User Experience Design
A lot goes into the design of a product. It needs to be practical, i.e. to serve its purpose. It needs to be durable, so as to last the user a long time. It needs to look good, because everyone likes sleek and stylish products. It needs to be easy to use, so that anyone can learn to use it quickly. It needs to be ergonomic, so that the user’s experience can be pleasant.
See, we can’t get very far before turning our attention to the user experience aspect of the design. This is because, as the inventor of the term user experience Don Norman pointed out, “a product is more than the product”.
In other words, user experience design focuses on how the product was designed to create a unique, pleasurable experience for the user including and beyond its basic functionality, and even beyond its own physical attributes. User experience design branches way outside of the physical confines of the product, encompassing the overall experience that a user has when interacting with the product, including even the very branding of the product which, whether we like it or not, is a part of user experience.
Consider this: how does purchasing a T-shirt that’s branded as made from recycled organic cotton, using eco-friendly, sustainable methods, and manufactured using ethical labor, make you feel as a customer of that brand? How does knowing all this impact not only your preference but also your experience of that product? How do all those product features affect your user experience? Mind you - this is just one example of the many aspects that user experience design takes into consideration.
Clearly, we have a lot of ground to cover - so let’s get started.
What Is User Experience Design?
Let’s take a look at what user experience (UX) design is, according to experts, starting with a definition offered by the Interaction Design Foundation:
User experience (UX) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function.
As you can see, user experience (UX) design requires a lot of thought and effort which turns a product into something greater than itself, something which gives users meaningful and relevant experiences. Although UX design is relevant across all sorts of products and services, we mainly come across it when talking about technological advancements that accompany products and make them more desirable to customers. When customers engage with a certain brand, they don’t just buy the product, they buy the experience associated with the brand, as well.
Which brings us to what Donald A. Norman, the inventor of the term user experience, has to say about our topic:
No product is an island. A product is more than the product. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences. Think through all of the stages of a product or service - from initial intentions through final reflections, from first usage to help, service, and maintenance. Make them all work together seamlessly. That's systems thinking.
According to this, user design experience requires systems thinking, or approaching the development of a product in a holistic way that doesn’t ignore its relevance and impact as an overall experience.
User experience design isn’t just about making a great, let’s say, software program. It’s also about the experience of the user as they engage with that program and its brand. When a user encounters a problem, is there a customer support team ready and eager to help? When a user has purchased multiple products from the same brand, do they get rewarded in some way for their loyalty? As Norman puts it, user experience design includes all the stages of developing and launching a given product or service, from its conception to the ensuing needs of the customer as a user - including help, service, and maintenance.
In a nutshell, user experience design studies user behavior (and psychology) to come up with the best way to turn something as simple as purchasing a product into a positive experience for the user. What the company gets in return is a happy, returning customer base.
User Experience Design: A Holistic Approach to a Product
Consider how certain brands, like Starbucks, sell something beyond the immediate product - a cup of coffee. The brand takes into consideration the entire user experience that comes along with the coffee, which makes it so successful with its consumer base. We’ll flesh this example out in a bit, but for now, it’s important to note all the aspects that turn Starbucks into an experience, from its loyalty program to the matching furniture in every one of their coffee shops.
So, UX design goes beyond a product’s or service’s usability and immediate function; it enters all stages in the realm of the user’s journey from thinking about the product, purchasing the product, owning the product, to even troubleshooting any possible problems with the product. Again, here, you can think of iPhones. In the past, before introducing the AppleCare+ policy which charges a sort of warranty ($100 + $80 to $100 for a replacement), you could get a new iPhone or a phone repair for free the first time you mess up your new iPhone.
As you can see, the example from Starbucks is quite different from the example of Apple. This shows us that there’s no one, single, definitive method for creating a good user experience or coming up with a good user experience design. To come up with a good user experience design you need to take into consideration the particular product or service and the needs of its specific users in a relevant context.
To get a better idea of what user experience design is, let’s take a look at what the compounding parts of the term tell us.
What Is Design?
According to the online dictionary, design as a verb is:
to prepare the preliminary sketch or the plans for (a work to be executed), especially to plan the form and structure of.
In this sense, design demands thoughtful consideration when a person who is a designer, plans what a certain piece of work will look like and function. The form and structure of a website, product, service, or piece of art stem from its design. In this way, we can see that design is integral to the functioning and structure, or look, of a certain work.
As a noun, design is specified as:
an outline, sketch, or plan, as of the form and structure of a work of art, an edifice, or a machine to be executed or constructed.
Again, we can see that a design is the premeditated concept that gives way to the realization of an initial visualization. In the context of user interface design, design is relevant as something which premediates the overall structure of a product including but also beyond the product itself - how it’s introduced to the user, how it passes its shelf life in the hands of the user, and how it plays a role in the user’s relationship with the brand. This is because the most promising sort of customer for most businesses is a returning customer, and you can’t have a returning customer who isn’t satisfied.
