Defining User Experience
When people ask me what I do, I often tell them I produce websites and digital solutions that are intuitive, simple, straightforward to use. However this misses what’s really special about V-On productions – the user experience. It’s not the same as ‘usability’, a term that gets a lot of airtime in my industry. While important, usability is not, and has never been, enough.
Remember when computers used to crash so much that designers had to make the restart button easily accessible? Today we are thankfully less tolerant and rightly assume that things should work without crashing. So ability to function for digital solutions is a given; but next comes usability. Websites must still follow the basics of usability, such as Nielsen's Heuristics and Cognitive Walkthroughs, but this narrow level of analysis is insufficient for telling us how people feel about websites they’re using.
V-On began and has endured by creating digital productions that people really love to use. In one of his lectures, Eric Schaffer, CEO of Human Factors International, helps to explain why experience matters more than usability. He describes how retailers often locate what we really want to buy deep within their store. Is making us walk around to find what we need intrinsically bad design because usability is not optimal? The truth is that while we are looking for what we want to buy, we see other products and experience (staged) serendipity. It’s why many people love shopping.
My point is that usability alone does not demarcate online effectiveness: it is the User Experience (often referred to as UX) that counts. Schaffer collates the key aspects of UX as PET: persuasion, emotion and trust.
I like this definition because it captures what V-On cares about – and has demonstrated, time and time over, to be effective in the real world.
In terms of persuasion, a key technique is to create means for users to commit to the website they’re using. For example, V-On developed immersive online environments for VW that not only attracted the target audience of young people, but also facilitated a deeper relationship through interactive elements that create reasons to return and engender word of mouth.
The effects of emotion are harder to quantify, but just as important. Noam Tractinsky, a key figure in the field of human-computer interaction, has argued that “what is beautiful is usable” - http://www.springerlink.com/content/w418251g853811x5. Tractinsky’s theory is that if a product is considered beautiful, users are more likely to perceive the system as usable even through in reality the usability of the system could be the same or maybe even less usable than others. Interaction design guru Don Norman agrees that visceral design plays a big role in what triggers an emotional response. Consider Hot August Fringe, a recent V-On production that turns a ticket-booking engine into a thing of beauty that communicates the essence of a storied brand. The site V-On created for Alex Heffes speaks to an audience that combines industry interest with a fan-base. Both groups need to feel they are in on the industry knowledge.
Trust is built from many factors, but unwaveringly simple, usable design doesn’t necessarily promote trust. When V-On produces research into very complex matters, making some of that complexity apparent may be effective at fostering trust in our work. If users need to work a little harder to find data, they’re more likely to feel they’re getting something of value.
What’s clear is that user experience needs to rank alongside usability, and indeed accessibility, in assessments of effective design. I’d also argue that it takes priority if that helps people to enjoy or value their involvement with digital content. UX may not be easily quantifiable, but a positive experience is hugely powerful and is the true definition of applied usability.
Gerrie Villon, Managing Director, V-On.
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