If you work in user experience, I bet you have been in a similar situation. You are home for a visit, you’re about to dig into your all-time favorite home-cooked meal, and then, without warning, the conversation goes off the rails and you are struggling to explain what you do for a living.
It might go something like this:
Darling, would you pass the salad? By the way, I bumped into one of your high school friends at the supermarket. She asked again what you do, but I didn’t really know what to say. I can’t ever seem to remember. It would be so much easier if you had gone to law school or become a teacher.
YOU (taking a deep breath)
Mom, I work in user experience for a software company. That means that I try to make it easier for people to get their tasks done.
YOUR YOUNGER SIBLING
Oh, like the colors and icons. You make it look good, right?
Visual design is one part, yes. Usability and consistency are the other big factors.
The minimum basic requirement for the user experience is good usability. This means that the product meets the needs and goals of the users so that they can complete the task at hand quickly and easily. Consistency is also important so people can apply what they learned from one screen or application to the next. Additionally, the user interface should also be aesthetically pleasing, eliminate unnecessary interactions, speak the user’s language, and keep the user feeling in control.
You grab a napkin and a pen and hurriedly sketch a drawing like this one:
If you can get those three things – desirability, usability and consistency – right, then you have created a good, or even great, user experience.
BUT, to create a superior user experience, you also need to be innovative. You assist users in a new way. It has to be a smart feature that users would never want to turn off. That means it can’t be annoying or get in their way. Like auto-complete when you are searching the internet or filling out a form. I LOVE auto-complete! I wish I had thought of that! That’s how you get into the big league of user experience design.
Blank stares all around the dinner table. There is silence except for the clink of silverware as everyone, except for you, goes back to their food. You backtrack a bit.
Look, when you try to do something online, like book a holiday, you have a certain experience. Sometimes the experience is bad: You can’t find what you want, you’re not sure if you’re getting the best price, the text is confusing or hard to read, the arrangement of information is different from one step to another. Basically, the whole thing makes you want to give up on going on vacation at all. And if you have that kind of bad experience, you don’t want to use that website again. But if the whole process is easy and looks good too, then that means you had a good user experience. That’s what I try to do.
What? You’re a travel agent?
No! I’m not a travel agent! My work doesn’t have anything to do with booking holidays. It was just an example.
Sweetheart, I think I got it. You try to make the stuff I have to do with computers, like attaching pictures to emails, easier for people like me. Is that it?
That’s pretty much it, Mom. By the way, your lasagna is great. Just like I remember it.
So, maybe your family finally did get it. But don’t be surprised if you have to explain it all over again next year.