Now, let’s think about design in everyday life. All the objects in our home, for instance, are designed in a way that’s practical and ergonomic, so much so that we don’t even think about why they are that way as it comes so natural to us to use them the way that was intended. Think about the entry door to your home: it opens towards the inside. This is because of several reasons:
- Aesthetics: Hinges are on the inside, which makes them more aesthetically pleasing from the outside.
- Security: As the hinges are on the inside, it’s more difficult for intruders to get rid of the door when trying to enter your home. Plus, if someone is trying to push the door open while you’re on the inside, it’s easier to push it shut.
On the other hand, emergency exit doors in public locations are designed to open towards the outside. This is because if there were an emergency evacuation, the force of the exiting crowd needs to be supported with an appropriate exit - or a door that opens to the outside.
As you can see, designers put a lot of thought into the way they make something. It’s not about a door opening, it’s about it opening a certain way for a certain reason. There’s a lot to take into account when conceptualizing a product. Another popular example is the way staircases worked in medieval castles: they were built clockwise to give swordsmen at the top of the stairs, the defenders of the castle, an advantage, as the majority of people were (are) right-handed. At the same time, it gives a disadvantage to the attackers who, should they wield a sword in their right hand, had the wall to worry about.
A good design, therefore, requires taking into account the needs of the user. That’s why it’s so important for brands today to be open to feedback from their customer base. If brands listen to their customers, they can significantly improve the user experience and get returning customers.
What Is User Experience?
User experience, in technical terms and according to the ISO standard, is categorized in the ergonomics of human-system interaction as an aspect that enhances the experience of the user with the product, or in this case, with a given piece of hardware or software.
So when it comes to websites, there are different tools at your disposal to build a page layout that optimizes user experience. It’s all the work, research, and thoughtful consideration that leads a designer to decide that placing a button in a certain part of the screen would make it more available and attractive to users.
There are many research methods that allow webmasters to create a good user experience. For instance, Neil Patel’s CrazyEgg offers an A/B testing tool, a user experience research method, which allows you to simultaneously test two versions of the same variable and see how users (subjects) respond to each version and which one they find more favorable. Once you see which version (A or B) works better for customers, you can choose to keep it permanently on your website.
In any case, enhancing user experience requires a lot of feedback from users and research into their behaviors and preferences. So, for a company to have a happy customer base, they need to do their best to understand what the users need.
But user experience doesn’t only apply in computer technology, it’s a part of almost any other industry you can think of. Even the printed-out customer surveys you get at your dentist’s office asking if you are happy with the service and if you have any compliments or complaints are a user experience research method. Those little forms help the owners evaluate the experience of their users so that they can make it better.
As you can see, it’s not all about human-system interaction in the strictly electronic sense, it’s about the response of a human to any sort of product or service.
Before we look at some specific examples of successful user experience design, let’s take a look at one common misconception about UX - that it’s the same as UI (user interface).
UX vs UI
Although a single designer may do both (especially when it comes to website building), user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design are different. UX design, in fact, includes UI design under its broad auspice. Earlier, we talked about how a designer will decide where to place a button on a certain web page in the best way possible in order to attract user engagement. Well, this is user experience design, but more specifically, it’s user interface design, as it pays attention to user experience, but it focuses on the aspect of user interface in the overall process.
UX design is also different from usability, which is sometimes erroneously interchangeably used with UX. The usability of a product or its user-friendliness is again only a part of UX. Remember, a product is more than the product.
Before we move further with several specific examples of user experience design, let’s take a look at the many subcategories that this user-centric approach to design, UX design, encompasses, according to the T-model proposed by UX designer Peter Boersma back in 2004:
- Interaction design;
- Information architecture;
- Marketing & communications;
- Usability engineering;
- Visual design;
- Information design;
- Computer science.
The list is not definitive, but it can give you a good idea of the broadness of the term UX design. UX design isn’t just about producing something that’s usable, it’s also about making the product, the owning of the product, the service, the brand, and the overall experience of being a customer fun, efficient, and enjoyable.
Examples of User Experience Design
Enough theory - let’s talk practice. In order to gain a more concrete idea of the role that UX design has in the life of products and services, let’s look at some successful examples of UX design across various industries.
Example 1: Starbucks
Starbucks is everywhere, regardless of whether you like their coffee or not.
Although it offers lots of fun beverages and food items, it doesn’t necessarily make the best coffee, it doesn’t have the best eco-friendly, ethical labor practices, and is, in fact, a part of a large chain that puts cute, small, locally-owned coffee shops out of business. But, Starbucks still thrives and has, in fact, a global, loyal customer base. Why? Partially we can attribute it to good user experience design.
For starters, Starbucks has an established presence online and on people’s smartphones. They offer all sorts of campaigns, apps, and omnichannel marketing programs that help them keep their customers loyal. For instance, their customer loyalty program app allows regulars to redeem free gifts and coffee after they’ve spent money in the coffee shop.
As you can see, people get rewarded for being regulars. Not to mention that there are apps that tell people where the nearest Starbucks is (probably around the corner), so their customers are always in the loop, so to speak. And, the brand is present across all popular social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), so their customers are in the know when special offers or new products are available.
