How to define a user experience

User experience is one of those hazy terms that gets talked about a lot, but is difficult to put a finger on. Like other hazy terms, opinions of what a user experience actually is differ from person to person, making it tricky to agree what needs to be changed when people say things like ‘we need to improve the user experience’.

Nielsen Norman Group define user experience (UX) as

“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

This is a helpful starting point, but what exactly are the different aspects of the end-user’s interaction, how will you improve them, how will you prioritise them and how will you measure them?

One approach is to use frameworks and other mental models to bring about shared understanding and decision-making within teams. The sketch above depicts my own framework for defining a user experience (and is actually a combination of concepts and frameworks from Nielsen Norman, Interaction Design Foundation and Paul Graham of SVPG).

Different frameworks and approaches will work for different teams and I think it’s always best to adapt or create your own to meet your needs and ways of thinking.

So here’s what I think makes a positive user experience

  • Useful – It serves a purpose and enables the user to achieve a tangible goal (provides value to the user).
  • Usable – It is easy to understand and to use. It is intuitive and accessible.
  • Used – This one breaks down into further components, which I’ll detail below, but the key point is people are aware that it exists, they know why they should use it, they want to use it and there is minimal friction blocking them from using it.

For this to happen, it must be:

  • Desirable – It is emotionally appealing, triggering those types of irrational thoughts we have for buying our favourite brands over cheaper or better alternatives.
  • Understandable – The reasons why we should use it are widely understood amongst the target audience. This is important, because often with things like new technologies, people cannot imagine how it will improve their lives until they actually use it and get that ‘aha’ moment.
  • Findable – It is easy to find / locate, limiting the effort needed to start accessing it.
  • Adoptable – It doesn’t require you to jump through lots of complicated hoops or to have a high degree of specialised / technical knowledge to start using it.

The last two components don’t impact the user directly, but are just as important for ensuring the experience exists in the first place:

  • Feasible – It can be feasibly and reliably produced or provided to users within the technical, operational and other constraints of the organisation and broader context. If the experience cannot be reliably and consistently provided to users, it will fail many of the above points.
  • Viable – It meets different business goals and needs, such as improving profitability, maximising the impact of government funding or simply trying to remain relevant. If the experience fails to meet business viability, it simply won’t get the funding to exist.

Finally, all of this happens within a context and the context will naturally differ for each given situation, scenario and circumstance. So the combination of variables that make a great user experience for one group, may not work so well for other groups in different situations.

Adapting and adding components to this framework

There are plenty of other components that you could add to this framework, which I haven’t covered explicitly, such as credibility and accessibility. As I’ve said, it’s generally easier to take other people’s thinking and build on this for your own purposes, rather than starting from scratch each time; so I recommend taking a look at the following links too:

The 7 factors that influence user experience

The user experience honey comb

The four big risks

Thanks for reading 🙂

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