The concept and field of user experience (UX) has been rapidly growing and transforming how brands engage and interact with their customers. In fact, in a consumer-driven economy, UX has become a key differentiator because eventually, it’s the end-user satisfaction that determines the success of a product or service. For instance, Google, Apple and Facebook have all mastered the concept of UX and are the most popular and widely used brands today. UX is the reason why we have such sophisticated user interfaces today and why everyone from product designers and managers to C-level executives and entrepreneurs is focusing on making users of their products happy. So what is this new revolution?
Let’s split up the phrase – user experience. Anyone that has purchased a product or paid for a service is a user. When you interact with a company be it a product or a service organization, you are having an experience. Obviously, any business would want its users to have a great experience when using their offerings, and the key to such an experience lies in thinking from the user’s perspective. If the product development team can think like the user they will be surprised at the number of modifications and enhancements they will make in what they thought was a finished product.
As a first step, a good experience depends on when a service or a product has successfully solved a real problem or filled an actual need gap. User Experience, therefore, needs to be a combination of visual appeal and utility. It’s an amalgamation of engineering, marketing, and the elements of graphic, industrial and interface design. A pleasing design (or UI) alone will not result in a good user experience. Here’s another example. It’s late and you’re returning from a party so you’re not driving. What you need is an app for booking a cab that will load fast and will allow you to pick a cab, add the location and destination and pay for your trip in maybe just a couple of clicks.
So if we were to define UX, we would like to describe it as leveraging technology to enhance the quality of interactions between customers and the services or products they use. UX goes beyond technical specifications and also looks at improving how users feel about products, starting from the experience of buying the product. As per the Nielsen Norman Group, UX covers “all aspects of the end-users interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
UX Design Process
There’s no rigid process or protocol that must be followed, but over the years the UX design process has gradually shaped into the following steps:
This is a no-brainer. Good user experience requires everyone involved – developers, designers, testers etc. – to spend a lot of time on researching the end user. It helps them see things from the user’s perspective and identify actual needs. The research process involves listening to and observing customers, conducting surveys, running interview sessions and so on. Once the research is complete, the research team using the gathered data to create user personas based on the survey set, and segregate them based on their motivations, needs, goals and expectations. This ensure that the end-user remains at the Centre of everything.
The design phase is all about structuring the development journey based on the insights emerging from the research. Developers now begin to conceptualize the functional and aesthetic elements of their product or service, and typically they rely on information architecture to organize ideas, product features, designs specs etc before they proceed to build a wireframe. Wire framing basically means creating a physical representation to showcase how a site, software program or app will look, and is a very critical process because it helps designers visualize the final product and improve its overall effectiveness, functionality and features.
A prototype is a draft version, an initial version, of a product. It allows designers and developers to experiment with designs, check for and rectify any bugs and inconsistencies, check if the product is stable and functional, enhance the original idea and add more user-friendly features and eventually have a functional product ready to present to senior executives before production.
Once a prototype it can be used to test the functioning and feasibility of the product with a closed sample set of users. Simple UX tests involve observing a user interact with the product, while the more detailed UX testing has multiple versions of the same product presented to users and feedback is gathered on which version gets the most positive results. UX developers collect feedback through questionnaires or surveys, and sometimes they identify specific users who are more discerning and get more detailed feedback through interviews. The testing phase of the UX development process is very critical to ensure future success.
The job of a UX expert continues even after the official product launch because of the inherent continuous nature of user experience management. As long as your product or service is out in the market and you have existing or potential customers, you will have to continue investing in enhancing the UX. Because UX is an ongoing process, developers need to constantly test and improve product performance to ensure that the product meets user expectations, both existing and future. A very important aspect of measuring UX is to increase the likelihood of existing customers recommending the product, and in case of services you need to measure your repeat business from the same customer as well.
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If done right, user experience is one of the most valuable assets a business can offer its customers. There are many UX development and measurement tools available today that can help you, but it is perhaps wise to engage a UX agency to ensure you get the most out of these tools.