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What is the X in UX? (Hint: There be Treasure Here)

Posted by Rachel Defriend on December 25th, 2008 at 12:00 am

X marks the spot for pirate maps, but is it also true for website design? Arrr, says I.

UX is a (not so) clever way of saying user experience, and without a good one, we risk losing customers. No matter how awesome your product or flashy your website, without someone thinking about how users will find it, what they’ll do with it and the value they’ll get from it, the total sales of your product or service will not be as good as it could be.

Good Functionality + Good Design = Good User Experience

In the land of UX, the colonies are comprised of Interaction Designers (IxD), User Experience Architects (UXA), User Experience Designers (UXD), Information Architects (IA), User Interface Designers (UID), Usability Engineers (UE), Human Factor Engineers and, well, you get the picture. While talents and skills overlap, the focus of each should always put the user first. Because before X comes U. To truly design a good X, you must first embrace the U — the user.

To start, you should:

1.    Define your users. Users can be defined by data (the numbers never lie) from your targeted demographic or by the creation of personas derived from interviews with users.

2.    Understand their behaviors. How do they interact with your products or with your site? What is their purchase-decision process? What motivates them to use/purchase? What attitudes do they carry toward your brand and your competitors?

3.    Determine their needs. A great interactive experience cannot be built in a vacuum — so ask the users: Why do they use your product/site? What is their knowledge and proficiency in relation to your product/site? What value are they expecting in return?

4.    Define their goals. What transactions are they most determined to complete? What information do they need to make educated decisions? When and where do they perform these tasks?

Then you can start designing experiences for them. Without identifying and understanding the user, you are much less likely to be adept at creating meaningful interactive experiences.

So, back to pirate maps. When starting to design an interactive experience, you should ask these questions to help chart a reliable path:

  • What is the purpose of the site? What do we want the user to do?
  • How will your site/products/company be differentiated from competitors?
  • Who will be using the site?
  • How do we meet their needs?
  • How do we help them accomplish their goals?
  • What overall memory do we want them to take away?
  • What type of design, content, interactivity and site structure will help support your brand and the user’s goal?

With these answers, you have a solid direction to start sketching out artifacts to put in front of key players in the strategy and conception phases. More questions will definitely arise and open up new routes to pursue — just make sure you keep steering out of the product-centric whirlpool.

To stay on course, here are a few tips to keep your timbers from shivering:

1.    Listen. To users, stakeholders and experts (but don’t overdo it).

2.    Balance. Creating customer-centric solutions doesn’t mean you let the business goals walk the plank. It’s a proper balance of needs between the user, the company and the technology.

3.    Simplify. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is a great acronym to keep on hand. You don’t want to get in the way of the user with complex processes or mismanaged feature priorities.

4.    Evangelize. UX isn’t just a step to check off. It is a philosophy that needs adoption on multiple levels throughout the project.

Above all, keeping true to U will help guide good design for X.

Aye, Maties!

Rachel DeFriend is Interactive Account Supervisor for Javelin Direct.

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