Then, there’s the element of familiarity. People like to stick to things they know. The furniture design is the same in every Starbucks, no matter where you are in the world. The menu is more or less the same everywhere - you may get a different sort of coffee here and there (like you’ll be able to purchase Turkish coffee in Turkey), but the main elements remain the same. When travelers come to a new city, they’re - to a degree, unfortunately - more likely to sit at the nearest Starbucks than opt for a local cafe. Why? Because, once again, people are drawn to familiarity.
But it’s not just about the fact that the coffee shop is familiar. It’s also that they offer a highly relaxed atmosphere. You can sit down at a Starbucks without ordering anything and just use the internet, read a book, or work on your laptop. Sooner or later, you’ll probably get in the mood for coffee. Still, it helps that there are no waiters making you feel like you have to order something, or like you’ve been sitting there for too long with a single espresso on your tab. In other words, customers feel relaxed, they’re welcome to study and work for hours, or just connect to the internet to check out the location and working hours of the nearest museum.
Last but not least, Starbucks shops across the world have a pretty standard playlist. It’s jazzy, smooth, and perfect to set the mode for an afternoon of work or meetup.
These are all integral parts of user experience design. The online presence and apps, familiar furniture design, smooth music, and overall relaxed atmosphere are all carefully crafted to keep you coming for more. See, the product is more than the product. A cup of coffee is more than a cup of coffee.
Example 2: Apple
You can say what you want about Apple, but they are pioneers in bringing UX design on and off the screen. As Daniel Acker has succinctly put it:
Apple has masterfully tapped into the emotional aspects of design since its inception, and its human approach has helped it become the most valuable company in the world.
Apple products, starting with the original Macintosh, have not only been user-centric, but they’ve also been designed in a way that mimics human emotions and interactions. In other words, they’ve launched an anthropomorphic mythos around their products which is an example of how understanding human psychology can help enhance the user experience.
Anthropomorphic features make the machine - the system - seem more familiar and appealing to the user - the human. As we already discussed, UX design is focused on the interaction between a system (or a product) and the human user. In this sense, Apple has been on a decades-long journey to bridge the gap as artfully as possible (which doesn’t indicate that they’ve been flawless at it, mind you).
So, the original Macintosh was taller and more narrow than other computers available, but the narrow screen and floppy disk drive just under it were designed to resemble a smiling child - and that’s exactly what it did. The computer said hello when you turned it on; it could smile; it could make funny little remarks; it said computer things in a simple, smart human way. It’s a computer that seems to have a human personality, and nothing could draw in users more.
Another example of the “human” characteristics of Macs is their status Led indicator feature. When the Macbook goes into standby, a light indicator begins pulsating in a way that imitates human breathing rates during sleep. Although you may not pick up on what’s going on consciously, it gives you the sense of the Macbook sleeping, which on some level makes you relate to it as if it were a person.
More recently, if you own an iPhone, you know that if you insert the wrong passcode, the numbers on the screen shake sideways. This is meant to mimic a shaking human head in the near-universal physical gesture for no.
But the user experience design of Apple doesn’t end at the design of the product. If you remember the popular Mac vs PC ads of the 2000s, you know that a charming Justin Long played the role of the Mac, while a stocky, middle-aged John Hodgman played the role of the PC. What Apple showed in these commercials was that their product was youthful, virus-free, and user-friendly, while PC computers were outdated, confused, and, well, middle-aged, apparently. While the PC struggles to accomplish the most basic tasks, the Mac (Justin Long) can’t relate, because Mac just doesn’t have those issues. It gives Mac computers the personality of a nonchalant, charming youth that’s basically good at anything they try. It’s ad magic.
As you can see, successful UX design isn’t just about the usability of the product, it’s about its features, its character, even, the fun and pleasure it can offer users: it’s also about the overall user experience.
Common Misconceptions of UX Design
Before moving further, we should mention that although UX design encompasses all these aspects of the user experience, today it’s often used to refer to the digital touchpoints of a user’s experience. There are terms such as customer experience (refers to a context beyond the digital world) and service design (deals with connecting all channels in this broad sense) which are in some contexts considered to be more all-encompassing than UX design when it comes to matters beyond the digital world, although including the digital world.
However, the inventor of the term “UX design”, Don Norman himself, has pointed out that reducing user experience (UX) to solely the user’s response to digital or web products is a complete misconception of what the term means. Rather, Norman reminds us that UX refers to any part of the overall experience that a user may have with a product or service, even when the product is not physically present. For instance, a user talking about a product/service to a friend is also considered to be a type of user experience.
