User experience is a part of everything we do. Whether you are playing board games, using a coffee pot, changing your oil or using a digital device, we are a users...experiencing something. These experiences can be positive, negative or even go unnoticed. Without a doubt you know when you’ve had a bad experience. The problem screams at you, and inevitably you scream right back at it. Those are the experiences you typically remember.
Negative experiences stand out more than positive ones. It’s a fact of life. For example: What’s the worst product you’ve ever used? It’s one that you’d go out of your way to steer your friends away from. Got an answer?
Ok, now what’s the best product? This is something that works really well. You can’t live without it. You would (or have already) literally went to buy the t-shirt for this product and wear it around. Got your answer?
Well, which one did you take longer to think about? Which one drew more emotion when you thought of it? This is what we’re talking about: negative vs positive experiences. They can build you and your business up or tear it down into the pit of despair with thousands (or millions) of hateful emails.
It’s a pretty simple concept actually: It’s what a user experiences when they interact with your product. In the web industry this can often look like wireframes, user flows, content hierarchies, etc... I believe, however, that it’s more than this. It’s more than the imperative back end planning, and the fundamental processes that allow a front-end designer to come in and make it look incredible. User experience extends from the first thought of the product to (and through) deployment. It doesn’t stop at deployment either. It keeps going through future versions and follows the entire evolution of the product. It’s an all-encompassing concept that permeates every aspect of the product.
For instance, take a minute and try to list all of the things you experience as you interact with a website. You can even use a piece of scratch paper if you’d like.
Done? Did you lose track of the items in your head? Did you have a hard time trying to even generate a list?
User experience reaches beyond the typical ‘usability’ of a website design. Sure, information organization is important and interface design is critical, but everything is a part of the user’s experience. Load times, error messages, ease of use, accessibility, browser compatibility, responsiveness and so much more. All of it is part of the experience you have as a user. It’s your job to be the advocate for the user in everything you work on, because the work you do will inevitably impact them somewhere along the line.
Whether you believe it or not, you are already involved in user experience. Your role is irrelevant. Every person involved in a project has a part to play in the end user’s experience.
As designers we have a giant responsibility here. It’s pretty self-evident since we are working directly on the visual appearance of the project (whether a website or application). We need to work closely with user experience designers to ensure we aren’t missing things. If that is not an option, begin training yourself on best practices in UX. If you’re looking for resources, check out Jared Spool’s firm UIE or the Nielson Group, as both of them continually put out high-quality content and helpful information on the subject.
As developers you might think the responsibility is off your shoulders. You’re probably tempted to say, “All I do is implement the design.” Well, you’re wrong. Every line of code and every interaction you work through impacts the user. By creating things you are either creating a pleasing user experience, or a frustrating one. Every decision you make has an big impact on the user. Load times, URI strings, application speed, ease of use, and on, and on… Once you realize that you are a part of user experience, you can begin to watch for ways to improve their interaction with your build.
“I’m not a designer or developer.” So what? Do you see the projects happening around you? Are you involved in discussions or meetings? You can offer insight whether you know project specifics or not. You may be able to catch something that others have missed. Even if you feel like you are of no help, there are things you can do. An example idea for you is to offer to user test things as part of your role. It’s not perfect, but it is a starting point!
Every day people make the argument that they just don’t have the budget for user experience research, testing or a user experience designer. I understand the thought process behind that argument. The failure in that logic is that you aren't considering the potential loss. Every project has a goal. You can try to achieve that goal by hiring great developers and great designers, but if the end user’s experience isn’t the at forefront of everyone’s mind, you may not be as successful as possible. Think of lost revenue by a misplaced link that confuses the user. There are deep studies in how much money is lost by people waiting milliseconds too long and then bailing on a purchase. What about a form that collects leads for your business, but it is too overwhelming to a user. Or worse, maybe it doesn’t even compel the user to fill it out because of the label wording.
Saving money is never reason to skimp on user experience, and in the end it will cost you money if you ignore it.
The industry of user experience is booming. Every day people are hiring like gangbusters to solve the interface problems so projects allow users to be successful. The question is: Do you want to be MORE successful? If you answered “yes”, then begin investing in UX.