What User Experience Means To Me

We could use the Nielsen Norman group definition

“User Experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products. The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company’s offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.

…because, well, they get paid a lot of money.

But, I like to keep things simple. This is what User Experience means to me:

For quite a while, I drove a BMW Z4. It’s a nice car, but most amazing is the placement of the cupholders: they’re right underneath the left and right air conditioning and heating vents, and when you pressed on them, they would pop out. Among all the other things that the car had — a lot of power, a stereo that would increase in volume when the car was going faster, seat warmers, and a power top, excellent handling — it was the little things like the cup holders that made it an excellent user experience. In the time I drove that car (for several years), I never spilled a drink.

The Z4 was in the shop for a while, and I rented a Chevy Aveo for almost three months. Among other things about the car (other than the running joke that a friend of mine came up with a different name for it every time he talked about it) I didn’t like, the cup holders were in the middle, between the seats. I spilled drinks in that car five times. The were a lot of things I didn’t like about the car (poor handling, uncomfortable seating, brakes that were similar to what Fred Flinstone had to do), but what stuck out most was the cup holders.

That’s what user experience means to me — you never know what the end users are going to complain about or like about your product, but you do know that everything they see is something that could be criticized as a poor user experience. It could be that the product crashes every five minutes, or that help text was poorly written, or that it takes ten steps to go through something that should take five, it’s the complete experience. It should even be to the level that users don’t know they want a feature, but it works just as they expect it to.

User Experience specialists act as holistic evaluators and product managers that recognize any that could limit the effectiveness of the product. In that sense, User Experience architects act as gatekeepers, working with all teams (Development, Quality Assurance and Marketing) to make sure what goes out the door is an excellent product.