vertically or seeing their shopping basket up in the right hand corner of a screen. if they see a button it says “click me”. Likewise, if they see a steering wheel in a car, this says “drive me”. This applies to more complex behaviours such as using drag and drop features in software or using radio controls on a car. It makes sense to replicate these in your product because users are accustomed to these. By changing these mental modes, you will add unnecessary complexity to your product. Leave piloting new mental modals to the bigger companies, such as Apple, who have large budgets for testing and marketing.

The paradox of specificity

The paradox of specificity is another important mindset for effective UX design. It refers to:

Being more specific about your users goals, behaviours and context. Sometimes you just can’t design for everyone. If you design for everyone, you’ll design for no-one.”

The idea is to keep your focus as narrow as possible and develop a product that’s really great at doing one thing. There are lots of great examples of this. The post-it note as a cracking example.

The idea for the Post-it note was conceived in 1974 by Arthur Fry as a way of holding bookmarks in his hymnal while singing in the church choir. He was aware of an adhesive accidentally developed in 1968 by fellow 3M employee Spencer Silver. No application for the lightly sticky stuff was apparent until Fry’s idea. The 3M company was initially skeptical about the product’s profitability, but in 1980, the product was introduced around the world. Today, Post-it notes are sold in more than 100 countries.

Source from howstuffworks

The post-it note was designed for one thing – to bookmark a page and what a success. Now it’s actually used for much more and a firm favourite of UX designers like myself.

Another example is Marmite. As we all know you either love or hate it. Marmite is for the 50% who love it (like me).

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