When I see the use of X in our modern day society, my first thought is that it must be talking about something extreme. You can probably picture a logo advertising eXtremely cool surf boards or eXtremely sour gummies. But in the case of software design, it is short for “experience” and it’s actually anything but extreme.
I recently brought an unpackaged item to a package delivery service, and explained to the clerk that I didn’t seal it because of the return instructions. You see, I am one of those rule followers. I wanted them to know that I intended to bring them something all neatly arranged for them, but my first priority was following the rules - “take the unsealed the package to the store.” She looked at me and politely said, “Yeah, everyone misunderstands that,” sealed the box, and followed up with several complaints about other things in their software that everyone misunderstands. It was clear the creators of this software hadn’t tested their system to evaluate if their instructions actually resulted in the actions they wanted to see the store.
In that moment I realized that this is more common than not. I encounter someone complaining about their User Experience (UX) with software fairly often, even if it’s not articulated in those terms. There are bad UX decisions everywhere and they’re giving technology an eXtremely bad rap.
The X in the U is paramount. The experience of the user is what will drive your software to success or leave users complaining (to rule followers like myself). UX is not new to the technology game, but the expectation that it be part of the software development practice is relatively new. This standard is great for users, because when a new app is being designed, it is pretty much guaranteed that the experience of the user will be a top design priority. A diligent UX designer will consider the user’s goals and make a clear path to accomplish them. If this is a packing and shipping site, let’s make it intuitive, understandable and accurate. This is a modest example, but it displays how a great portion of the design process is thoughtful planning and, of course, testing the flow with actual users to see if it pans out in the real world. After all, if you aren’t designing with the user in mind, what are you designing for?
The difference in UI design and UX design
At Binary Evolution, ‘Design’ encompasses both UI (user interface) and UX. They go hand-in-hand, but there are differences between the two. UI is more about the look, the aesthetics, and the function: a familiar hamburger button produces a menu that slides onto the screen from the right for example. UX, as the ‘experience’ part would suggest, is more about the user‘s journey through the application. How easy is it to make that next decision? Or with really good UX, a user doesn’t even notice that they needed to make about a decision.
We all can attest that there are still programs in the wild where this step (UX) wasn’t given the attention it deserves. My advice? No matter how small the project, before officially launching your software be sure to conduct user testing, even if it’s only a few users. This does not have to involve hiring a team to conduct the research (although, there are some great options for hiring this out). It can be as simple as watching a few people you know use the software, or a nice cross section of the people you expect to be using your software. Even if your application is already launched, it is never too late to go back in and evaluate. For DIY user testing, the key is to try to be an impartial observer. Just give the user a couple tasks and watch, listen and take notes. How are they navigating through the software, did they reach their intended destination easily or did they flounder aimlessly until the entire site was explored? After they‘ve completed the tasks you can also ask for feedback. Just remember that what users do is just as important as what they say (maybe more). Then you can take all the insights you gain and make your software better.
There are lots of articles that provide some great tips on how to conduct usability testing. Sometimes teams get caught up in all choices and the goal of making sure everyone is represented and end up skipping it all together. If I have learned anything, it is that just a simple test and a few users can help you avoid really simple UX mistakes that will be like nails on a chalkboard for thousands of users down the road! Don’t let the daunting/time consuming tasks make you skip testing altogether. Your next package delivery clerk will thank you.