User Experience Design Definition
User Experience Design is:
- A user-centric design that aims to optimize the experience of the user with the product and beyond the product;
- A multidisciplinary field, which means that various educational backgrounds, such as psychology, programming, visual design, marketing, and so on, can be very useful and in some instances, necessary;
- Concerned with the ergonomics of human-system interaction in order to enhance the experience of the user with the product or service;
- Knowing that the product is more than the product;
- An approach that requires a lot of research and communication with users;
- Always open to feedback;
- An all-encompassing user-centric model which includes UI (user interface) design, interaction design, information architecture, usability engineering, marketing and communications, visual design, information design, copywriting, computer science;
- A method which necessitates the inclusion of different aspects of a product’s (or service’s) desirability, such as usability, utility, human factors, visual design, accessibility, marketing, ergonomics, HCI (human-computer interaction), and system performance;
- A part of almost all industries, from computer technology to coffee shops;
- A holistic approach to systems thinking that includes all the stages of the user’s journey, including initial intention, purchasing, using the product or service, getting help (maintenance), and communications with the brand;
- An interconnected web that connects the various channels through which the user may engage with the product, service, and brand, including marketing, online presence, in-store experience, customer support, customer engagement campaigns (like loyalty programs), and so on;
- More than the function of the product - it’s about the fun, pleasure, and memorability of the overall experience;
- A method which is focused on the needs of the customer, so there’s no one type of good UX design - it always depends on the context and the audience;
- Requires that the designer is in a way, the main representative of the user - can the user find what they’re looking for? Can they get the help they need? Does the product work as intended? Can they use it with ease?
- Reliant on feedback - to create a good, holistic UX design, you have to be in constant communication with the audience to see what’s missing, what can be improved, and what’s working perfectly;
- Focuses on the why, the what, and the how: why will someone want to buy this product/service; what its function and features are; and how the customer finds it, how it will look, how will it keep the customer happy, and how will it be a part of an experience larger than the product itself;
- Very vibrant and ever-changing, as it evolves with the shifting digital sphere it largely lives in - so you better be ready for a challenge.
User Experience Design isn’t:
- The same as UI or usability - its a broader category that encompasses both;
- The same as visual design - again, while visual design can be a subset of UX, it’s neither the same nor can the terms be interchangeable. Visual design refers specifically to tasks like creating a website that shows continuity between the style and layout of the pages and brand presence on that website (consistent colors, logos, etc.). So while visual design is a part of UX design, it’s not the same as it;
- IT or web development;
- Necessarily something you must have studied in university to be able to get good at;
- A single recipe for success - each industry, brand, and website will have its own formula for a great UX design depending on the context and needs of the customer base;
- A single discipline - you need to have a multidisciplinary approach and be open to different knowledge resources in order to create great UX designs;
- For someone who isn’t ready to keep learning and researching throughout their professional life;
- For the stubborn - you have to always be ready to readapt the design based on the users’ responses.
The History of User Experience Design
User experience design, like many other disciplines, concepts, practices, and attributes precedes its term. Or in other words, something akin to what we today call user experience design has existed in different shapes and forms for thousands of years. So, perhaps it’s better to say that humanity has long since sought ways to make living comfortable for itself, and therein lie the origins of UX design - humanity’s quest for comfort.
Some folks trace UX back to China in 4,000 BC, around the time when the practice of Feng Shui came to be. You may be familiar with Feng Shui today as a set of principles according to which people decorate their homes, which is kind of what it is. Feng Shui gives guidelines on how to organize objects in a certain space so as to optimize the flow of energy. Similarly to the purpose of UX, Feng Shui strives to make spaces as user-friendly and ergonomic as possible.
And speaking of ergonomics (not by accident a word that has Greek origins), ergonomics were also quite a big deal in ancient Greece. Research has given us evidence going as far back as 500 BC that exemplifies how the ancient Greeks strived to organize and design workspaces and tools in line with ergonomic principles. The light in a room, arrangement of objects, and so on, were all arranged in a way that optimized workplace efficiency and allowed the professionals intuitive use of the space.
Late Modern History and Present Day
Frederick Winslow Taylor
More recently, we can begin at the open of the 20th century and Frederick Winslow Taylor’s work “The Principles of Scientific Management” (it’s public domain) which proposed scientific management to optimize workflow. Improving efficiency, labor, and productivity were some of the main goals of Taylor (the principles were later dubbed Taylorism), by manipulating the workspace in a way that optimized work. While this isn’t exactly focused on the experience of the user, it shares the same concern with making a process as smooth as possible for the subject - in this case, the worker.
In the 1940s, Toyota did something quite revolutionary - it put the user at a key position in its design process (sound familiar?). The company welcomed the feedback and input of the people who tested, bought, and drove the cars, as well as the workers at the factory, and accordingly made changes that would make the experience more comfortable and safe for the users. (This is tightly connected to the concept of usability of a product - one of the subcategories of UX design that we talked about.)
In the 1950s, another significant figure placed the human (the user) at the center of the design: Henry Dreyfuss, an American industrial engineer. Dreyfuss worked in different companies that sold completely different products with a single purpose: to improve the experience of the user with a certain product. He worked on improving the user-friendliness of Hoover vacuum cleaners, typewriters and telephones.
In 1955, he shared his design philosophy with the world in a book called Designing for People. In this book, he emphasized that the role of a designer is to make the user - the person using the product - feel better (safer, happier, less economically disadvantaged, or more efficient) thanks to their contact with the product.
UX Magazine considers Walt Disney to be the world’s first UX designer. And not for nothing - in the 1960s and 1970s, Disneyland and Disney World set the standard for an all-encompassing, user-centric experience. When designing Disney World, for instance, the team focused on how the experience would be received by the audience.
