We love to complicate things in the digital world. The concept of user experience (UX) is a perfect example. If you Google it, you can take your choice from among the 274,000,000 results; surely one of them will be useful, right? Maybe. But the chances are better that you’ll find yourself even more confused, and that’s odd, given that at its heart UX is a simple concept.
Wikipedia provides this succinct definition: User eXperience (UX) is about how a person feels about using a system. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction (HCI) and product ownership, but it also includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s performance, feelings and thoughts about the system. User experience is dynamic, because it changes over time as the circumstances change.
The only issue with the above definition is its linkage to “human-computer interaction.” Right there the door to over-complication has been thrown open wide, because by introducing the computer the entire concept has been reduced to what happens in a digital space.
A better way to approach UX is by taking an empirical approach and removing the digital factor. We said that at its heart UX is a simple concept, and it is. UX frames the interaction between a person and his/her environment. True, that environment could be within the confines of a website or application, but if we think about UX in its broadest sense we could be talking about how your hand fits around a car door handle, how simple or complicated your TV remote is to operate or how great it is that someone invented stamps that you don’t have to lick anymore.
UX is really about how smooth, seamless, comfortable, easy or painless it is to do something. Ideally, we humans want our interaction with the things in this world to be pleasurable. Frankly, when something becomes a pain in the ass it means that whoever designed that particular user experience (the remote is an easy target) failed.
In the words of Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, “Make stuff that doesn’t suck.”
In the very broad context of UX, that means conceiving, designing and executing things (websites, toasters, buildings, whatever) that encourage and then reward interaction. As digital designers we tend to think that people can only “experience” a site if it’s a whiz-bang in-your-face Flash experience – something a user will remember.
We’d do better to remember that designing a user experience begins with the user first, and after we understand her we can start to think of the kind of experience we can create for her to enjoy.
But this is just one definition of UX. There’s another 274,000,000 a few clicks away if you want another viewpoint.