UX Power Up: What is UX, Really?


Defining UX (UX is shorthand for user experience) might sound like a dumb question, but it’s often a good idea to define what seems like the obvious. In this week’s UX Power Up, Frank gets you thinking about the surface definition and the deeper definition of user experience. 

Transcript of video above…

What is UX, Really?

Frank Spillers here, founder of Experience Dynamics, and it’s time for this week’s UX Power Up.

So, today I’d like to ask the very basic question, What is UX?

One of the reasons why I think this question doesn’t get defined very often is, UX is a lot of things.  So, UX stands for User Experience, and what is it?  Let’s talk about it.

User Experience is a result.  It’s not really a field, it’s something that you get out of interacting with a product, a design, a device and so forth.  It’s your customer and the experience that they have as they are interacting with your interfaces, with designs: pushing buttons; opening menus; swiping; selecting; if it’s a physical product – holding; moving; shaking; whatever it is.  The totality of how they interact with – so there’s another one, is interaction, is defined by their experience.  

So, user experience, the actual term is a term that Dr. Donald Norman coined at Hewlett Packard in 1992 and the reason why he coined the term was to define user experience in a more kind of holistic fashion.  So beyond usability, which is sort of when you’re down in the details of interacting with a button, you push the button and it does something – you can actually see a control and then interact with it, that’s more usability.  User Experience is kind of wider.  So when I say that, what I mean is, that because we’re dealing with a user who is essentially a human information processor, right?  In the sense that they: think, see, hear, feel, that they make sense of, they perceive – whether it’s buttons, or whether it’s menu items or logos or areas of a screen that they have to interact with.  That person is also having expectations from previous designs they’ve used.  They may also be exposed to the advertising, to the branding, to the pre-sales process, the public relations.  If you think about Apple – what’s the Apple user experience?  It’s not just opening the box, it’s not just using their software or products.  It’s actually the PR of people waiting in lines beforehand.  It’s the Apple developer conferences where they release it, it’s all of these expectations.  So these things form those kind of pictures or mental models.  Expectations the user brings to the experience – all of those things together, including after they’ve finished using the products.  So, those – what we call reflections – the experience they have after they’re done.  This is when someone uses, for example, a website – it’s not a conscious thing, they don’t say “Well, let’s see, that was an easy to use website, I think I’ll return.”  These are more kind of unconscious processes, in the same way that when you use door, if the door was easy to fit through and maybe you moved a table through the door, you think “oh, I could probably get my furniture through that door confidently.”  So next time when you are moving your furniture, you don’t even think about it, you just go through the door and expect it to be wide enough.

That’s how websites are too, is we’re left with that unconscious impression, thinking “Oh, that was a reliable site, I think I’ll login again.”  That’s how we measure success – is, in that return, what we call an intention to return.  That’s an aspect of user experience as well.

Now, very practically, user experience and it’s also called user experience design, it’s also called user experience architecture – like a UX architect, or a UX designer, that is an actual process – so, if you will, user experience is the result we’re looking for but it’s a bunch of things we do to create good experiences.  Of course we’re looking for positive, good experiences as opposed to negative experiences.  We’re essentially looking to put a smile on a users face.  That’s the very basic definition I have for user experience, is making your user smile.  That’s a good experience.  If your users walk out of your store or an encounter with your design, an encounter with your product, they’ve had a good experience, they’re smiling – and that’s a win.

I hope that helps define user experience and what user experience is Really, which is many things, but really it’s a result that we get from a human product interaction.  We’ll talk more about what other types of design characteristics follow user experience in future Power Ups.

In the meantime, happy user experiencing, happy UX’ing.  We’ll see you in a future Power Up.

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