Windows PC and Mac
Starting in the 1970s, personal computers started getting developed with the end-customer in mind. This is also when psychologists alongside engineers helped come up with a design that had user experience principles at its center.
It’s perhaps no surprise that it was exactly an Apple employee, Donald Norman, that came up with the term user experience design, or UX design in the early 1990s. Norman was a cognitive scientist, which gave him a solid background in understanding the human mind and behavior. As the first-ever UX architect, Norman combined all aspects of the experience of the human user with the system, which, as well already mentioned, covered every aspect of their interaction with or about the product. In that sense, Norman expanded the significance of UX design beyond a product’s usability or interface.
Why Is UX Design Important?
To illustrate the importance of UX design, let’s use websites as an example.
Once upon a time - or actually, until quite recently - websites were created to suit the preferences of two parties: the web designer and the client. So the web designer is given some guidelines from the client to start off with. The web designer takes those guidelines and adds some of what they like to the product, in this case, the website.
Then, the web designer takes the first draft of the finished, functional website to the client, gets feedback, and then applies the changes the client has asked for. They go back and forth a couple of times until the client is happy. As you can see, the web designer does act on feedback, but it’s exclusively the feedback of the client, i.e. the owner of the website.
What’s missing here is the third part(y) that’s crucial for a successful design: the user. As you can see, this outdated model doesn’t take the needs, preferences, and overall experience of the user in mind. The web designer builds the website the best way they know how, and the client gets the final word on what their business website will look like. But what about the visitors to that website? What about the customers of that business? Where is their opinion in the whole matter? In the end, the websites that users will visit are ones that cater to their needs.
This is why UX design is important. If you’re not designing with the end-user in mind, how are you providing the product, service, and just overall experience that your audience needs?
Today, when designing a website, one of the first things you need to consider is UX design. It’s not about what the web designer or client wants, it’s not about aesthetics or original ideas - today, designers start off with questions about the users. Can they navigate easily throughout the website? Is it easy to find contact info, or get help? Is the website optimized for mobile? Will it load quickly on a slow connection, on a broadband connection, or on data packages? Is it available in multiple languages - if your audience is international?
Plus, with all these functionalities and widgets at the disposal of designers, it’s tempting to overwhelm a user with options. That’s why it’s important to do research and see how users respond to the website, and tweak it accordingly.
So, UX design is important because it focuses on the needs and preferences of the user. In order to gain customers and their loyalty, a brand needs to create a meaningful experience for its audience. From interacting with the product or service to asking for help and recommending it to friends, good UX design turns casual clients into loyal patrons.
A meaningful user experience isn’t just about the usability and ease-of-use of a product. It’s also about the user feeling appreciated. It’s about the user feeling well taken care of. It’s actually about how the user can be better off for having had the product or service in their life.
How to Develop User Experience Design Skills?
There is a combination of applied skills and soft skills that a UX designer needs. The scope of skills will also change depending on the type of UX design you’re interested in. If we’re talking websites, a lot more technical knowledge will be necessary, while psychology would be more crucial in other fields.
Whatever your primary goal is, these are some other skills and tactics you’d need to work on in order to develop user experience design skills. Think of these as building blocks to becoming a great UX designer.
One of the main aspects of becoming a good UX designer is developing research skills. Research is the basis for successful UX designs because without finding out what the audience needs, you can’t produce a meaningful experience for it. In general, UX demands qualitative research. Rather than relying on numbers (quantitative research), qualitative research requires that you get to know your audience’s psychology (cognitive psychology), behavior, habits, and overall preferences. Overall, UX research includes user research and user testing.
Some ways of doing user testing for UX design are A/B testing (for websites), customer surveys and interviews, behavioral analytics, carrying out website heatmaps, and so on. In other words, feedback is key. You should also do research through user testing such as wireframes and prototypes, which we’ll cover in a bit.
Wireframing has to do systems-specific user experience (websites, electronic devices), and falls more specifically in the UI (user interface) category, although still under UX. Wireframes are blueprints that show the different pages (screens) in the interface of a system, like a website. They show the designer the functionalities of the product, not the graphics. Wireframing can help you establish which functionalities and elements need to be present on the different pages based on what users expect to see.
While wireframes show us how something should work, prototypes allow designers to test the functionality of a product. This is often used to refer to websites and electronics, but it’s also viable for any sort of user experience design. In web design, specifically, prototypes allow the designers to check if the functionalities initially envisioned for the site work properly, and how users will be able to experience them. This also allows designers to see what functionalities don’t work as they should, and fix them before launching the product. When it comes to websites, in addition to functionality, navigation is tested as well.
Overall, the goal of prototyping is to come up with a final version of the product or service which is suitable both for the business and the user. Outside websites, this would be creating early versions of the product and testing it to see if it works in UX terms.
Understanding User Needs
Understanding the needs of the user is crucial in coming up with good UX design. Once you complete the qualitative research, conduct interviews, do some user observations and other research tools, you need to be able to analyze your results in an effective and meaningful way. This requires understanding the user’s needs.
