UXD: Engineering Everyday Experiences
Although, it is a good practice to start an article on a positive note, I will be starting this on a slightly unpleasant one!
I want you to think of these frustrating day to day moments:
- Pulling a door that was supposed to be pushed.
- Though the USB has just 2 sides, it somehow takes multiple attempts to plug it in.
- Not being able to figure out how to navigate a website or an app, because the layout is so confusing.
- Those puzzling fixtures at someone's bathroom.
- Not being able to figure out where a certain room is, in that maze of an office/building.
- You are excited to try out that new thing you just ordered, but the packaging is so bad, it's too frustrating to open it.
- An exhibition/ a store which doesn't let you walk 'naturally' and you end up coming to the same lane of stalls/ products again and again, thus being forced to walk more.
- An awkwardly placed charging point.
- Entangled earphones / a set of entangled wires around your PC.
- That machine with a myriad of buttons, only an 'expert' can use it (ex. weird printers)
Our lives revolve around so many products, even more so with the increasing growth in technology. That is why, these and so many other moments in life are indeed so frustrating! Most of the times, we overlook these things, or we end up blaming ourselves for being silly.
But is that true? Absolutely not. How come these frustrations are shared by so many people? All of them aren't silly! We can completely understand that if a person goes to the cockpit of an aeroplane and gets confused as to how to fly the plane. But we cannot say the same about a door! A person should be able to go in and out of a door / use a bathroom / navigate a website, etc. without any confusion. This is definitely not too much to ask!
These small frustrations I mentioned may seem to be unrelated to each other. You may think how are puzzling bathroom fixtures, related to entangled wires, or how are both of them related to a bad website layout or poor interiors!
All of these have one thing in common - 'Lack of user research, resulting in a poor design which causes a terrible user experience!' These products are 'Engineered' instead of being 'Designed, for Users'.
In this blog, I am going to show you why User Experience (UX) is one of the most important factors in engineering design across various industries. I will also be briefing through the various aspects of UXD and how they affect our everyday life.
"Design is not just how it looks and feels, design is how it works." - Steve Jobs
UXD: USER EXPERIENCE DESIGN stands for "The process of supporting user behavior through usability, usefulness, and desirability provided in the interaction with a product"
UX of a product is what makes it either a memorable one which users will love, or a forgettable, average product. The users will invariably come back to the product or a service which they have loved, with which, they had the best 'experience'.
Some of you might have heard the term UX/UI design. It is a common mistake to think that these two are the same, and are only applicable in a digital design context. But UX Design is everywhere - It is the design of everyday things ranging from toys, stationary, watches, vending machines, packaging, to digital products such as laptops, mobiles, PCs, as well as various softwares, apps and websites. This is because, UXD, as in the name, is the design of an experience. UI, which stands for 'User Interface' on the other hand, is the specific set of assets used on the interface of a product.
For example, in digital context, UI Design would deal with the choice of colors, typography, etc, UXD would deal with the placement of functions such that the user flow through the website is natural, and that the users find all the relevant information without any hassles.
Image source - https://digitalsynopsis.com/?p=31373
This image illustrates the difference between UI and UX very well!
You may still think that UI/UX is the work of the same person! But here's a fun fact -
The first ketchup bottle was designed in 1876. They kept on making multiple changes in 'UI' since then. But they came up with the squeezable ketchup bottle (the one on right) only in 1983. That is 107 years of innovation!
So what makes UXD so difficult? Though it seems so "Obvious" how do a lot of people get it so wrong?
The answer is: LACK OF USER RESEARCH.
The designers are so busy with the product development aspects that they forget to answer the major question - "Is this exactly what the users need?" User research is different from market research. While market research is more about the business aspect of a product, user research focuses on the design ergonomics for a target user base. Market research can be done before or simultaneously during initial product iterations, but user research has to be done prior to the design idea generation. That being said, the designer cannot ask the user what they want directly and design exactly that. Henry Ford had famously said "If I asked the people what they wanted, they would've said faster horses" Ironically, the users don't know what they want until you give it to them. But how do we know what users want? Simple answer: I will design what I want putting myself in the place of a user, isn't it? A big, BIG NO!
THE ENGINEER IS NOT THE USER.
One of the biggest mistakes anyone makes - design something and expect the users to like it. Never access whether the user wants it or not.
So how do we access this? It is through thorough 'User Research'.
As with Henry Ford, he correctly understood that when the users said they wanted faster horses, what they really meant, was 'a faster way to go from point A to point B.'
To understand user needs, doing user research is extremely important. Usually, User research is done through various methods such as - surveys, observation studies, contextual inquiries, interviews, etc.
The insights gathered through user research are what help develop a product which has an excellent UX.
Here is an an example of a measuring cup:
What can possibly be wrong with this measuring cup, which is used for many years by so many people worldwide? Is there a need to redesign something as obvious as this?
When people were asked if you have any problems using the measuring cup, most people denied. But when user research was conducted, it was seen that:
'While using a measuring cup, it was seen that the users had to either bring the cup to eye level, or they had to bend down to the marking level on the cup in order to pour something in it.'
This doesn't seem much of a problem, isn't it?
Everyone does this. But where people find workarounds, designers see this as an opportunity!
The redesigned measuring cup looks like this:
With the markings at an angle, it is now possible to keep the measuring cup on a surface, and use the cup without having to bring it to eye level every time we need to use it!
