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Don’t ignore the users in User Experience

It seems pretty straightforward – User Experience involves users. Right?

User Experience (UX) can be a hard sell, and taking the time (and spending the money) to define your users clearly can be an even harder sell. Add to that the confusion that still exists around what UX is and who does it, and you have a job on your hands!

It makes total sense when you understand what it is and what it does, but it’s still a hard sell.

But before we get into the details, let’s start with what UX is not…

What UX isn’t

It’s important to set a bit of context at this point. UX has been around for a while but there are still misconceptions about what it actually is, not only among clients but agencies too. So, what is UX not?

UX is not UI

It’s not wireframing

It’s not CX

It’s not CRO

But it also kind of is. And this is where the confusion lies.

UI design affects the user experience, but only during use of the interface you’re designing. Wireframing is part of the process of designing a UI, UX techniques like user testing can greatly enhance CRO, and UX forms part of the wider CX. Pretty confusing, right?

What exactly is UX?

The issue we have is that this confusion about UX (and in my experience, it’s often that UX is just wireframing) means that the reason UX was created as a process and methodology is ignored.

Descriptions and opinions vary depending on who you talk to, what project they’re currently working on and what time of day it is. The ‘father of User Experience’ Don Norman – who was the first recorded person to use the term ‘User Experience’ in his job title while working at Apple in the early 1990s, and is the author of The Design of Everyday Things (mandatory reading for any budding UX’er) – had this to say about the term:

“I invented the term because I thought human-interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system.” 

The last part of that statement is particularly relevant: cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system.

UX isn’t just about the usability of the product (in our case a website or app) when we’re using it; it’s about the expectation before use and the fulfilment of expectation after use. As the man said, it covers all aspects of the experience with the system.

Some of the things that can affect UX before use – before they even arrive at your product – are:

  • Exposure to your brand (and their perception of it)
  • Visits to your physical shop or products they have previously purchased
  • Emails they might have received
  • Social media interaction with your brand
  • Ads they may have seen
  • Reviews they’ve read
  • Pricing

During actual use of the product UX is focused on usability and things like:

  • Satisfaction of use
  • Effectiveness
  • Efficiency

And after use, once they have left your product, a number of things have a bearing on the overall user experience:

  • After sales support
  • Follow up marketing emails
  • Product returns policies
  • Product delivery

So, that’s a brief description of what UX is intended to do. I won’t go into the details of the actual process or the tools that are used; TLTR for this post! 

I will explain how, using the above knowledge coupled with the learnings from the human-centred design approach, you will have a clear understanding of your users’ journeys and needs – against which you can then test and measure success. But what is human-centred design all about?

Human-centred design

Human-centred design (HCD) is an approach to designing products and experiences from the user’s perspective, which means understanding their core needs and then designing something that meets those needs. We then validate it with the users to make sure that it meets those needs. Makes sense, right? Not always:

UX team: We’re designing something for people to use. We should definitely find out what their needs are.

Everyone else: Yeah, sounds great! How long will that take and how much will it cost?

UX team: It’ll take about a month, maybe more. It won’t be particularly cheap either, but we’ll make a much better product that people actually need, and will use, and tell their friends about. It might even make you more money.

Everyone else: Nah, let’s just guess. We know what they want, we’re making the product, it’ll be fine.

UX team:

This is a common situation. We as marketers do have a better understanding than most about audiences and what does and doesn’t work, particularly with things like websites that we all use all the time – and in our case, make a lot of. But we are not the users, and we must always remember that.

Using the well-established HCD approach of building your insights around the users will provide you with the information you need to build personas and the overall context of use:

  • User – Who they are
  • Goals – What they want to achieve by using your product
  • Tasks – What they need to do to achieve their goals
  • Resources – What they have available to them to achieve their goals; things like time, effort and hardware
  •  Environments – Where they are, both geographically and socially

This info is gathered through a mix of data and real-life interaction with the user; things like workshops, interviews, questionnaires and evaluations give a clear picture of who our users are and what they need.

By misunderstanding what UX is, we are missing the point of why it is

By including the full UX process in your projects and exploring the before, during and after, you’re able to see the user’s experience from the holistic view. This knowledge, partnered with the HCD approach, allows you to identify your users, map their journeys in their entirety, understand their emotions and motivations, what their goals are and what they need to achieve those goals.

If you’re not looking at the whole user experience, or the user needs, then you are missing steps in the process.

You can do UX without HCD, but it involves lots of assumptions and guesses about your users (remember, we are not the user). 

You can still use UX tools to help design your product (e.g. information architecture, wireframes and prototypes) but again, there are a great deal of assumptions if you’re not looking at the wider journey.

Ask a lot of questions. Who are your users? What are they trying to achieve? What do they need to do to achieve those things and what resources do they have available to them? Where are they? What do they know about your brand? What communication have they received? How do they feel about the price? What have they bought before? How long does delivery take? What communications do they receive after purchase? 

Without knowing this stuff, we don’t know our users – and without knowing our users we are designing products based on experience, assumptions and subjective opinion.

By misunderstanding what UX is, we are missing the point of why it is. We’re essentially ignoring the ‘user’ in User Experience.