Empathy is a concept that lies very close to the previous point we talked about - understanding user needs. Empathy, or the ability to comprehend how another human being may feel in a certain situation, is a necessary emotional state for a UX designer. UX design, in any case, necessitates that the designer understands what an audience may feel like in a given situation, and what would constitute a great experience for them. So once you learn what your users like and need, you should take that into consideration and design with their inclinations in mind.
Remember how Walt Disney asked his engineers to put themselves in the audience’s shoes when designing Disney World? The same principle applies here. It’s not about what you think would be best, it’s about how the user’s needs could best be met.
Empathizing to come up with your UX design means giving customers a product or service that they’ll enjoy and want to engage with.
To develop UX design skills, you need to be curious. Why? Because what’s available and what’s expected evolves on a daily basis, for one. You’ll need to stay up to date with trends and what your competitors are offering.
Additionally, you’ll need to be ready to talk to clients, product users, and coworkers, open to what they have to say to you about the product or service. It’s easy to stick to what you know, but it’s truly challenging to be able to accept suggestions from outside and improve them to the point of perfection. So, be ready to listen with an open mind.
Building on our previous point, you need to be ready to work with others to come up with the best UX design strategy. Again, you’ll need to collaborate with different groups of individuals so that you have sufficient information at your disposal moving forward with the design.
Even if you don’t have an academic background in psychology, it can really help in developing UX skills. Understanding the behavior and thought process of others is key in coming up with the best concept for UX design.
Stay up to Date With UX Experts
There’s no profession that doesn’t require staying up to date with the latest research, trends, and technology relevant to it. This especially goes for UX design - as we’ve already mentioned, things are changing pretty fast and you need to be in the know of all the new ways you can keep customers engaged.
A great way to do this is to follow UX experts. See what they say on their social media profiles, books, websites, and other publications. You can always learn from the best.
Take an Online Course
One of the best ways to develop your UX design skills is taking an online course that can give you a solid basis on all things UX. It’s an excellent way to set up your foundations in UX design before moving on to practical work in this field.
Examples of User Experience Design in Everyday Life
While people often use UX design to refer to websites and systems technology (to the dismay of the inventor of the term, Don Norman), let’s once again remember that UX design is not limited to the internet, electronics, or even physical contact with the products. We saw this in the examples of Starbucks and Disney World, and we witnessed how the overall experience of a customer can be the primary parameter for the design.
However, user experience design is evident in even the simplest aspects of everyday life, so you don’t have to go to a coffee shop franchise to experience it. As you read the following examples, here’s a thought you can carry with you: people don’t notice a design until it’s flawed. Think of a bathroom stall that’s too tiny, so you have to practically climb into the toilet bowl to close the door. Think of an elevator with floor numbers that are all mixed up and not in numerical order. You don’t realize that things are designed to work properly until you come across one that isn’t.
So, with all that in mind, let’s take a look at some examples of UX design in everyday life to showcase what we mean.
Some multi-storey parking garages have boards at the entrance of each storey that show how many parking spaces are available on that floor, and how many are full. Then, above each individual parking space, there are lights which shine red if the space is occupied, and green if it’s free.
This design significantly improves user experience. First, as soon as a person drives their car to a certain storey, they’ll know if there are available spots for parking. Second, without getting up or driving up to a space to check, they can immediately see where the empty parking spaces are simply by looking upwards, towards the lights above each space.
This is good UX design because it’s more efficient and quite usable, allowing customers to quickly find a spot for their car without losing time and getting frustrated. Additionally, the numbered lots in these garages help people remember where they parked the car, so they can find it more quickly before exiting.
The key aspect or subcategory of UX design we see in this example is usability and efficiency. We see how UX design, at its best, improves the quality of life of the person in question.
How to approach this?
- How can I make a design that’s more efficient for the customer?
- How can I optimize the design of a product or service in a way that will make the user’s life easier, saving them time and frustration?
- How can I approach the design in a way that takes into consideration the potential drawbacks of a situation (the parking garage may be full/someone may end up circling lots for hours not being able to see if different parking spaces are available or not), and minimizes the negative impact for the user?
- How can I wear the audience’s shoes, so to speak, and see what would frustrate them, and how can I ameliorate the situation or fix the problem?
- What are the design flaws or a prototype, and how are test subjects reacting to it?
- Will I be open to suggestions from others on how to improve my design?
- Will I be open to feedback from users on how I can improve the design to make it easier for them to use, or more efficient?
- Will I be able to look at the overall experience of the user, without focusing solely on the aesthetics and basic functionality of a product?
City and Urban Planning
City and urban planning are some of the best examples of user-centric designs. Urban planners have the role of organizing urban space in a way that optimizes the experience of its users, i.e. the inhabitants and citizens of that space. This doesn’t just mean making sure that there’s a road leading from point A to point B or adding a parking lot every here and there. It means taking into account the needs and preferences of all the citizens in a given area based on their age group and social habits.
