The Experience of the Thing
In a remarkable study, people were given two colas to drink, but were not told what they were. The subjects were monitored via brain scans, and the researchers found there was no great preference of one cola over the other.
In another test, the subjects were told exactly what they were drinking: It was either Coca-Cola or Pepsi. People’s positive feelings about the brand alone convinced 74% of the subjects that Coke had the superior taste. This wasn’t the subjects saying this out loud, but their brains thinking it.
Their perception was controlled by their previous experience with the drink, the company, and the brand. What people actually liked had nothing to do with how the soda tasted. The researchers concluded that people’s exposure to Coke as a brand (Think Americana, Santa Claus, and polar bears.) was much stronger and positive than any association they may have had with Pepsi (Michael Jackson and Britney Spears).
People couldn’t tell the difference on taste alone, without “help” from the surrounding imagery from their previous experiences.
What is UX?
Ensuring your customers have a positive experience with your brand or product, through whatever means, can make the difference between you and them. It’s powerful stuff.
It’s just one aspect of what is called UX. UX is the User Experience. It’s about how a person feels when using a particular product or service. How something looks, sounds, works, or is organized all play a part in what the user’s final impression will be of your site or product.
As a discipline, UX design exists in a space between marketing, design, psychology, and engineering. Overlap is common, and so is specialization. Some UX designers work better in graphics and branding. Others focus on interaction and usability.
In the end, the goal is the same. A good user experience results in positive feelings, word-of-mouth, and popularity. One doesn’t have to look farther than Coca-Cola or Apple to see how much of an impact a good user experience has on customers.
A Most Brief History of UX
Early computers were scary beasts. Text-only displays intimidated novice users and required quite a bit of training. In the mid-1980s, bitmap displays enabled the creation of the Graphical User Interface (GUI). The computer screen could now show any image a software engineer imagined.
Personal and business computer use exploded due to their enormous utility, but these engineers often forgot one thing: The people using the computers were normal people, not engineers.
The inaugural issue of the UXmatters newsletter recounts the story of Don Norman using the term “user experience design” while working at Apple in 1993. (Norman is well-known as the author of 1998’s “The Design of Everyday Things”, a light and entertaining read that’s required for anyone looking to know anything about UX today.)
By the mid-1990s, Microsoft caught up to Apple’s early lead in UX by releasing the popular Windows 95. At the same time, people began to flock to the World Wide Web.
This explosion of highly-visual and customizable interfaces needed strong presence from marketers and graphic designers to make the most impact. At the same time, the interfaces still needed to work for the people using them.
That’s where the UX designer stepped in, and a new discipline was born.
UX designers are often asked, “What is the best solution to use here?”
UX designers have to account for all sorts of variables. Knowing who the users are is incredibly important. How tech-saavy are they? How did they come to be using the product? What expectations do they have?
Each design will have its trade-offs, but it’s the UX designer’s job to tell you. It’s their job to keep up-to-date with the latest technologies and trends, and recommend only the ones that make sense. They’ll tell you when the latest tech fad is just that: a fad. Throughout a project, they regularly review requirements to make sure they meet potential user expectations. They fill in the gaps for those things barely implied or even unanticipated within your Big Idea.
Next in UX: What are Usability and Accessibility?