user experience: keys to success

There’s more than a bit of poetic symmetry in the juxtaposition of user experience to the domain of customer experience.

Arnolfini Portrait — Jan van Eyck, 1434

User experience (or, simply UX) is a mise en abyme, a story within a story. At once, UX both informs and frames our nature of our solutions. Consider, for a moment, Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, as the Flemish Renaissance master cleverly employs a convex mirror to reveal a small figure (some say it is the artist, himself) entering the room from behind the spectator.

We’ll explore more of this shortly, but meanwhile, here’s a quick definition of UX:

“User experience (UX) is the way a person feels about using a product, system or service… User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s feelings and thoughts about the system. User experience is dynamic, because it changes over time as the circumstances change.” (Wikipedia) (1)

At it’s heart, UX is informed by an ethnographic understanding of the person who will be using a given product, system or service. This person is not a persona, as some would have us believe, but just another human being, not unlike ourselves, who desires to use that product, system or service with three primary expectations:

  1. They’ll get what they want
  2. They’ll get it painlessly, and
  3. They’ll get it as quickly as possible

UX focuses, thus, not on a product, system or service, but what a person experiences with that same product, system or service. To the UX world, t’s all about the journey. And, therein lies the poetry alluded to above — smart companies build solutions so that others can better understand (and, now, respond to) how their customers experience their own product, system or service.

It only makes sense, then, that we deliver a journey worth taking. To achieve good UX, we must suspend, for the moment, our fetish with verbatims, word clouds and attributes, and see the world through a person’s point of view. It is fundamental to creating and delivering good UX that we forget this person is a business analyst or an operations manager and remember that he or she is first, and foremost, a human. The former is the province of product managers, the latter that of UX designers.

“If instead, the core tool is not analysis but rather appreciation —deep appreciation of the consumer’s life — what makes it hard or easy; what makes her (in this category) happy or sad — there is the opportunity to imagine possibilities that do not exist.” (You Can’t Analyze Your Way to Growth, Roger Martin, Harvard Business Review, 9/12/2011)

So, back to Jan van Eyck. Just as the Arnolfini Portrait is in itself a symbolic montage (which has inspired much academic debate), so too is UX.

Footnote 1: It’s all spelled out even more succinctly in ISO 9241-210:2010 which “provides requirements and recommendations for human-centred design principles and activities throughout the life cycle of computer-based interactive systems. It is intended to be used by those managing design processes, and is concerned with ways in which both hardware and software components of interactive systems can enhance human–system interaction.” (You can order the full standard online to peruse at your leisure for a mere 128 Swiss Francs.)