First, what is user experience?
The reason why you gravitate toward the brands that you do is user experience, commonly known as UX.
Amusement parks, and theme parks in particular, are masters at this.
Themed attraction designers want just enough of an attraction to be shown to riders at a particular time, to preserve the magic they are experiencing. This is progressive disclosure, a concept also used in UX design.
Theme park designers want to make their parks provide a great day to their guests from the time they see the park’s entrance sign to the time the park gives them an invitation to come back at the end of the day.
This end-to-end interaction with a park’s brand is challenging to execute well.
And chances are, the website, consumer product, park, or ride you were thinking of earlier has a competitor. So not everyone will see that product the way that you do, even if many agree. Other guests or potential customers may think or say this:
UX & Customer Experience
Your park, company, website, or app can continue (or start) doing well against its competition by making sure that its guests, customers, or users find themselves delighted to interact with it. User experience is subjective because it applies to how an individual thinks about you. And it changes over time.
Put another way, a customer’s experience with your park or company’s brand over the years is made up of a long chain of user experiences.
CX = UX + UX + UX + …
Therefore, designing user experience or testing whether something is easy to use is not a checkbox or something to do when the rest of your product is already done. It is much more important than that, because each interaction your customer has with your brand affects how likely they are to keep doing business with you. User experience design and usability need to be a constant effort. Your users need to be in the center of how you get things done.
We collaborated with others in the user experience community to develop our user-centered design process. We have used this process on all of the projects in our portfolio, and we continuously improve it.
Many widely different areas of research go in to creating a great user experience. The UX field itself is said to draw influences from computer science, human-computer interaction, architecture (of buildings), industrial design (of physical products), sound design, graphic design, technical communication, psychology, anthropology, business, branding, marketing, library science, and other fields.
Indeed, there are UX practitioners throughout the world who enter the UX field from each of these disciplines. They can use their past experience in unique ways to make life easier and more enjoyable for users.
So, we see design as much more than making a product look nice. The products we design involve substantial research efforts that could not be done by someone providing spec work. Although we have more background in some of these fields than in others, each one influences how we design.
How UX design companies balance these fields in a design project depends on the type of product being designed. Some user experience design companies focus on designing physical products. We focus on digital products, such as websites and apps.
In addition to the wide range of subjects that comprise UX design, a host of subfields make up the UX design field itself. To make sure that your guests’ and customers’ user experiences execute well on their devices, we focus on these disciplines:
Information architecture (IA) deals with structuring and organizing your site’s data (information) in such a way that users can browse and search your site easily. Information architects are like librarians for the internet, showing people where to go in order to get what they need from a vast amount of information.
Interaction design (IxD) helps determine exactly how people will accomplish their goals using tasks on your site. Interaction design involves making the right decisions about how to structure signup forms, when to show more content on a site’s timeline, and how to delight users through smaller-scale interactions.
Most non-UX professionals see UX as being mostly visual design (VisD). Visual designers make sure that sites and apps are aesthetically beautiful and conform to the standards of your brand.
Usability engineering deals with making sure websites and apps are easy to use from a very technical and specific point of view. Usability engineers need to design questionnaires for users, conduct usability tests with users, and be able to know and apply technical standards for making sure that a site can be accessible to as wide of a range of users as possible.
Among these four disciplines, we specialize primarily in interaction design and information architecture. We are members of the Interaction Design Association and the Information Architecture Institute, the world’s leading professional organizations for those fields. We’re also well-versed in usability engineering. We have evaluated the usability of hundreds of websites, and we have had several hundred users evaluate our site and our clients’ sites for us.
Front-end development is a related skill that many UX designers have. Since UX designers concentrate on design, front-end developers are responsible for making sure the live site or app looks and behaves as designed. The degree to which we get involved in front-end development varies by client and project. Back-end developers deal more with websites’ databases and their interactions with web servers.
If you’re interested in reading further about the disciplines within user experience, here is a helpful article from UXMatters: UX Design Defined.
What is user-centered design?
User-centered design (UCD) is a process for making the user experience come to fruition. UCD begins with user research, which is validated through artifacts such as personas. Users stay involved at each step of a UCD process.
Personas are placeholders for real users. They are based on user research data, but they are believable. (We don’t say that a persona named Becky has “2.1 kids”, because nobody does. She might have 2 or 3 kids, if that’s what we are seeing in our user research data.)
These placeholders stand in for users throughout the rest of our design process to ensure that we design for our users instead of for ourselves.
If you work in marketing, you may be familiar with the term personas already. To a UX designer, personas focus more on the users’ technical backgrounds. Here are some of the questions they answer for us:
1) What are your users’ goals?
We want to know not only their experience goals in interacting with your brand today, but also their end goals for interacting with their brand – and their goals in life.
2) What frustrates your users in accomplishing any of the goals above?
3) What kinds of devices do your users own?
4) What devices do your users primarily use for interacting with your brand?
Do they interact with it primarily through their smartphones, or are they more likely to be engaged with your brand on a tablet or a desktop computer? What opportunities do we have for engaging them in these specific contexts of use?
5) What level of technical expertise do your users have?
Are most of these users technical novices, technical experts, or somewhere in between?
6) How many distinct groups of users are there for your site, app, or software product?
Which group(s) need designs that only cater to them? This is similar to a common challenge in amusement park planning. A ride designed for kids usually will not appeal to thrill seekers, and many rides designed for thrill seekers usually do not appeal to most kids. Each group needs their own rides. Similarly, different groups of users benefit most by having different interfaces, sites, or apps designed with them in mind.
User research and personas are just the first step in our user-centered design process. We realize that ultimately, we need to produce a site or app that will run, or a prototype that can be given to developers to flesh out.
Read here about how we continuously refine sites and apps all the way through to after they go live.