Finding the User Experience
:: By Joe Martin, Telegraphics Inc. ::
Back when the term UX first hit the Web design community as the latest “buzzword”, designers and developers knew they had to get there eventually. Right now, though, there is just too much going on to focus on some new jargon. As the idea of the user experience spread across the Web, too many people became focused on narrowing down the “user experience” process. Corporations want to know, “How do we evaluate the user experience?” Processes like, ‘Paper Prototyping’ were introduced in closed environments to evaluate the user experience firsthand. Mirrored rooms, classrooms, even boardrooms, have become the closed playgrounds for our vast imaginations.
Today, we know better. We know users are on the move. We’re fighting for attention all over again—bigger buttons, brighter colors, gloss, bevels and anything we can do to create some motion on a page.
The user experience process needs to be re-thought. It cannot be contained. It can’t be studied in a room or replicated across projects. It needs to be created for every project. In each project there is a unique user experience needing to be discovered, invented even.
You’re the Inventor
I’ll warn you, this next part is a little tough to hear and could change your entire outlook on life. For instance, remember the first time someone told you about the arrow in the FedEx logo and wanted to inform every person, every time you saw it, every day, for the rest of your life? Well, if you don’t, about 100,000 other people know exactly what I’m talking about.
As “Jedi” like as it sounds, the user experience is all around you. It’s how someone at the jean company decided the pockets should only be four inches below the waist because six inches would make it way to convenient to get your phone in and out. The streets you’re driving on, the traffic system even—somebody made a conscious decision to place specific traffic lights on each corner. It’s everywhere. Someone designed/invented the desk your hands are on, or the monitor you’re reading this from. Someone had to think, “how will someone read this?” A person had to decide the best means for you to use the object you’re reading this upon.
But see, you’re already in the inventor's club. You already design or develop, and now this is when you need to think, “How can I make this better?”
“How WOULD I Make this Better?”
You’ve already done this, subconsciously, for years. Sitting at a stop light thinking, “Why is this taking so long to change!” Notice, it’s not even a question anymore, just a statement—an agitated statement of your experience with that stop light. Everything you touch, walk upon and probably look at has a user experience in mind. Now, if they did it right, that thought should not even cross your mind.
You’ve grown up a user-experience expert, already. You have hundreds of these experiences every single day. Let’s think about how the paper clip was designed—how did these guys in a boardroom know exactly what size to make “the paperclip”. What’s even better is to think about the one got chewed up in the machine, spit out on the floor, and as they were throwing it out someone had the genius idea to use it as a paper holder because of the ridged groves.
Beyond the Boardroom
When we take this mode of thinking into consideration, it opens up the possibilities of every project put before us. How can we make it better? We need to look at it with a fresh set of eyes and not be afraid to ask, “Why?” We’re all familiar with the cliché of a child asking their parent, “why?” over and over again. Any annoyed parent shuts it down pretty quickly, but it’s a behavior we need to re-adapt. We can’t be afraid to ask, “why is it this way?”
With the release of iOS7, Apple moved significantly further away from the design of real-world objects in a digital environment. However, as crafters of print and Web, we are not allowed to abandon this ideal. Real-world interactions will continue to be around for as long as humans walk the earth. When we begin to recognize this relation of interaction to object, we can begin to think about the user experience and craft a better product. Look at an advertisement on your way home today. Whether it’s a billboard, bus ad, or bumper sticker. Can you read it? Did you get it? That’s the User Experience.
A number of ideas go into any product, service or advertisement, all that helps craft the user experience. Their placement, or accessibility, will already speak to the user’s expectations of the product. Ever use a door handle that was too low on a door? You know it’s going to work the exact same way, but your expectations are different now because it’s not what you’re used to.
We try and throw terms like “callout”, “slider” or “call to action” as what we’re controlling within the user experience. There are individual items that help to guide the user flow, but the entirety of layout, content and functionality becomes the experience. What “kind” of experience, is still up to us to invent.
These are the things we can’t overlook or become stressed about as deadlines approach. This is the beautiful part behind design and why we get into this line of work to begin with. If we wanted to sit and fill pill bottles with a piece of cotton on an assembly line, that job is out there. That’s not for us. We create! We invent new processes through design and development. These processes are our responsibility to ensure they’re created in the most effective manner possible.
About the Author: Joe Martin graduated with a bachelor’s in Interactive Media Design from the Art Institute. He is the owner of Telegraphics Inc., a Web design company located in the suburbs of Chicago. With over 12 years of experience in the world of websites and design, Martin was successful in creating projects for McDonald’s, IBM, DeVry and many more.