This happens to me almost every time I get to meet someone I haven’t met before. We introduce ourselves to each other and then he or she will drop the big question: “so, what do you do for a living?”
“Well” I answer, “I am user experience designer.”
“Oh that’s cool!… (an awkward silence)”
“so… what exactly does it mean?”
It’s challenging to answer this question without confusing the listener even more. And when I’ve began to do ux years ago I had trouble explaining what the hell do I do in layman’s terms. I struggled finding the right words and putting it into a few sentences.
I will try to say something like: “I work to simplify the interactions between people and the product or service, making sure users are able to complete their tasks and achieve their intended goals. And I do that by understanding the needs and frustrations of users from the product or service.”
Problem is, when people hear the word design, they are naturally thinking about tangible artifacts. Something we can easily describe and portray to others.
But the user experience is abstract and not a tangible artifact.
We can’t really design the user experience, but we can design for the experience
In the usability.gov website we find the definition of ux to read as:
“User experience (UX) focuses on having a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations. It also takes into account the business goals and objectives of the group managing the project. UX best practices promote improving the quality of the user’s interaction with and perceptions of your product and any related services.”
The thing is that user experience can’t be designed in the traditional meaning of the word because it depends on other things beside the product like the individual characteristics of the user and her context for using the product.
And since we are not able to either design the user or the context of it, we basically designing for the user experience.
A good analogy for it I’ve once heard portray the user experience designer as a party planner.
While a party planner can arrange the band, food and atmosphere, he or she can’t guarantee the experience of the guests, and if they will enjoy the party or not.
In the same way we can design an app or a website based on our understanding and assumptions of the users needs, and we will probably have some data as an evidence, but we can’t guarantee if the user experience will be good or bad.
“The context of using the app or website is unpredictable and so are the users behaviors. Sure we could have some good guess on those, but we never know for sure.”
The context of the usage of the app or website is unpredictable and so are the users behaviors.
Sure we could have some good guess on those, but we never know for sure.
That is why the design for user experience is a never ending iterative process where we seek to validate and measure our assumptions in the wild with real users.
It’s a constant loop of processes that is not always linear.
People sometimes confuse the user experience with other areas of design such as information architecture, usability and aesthetics, in which we produce items such as sitemaps, prototypes, mockups etc’.
But these are only pieces from a larger picture, which are all working together to make sure an experience a user is having with the product or service can go smoothly and in a delightful and successful way.
When we design an experience, we take all those components that have an impact on the interaction between the user and the product, and we prepare the stage for it, in other words, the experience of the user.