To give you an example, Amsterdam is often considered one of the best planned cities in the world. Some factors that make Amsterdam a city planner’s dream are:
- Excellent transportation system. Cars are only used for 22% of trips within the city. Instead, the city is planned in a way that encourages the use of public transportation (trams, trains, buses) and recreational methods, such as walking and cycling. Cycling lanes are broad, ever-present, and properly used! Plus, there are parking spaces for bicycles all over the city. The fact that cars are in such little use makes Amsterdam one of the least polluted cities in the world.
- Parks. There are many parks that encourage outdoor socialization and allow the air to circulate in this flat city. Parks in Amsterdam are enjoyed by people of all age groups.
- Aesthetics. Say what you will, but aesthetics are an important part of the experience of living in a certain space. The local authorities in Amsterdam make sure that new constructions fit the aesthetic concept of a certain part of town.
Sadly, there aren’t great urban planning designs around the world because even local governments often focus on making the most money per square meter rather than making the experience of inhabitants in a certain plot of land enjoyable, and not just livable. So, instead of building a park and playground near an area with several residential buildings, they’ll often cram in a mall or yet another building. People already living there will continue to be able to live, OK, but they won’t enjoy it any more. They’ll probably enjoy it a lot less.
Applying these aspects of urban design to UX design allows us to see that UX design isn’t just about usability. It’s not just about making a product that works. It’s about making a product that works well, is easy to use, is easy to fix, looks nice, is efficient, and overall makes the user’s life just a little better. It’s about having bicycle lanes, parks, and fresh air. It’s definitely not about walking on the street because a car is parked on the pavement.
How to approach this?
- How can your product or service make the user’s life a little better, a little brighter, a little easier?
- How can you prioritize building a happy, loyal customer base over larger profit margins?
- Would you rather make fast money on a cheap, flimsy, low-quality design, or build a real brand for yourself with a loyal, happy customer base that trusts you? Hint: the former is a carnival trick - disappearing before anyone notices what they really purchased from you, and you definitely don’t want that sort of reputation (it’s reserved for bad politicians).
- How can a product go beyond sheer functionality, and enter the realm of pleasantness? How can it be not just usable, but also enjoyable? What is it that will make a user choose it over the competitors’ products?
- Can you think about what the user wants and needs? What would make them happier?
- Can you combine efficiency, ease of use, aesthetics, and customer needs/preferences while you’re coming up with a design?
We can’t talk about user experience design without talking about psychology. Here’s an example that perfectly illustrates how being mindful of human psychology can improve not only the experience of the user but also of the company that’s selling the product or service. The service we’ll be looking at in this example are toilets. And also, toilets in Amsterdam. Yes, we’re back in Amsterdam for another good example of UX design (coincidence?).
Aad Kieboom, the cleaning manager of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in the early 1990s, was presumably facing an extraordinary amount of spillage around urinals because he embarked on a project to try to reduce said spillage. In a stroke of genius, he etched tiny, realistic-looking graphics of flies inside the urinals, just above the drain. He figured that the fly images would be something that the users could aim at. Although a fly may indicate poor hygiene, it’s small enough to aim at and annoying enough to want to get rid of. It’s also not as frightening as a spider is for some people.
And guess what? It worked disturbingly well. Spillage was decreased by a staggering 80%, and there was an overall 8% decrease in the cost for bathroom cleaning across the Schiphol Airport. This success has inspired locales that are open to the public across the world to implement the urinal fly in their own bathrooms.
This is a great example of how psychology plays a role in successful UX design. Behavioral economist (behavioral economics are also tightly related to cognitive psychology) Richard Thaler categorizes the case of the urinal fly as a perfect example of a nudge. A nudge is an added variable that influences the decision of a person, while still allowing them to make their own decision. You can think of it as a way to nudge a user in the right direction. This increases the likelihood of them acting in a predictable way but allows them to technically make their own choice - and believing they’ve made the right choice is a big part of the trick. The reason nudges are so successful in marketing and economics is because they’re not imperatives, they’re not rules, they’re not mandates. They’re nudges.
How does it tie in with psychology? People don’t like being told what to do. Something like a sign saying “it’s strictly forbidden to spill around the urinal while urinating” would probably increase the amount of spillage, really. But something as sneaky as an annoying fly to aim at? Genius. Nudges don’t force someone to do what you want them to, but they significantly increase the chance of them making their own choice to do it.
How to approach this?
- How can understanding the psychology of your target audience (your users) help you build a product, customer support, a brand website, or a marketing campaign that will nudge the user in the right direction?
- How can understanding human psychology help you design the product in a way that’s more desirable, pleasant, and useful to the customer?
- What do you want to learn about user behavior which would help you approach your target audience better?
- Think about your worst experience with a brand and their product or service. What hurt or annoyed you as their customer? How could the experience be improved? What should they have done differently?
- Think about your best experience with a brand and their product or service. What made it so great? What made you, as a customer, feel valued? How can you “steal” their idea to make your own product more desirable?
- Can you put yourself in your user’s shoes? Consider, in terms of psychology and behavior, how an aspect of the overall user experience would be received by the audience.
