What is UX?

A 3 minute read written by steve July 12, 2011

A pencil and notepad

So What Is UX?

User experience (UX) design is one of those fields that is viewed as essential, but mysterious. A strange combination, but everyone loves a good mystery. Looking for a single definition online, in print, or through conversations is nearly impossible, so I have adopted two different versions.

The creation, integration, and harmonization of all user-facing aspects within an organization or project, with the goal of impacting perceptions and behaviour.

Sounds pretty good, but ironically a bit hard for the user to understand. So this is what I regularly use:

Make it make sense and work for the user.

Ah, that’s better. Far too many people complicate what UX is at its heart. It is about taking the user through a process from start to finish. Hopefully we can do that without completely frustrating them and, if done well, leave them with a smile on their face. If you can do that you’ll see repeat visits, higher ROI, better workflows, a streamlined process, and generally happier stakeholders. Sounds simple, right?

Well, maybe.

This is the thing, creating a simple and positive user experience for your target audience can be incredibly complex. Devices like the iPhone are a great example of this. Let me take you back to my first day with myPhone (that’s right, I’m clever like that with names). Raise your hand if you have heard of the iPhone? That’s what I thought, pretty much everyone (if you haven’t, don’t worry, we didn’t see). The iPhone has been very successful. For some time it has been the device that other companies are trying to mimic or replace. In the tech news I constantly hear about the next “iPhone killer”. One of the best quotes I’ve heard was from a staffer at Google where he said, “The iPhone killer will be the next iPhone. We’re looking to create something different.” Excellent perspective.

Right, back to my first few moments with the iPhone.

I replaced my Blackberry with the iPhone pretty much the first day the iPhone was available in Canada. Luckily for me that wasn’t until the second generation was out (although it was painful for me to wait). So the device had already been through some refinement in the form of extensive “user testing” by millions of users. As an early/late adopter I had spent quite a bit of time with previous devices like my Blackberry. I loved my Blackberry. I could do everything I needed to do with the device and I had spent months getting used to its workflow and functionality. Blackberry = best friend. Still, I really wanted to give the iPhone a try as it did a bit more of what I wanted and, to be honest, looked pretty cool. I mean who doesn’t want to flick a finger and have the next image just come up?

Within minutes of getting the phone there were photos being taken and shared, Web pages viewed, a Twitter client installed, and a few free game apps downloaded and played. The best part, it was all done by my six-year-old daughter. It didn’t take me much longer to get into the workflow.

You might be thinking, "Well sure! It has one button and you just touch things to use them." That is what is so amazing about the device. I hardly had to learn anything to use the iPhone. It was doing more for me than the previous device and it handled things in a completely different manner. The user experience was fantastic. Apple had taken complex workflows and distilled them down to something that just made sense. It made sense and worked for me, the user. It was obvious. Don’t get me wrong, there are still things about the device that I’m learning, but overall it was a home run. This is one of the reasons it is still flying off the shelves.

So what can I do if it is hard to distill the UX for something complex like a Web site? So glad you asked. This blog series is about helping us understand the principles behind UX design and why it is crucial to improve the overall user experience of a Web site. No tricks or shortcuts, just best practices and pointing in the right direction.

Everyone should have a UX process worked into their regular project workflow. It is like the get-into-the-best-shape-of-your-life workout for your Web site project.