This is an improvement in 'User Experience'
With the growing technology, UXD plays an important role in making machines more human. A great UX Design ensures that a certain device integrates seamlessly with the users. Similarly, the design principles extend to the digital space as well. Website, app, or any other digital interface design such as atm machines, kiosks, etc. that are made after a thorough understanding of users provides a better user experience than poorly designed ones. It is actually quite easy to get these wrong, since many a times, the engineer ends up designing the machine for themselves rather than the users.
Watch this video by Don Norman, author of "Design of Everyday Things" (An amazing book), who is pretty much one of the most contemporary UX designers of today:
The video elaborates UX of everyday things very well! Moving over to digital space,
Here is an example of a really bad website:
Though this website has a poor UI as well as a poor UX, it is quite common for interfaces to have a poor UX, yet a good UI. This means that the colors, typography, etc of the interface are beautiful, yet the users are not directed to sales part or any other relevant aspect of the website. This significantly affects the revenue collected through the website! One usually remembers a bad website as an experience due to one of these, or more:
- No mobile friendly view
- Trying to press a button multiple time only to realize that it is not a button
- Low loading speed
- No feedback for payments
- No confirmation option causing erroneous form submission
- Asking login credentials for a simple reaction
A whole UXD lesson is dedicated to website and app design in which one can learn about the do's and don'ts while building a website.
User Experience in the digital space applies to all tech hardware too.
If a child is able to use a mobile phone well before they learn to even read, it is the design which has become smarter, and not the child!
The tech hardware plays an important role in determining if the customer will return. Still wondering why Apple's Macbooks are loved so much? The processing capability of a macbook might be lesser with a cost that is higher, as compared to other laptops in the same range. But macbooks provide an experience with its design which makes the user 'love' it. Ofcourse, the brand value and marketing does play a major role here, but a fine user experience still remains at the heart.
Most users appreciate the novelty of a tech till a point, after which they demand a better UX. Take for example, the USB flash drive.
As much as we appreciate the ease that USB provides, the fact that it has to '2 sides which somehow plug in correctly in the third attempt' is annoying. Moreover, some USB drives do not have a light to indicate that they are plugged in nor is there any feedback from PC or laptop.
Simple tweaks in the hardware (Adding a marking for the side up, and an indicator light for connection) makes a simple experience wholesome and hassle free.
Obviously, a product needs to have a carefully curated hardware and software UX. But do you know that UXD is also important in packaging of a product?
“Steve and I spent a lot of time on the packaging," said Ive. " I love the process of unpacking something. You design a ritual of unpacking to make the product feel special. Packaging can be theater, it can create a story.” - Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs
(Ive: Jonathan Ive, is one of the famed, early product designers for Apple)
Packaging is something we may not even notice immediately, but don't we all love beautifully wrapped gifts? Something about those giftwraps show personal love from the sender! Same applies to products. Infact, 'Unboxing' videos are some of the most watched YouTube video categories and are an important marketing bonus for companies! A great packaging adds to a great User Experience.
Once a product is built, it is not enough to stop there. You have built an amazing product, the user experience is great. Your customers love it. If you stop here, there will be another competitor coming up who has built a similar product, but better (The measuring cup!)
A product needs to keep evolving through usability testing. Usability testing is a technique used in user-centered interaction design to evaluate a product by testing it on users. This can be seen as an irreplaceable usability practice, since it gives direct input on how real users use the system
Satisfaction, Efficiency and Effectiveness are commonly used metrics for usability testing, but they can vary depending on the product. It will also vary in fields such as architecture, where it is not possible to build something, then do usability testing.
"The next big thing is the one that makes the last big thing usable" - Blake Ross (Co-creator of Mozilla Firefox)
When it comes to a product being usable, it needs to be usable to all set of users. This is where accessibility plays a major role. A place needs to be accessible or it needs to have accessibility options for users who are differently abled (wheelchair users, visually impaired people, etc.) The biggest mistake one can do is to not consider their needs while designing. If you design a product and then work on making it accessible, it would cost a lot more than if you consider those users while designing it in the first place.
As mentioned before, the process of UXD, consisting of User Research, User Interface design, Usability testing, is an evolutionary process.
As subjective as this seems to be, UXD is not subjective. Maybe to some extent it is, as it should be and hence the process is usually carried out in teams of interdisciplinary developers to reduce this subjectivity. But most of this process is in fact defined through psychological as well as mathematical laws.
Mentioning all the laws or even some laws would not be possible in the same blog, but I would definitely write a zoomed in version for some laws of UX.
That being said, as with every field, UXD keeps evolving with growing technology. There are cases wherein a bad UX has caused the product to be taken back or even worse, has caused fatal accidents! I will elaborate this more in the upcoming blogs!
There are fields which are still evolving and hence, so is the UXD processes. Obviously, the psychology principles remain timeless, but there needs to be an addition to measurable UX in the fields of Robotics (Human Robot Interaction), Space technology, Human Machine Interaction, Defence Research (Soldier-Machine interaction) and many others. These are the fields in which extensive user research is carried out while building different products. A lot of it is in research phase and one can find lots of great research papers on this.
In my upcoming blogs, I would be elaborating more on these subjects: Accidents due to poor designs, Measurable UX, and ofcourse, Human Robot Interaction Research!
So stay tuned, and do let me know about the time you had a great or a poor Everyday User Experience via comments!