Famous Quotes About User Experience Design
“When the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the [designer] has failed. On the other hand, if people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient—or just plain happier—by contact with the product, then the designer has succeeded.”
“What makes something simple or complex? It's not the number of dials or controls or how many features it has: It is whether the person using the device has a good conceptual model of how it operates.”
“If UX is the experience that a user has while interacting with your product, then UX Design is, by definition, the process by which we determine what that experience will be.
UX Design always happens. Whether it’s intentional or not, somebody makes the decisions about how the human and the product will interact. Good UX Design happens when we make these decisions in a way that understands and fulfills the needs of both our users and our business.”
“It is not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and, yes, beauty to people’s lives.”
“What makes people passionate, pure and simple, is great experiences. If they have great experience with your product [and] they have great experiences with your service, they’re going to be passionate about your brand, they’re going to be committed to it. That’s how you build that kind of commitment.”
“Design is everywhere. From the dress you’re wearing to the smartphone you’re holding, it’s design.”
“If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.”
“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable.”
What do you think about our favorite quotes about UX design? Comment to let us know which ones you like or which ones you don’t like, and why. Let’s get the discussion started!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What Makes a Great User Experience?
By this point, you know that there’s no single recipe for success when it comes to UX design. There’s no sure-fire formula to get a product where it needs to go. However, the work you need to put in to find the specific UX design that would be right for a given product and its audience follows more or less the same methodology for any industry.
UX design is user-centric - so that’s not only your starting place but also a place you need to keep coming back to. All that research we talked about - including interviews, surveys, observation, A/B testing, prototyping, and so on - are key in coming up with great UX design and consequently, a great user experience. Always be open to feedback from the users, because, after all, they’re who you’re designing the experience for.
What Types of Jobs Are There in UX Design?
Although today UX design is often used to refer to systems technology-related user experience (websites and apps), the types of jobs for UX designers aren’t necessarily limited to the field. In fact, a UX researcher, for instance, is a role applicable for any product or service development process. Some of the most common roles that are related to UX design include:
- UX designer;
- Product/ service designer;
- Visual Designer (subcategory);
- Interaction designer:
- UX researcher;
- Content strategist;
- UX/ UI designer (combines both);
- UX unicorn, a.k.a. UX generalist. (A person who can do all aspects of UX design. This term is usually used for systems technology UX designers, so a UX unicorn would know coding and graphic design, for instance.)
What Sort of a Background Can Help Me in UX Design?
UX design requires versatility, so it should come as no surprise that a broad range of backgrounds can help you develop UX design skills more quickly. Although these educational and professional backgrounds aren’t necessary, they can help you keep an open mind and approach designing the best user experience from multiple angles.
Useful background for UX design include, but aren’t limited to:
- Behavioral economics;
- Graphic design;
- Visual design;
- Industrial design;
- Architecture and urban planning;
- UX-specific education;
- Language and communications.
Suggestions for Further Reading
There’s only so much you can learn about a thing from a lengthy (albeit detailed) article. If you really want to expand your knowledge on UX design in different fields and forms (not just web, of course), there are some excellent choice readings you can try. Reading from the best means learning from the best, and there’s no better place to start.
Here are our recommendations for further reading, which will help you delve deeper into the philosophy and practice of UX design. Prepare to be inspired.
- The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman
- Designing for People by Henry Dreyfuss
- Don't Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
- 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People by Susan M. Weinschenk
- Universal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design by William Lidwell
- Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan
- Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems by Steve Krug
- The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide by Leah Buley
- Articulating Design Decisions: Communicate with Stakeholders, Keep Your Sanity, and Deliver the Best User Experience by Tom Greever
- Just Enough Research by Erika Hall
- Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions by Bella Martin
- Laws of UX: Design Principles for Persuasive and Ethical Products by Jon Yablonski
- Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change by Victor Papanek
While not everyone is equipped to create art, everyone's a critic, as the saying goes. And not for nothing - people realize when something isn’t right. You don’t need to be a designer to notice that the kitchen counter is too low to chop vegetables on without slouching and an ensuing back ache. You see - design is everywhere around us, and we hardly notice it until it’s causing an inconvenience.
The best user experience design, then, is seamless and only serves to amplify the pleasure and ease of mind of the user. And there’s no other way to create a good UX design except to pay attention to the user, their needs, their desires, their psychology. That’s why a good deal of UX design is based on doing research.
Of course, you also need to know how to conduct that research, how to analyze your results, and how to implement that evaluation to the product or service to make it better, more desirable, and ultimately, more profitable. For a guide to the UX design process and more, you can join our informative, detailed, and fun online course on user experience design, where professionals will teach you everything you need to know. Of course, with UX design, the learning process never ceases.
Some important UX design topics you’ll learn about in our course include:
- What makes a good UX design?
- Introduction to prototyping;
- Psychology and UX design (Gestalt principles, behavioral analytics, the role of memory);
- Understanding the needs of the user;
- How to conduct research (qualitative research, interview protocols, user observation, affinity diagrams);
- Asking the right questions to the right people;
- How to analyze qualitative data;
- Everything from concept to prototype;
- Designing your product;
- And much, much more.
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