User experience (UX) is, at it’s simplest “a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service“. From our perspective as web developers, designers and experts, user experience is simply how a user feels when using a website or application. There are many variables that influence this, including emotions, personal preferences and a person’s perception of what it is they are experiencing and how they respond to it.
When producing a website, we are creating a user interface with a task to perform. The task could be to drive enquiries, sell products, entertain or inform. We are creating something that will enable the user to complete their task.
If the task is made difficult or complicated to perform, hard to learn or inefficient then the usability of the site is poor. This has a negative effect on the experience but that’s only one part of the story. UX goes further by “encompassing all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products”. So, for example, the confirmation emails received after buying a product and the level of customer service after making an enquiry are all part of the UX.
We consider user experience throughout our website project, beginning with the IA where the ergonomics of the site are founded. At this stage, an information architect is concerned with fitting all elements and features required into the wireframe, and considering how the user will move from place to place through the site. Then at the design stage this is expanded upon as the identity of the site is created and the user interface itself is developed. During the build stage of a site our job is to create a website or application that uses this UI, performs efficiently and behaves in a way that meets the user’s expectations and needs.
The user’s needs are central to UX. It’s not about what we think looks ‘pretty’, it’s about what is going to work for a person in order for them to get what they want from the website. A good experience leaves the user feeling positive about their interaction with a website. They should feel that it offered them value and was pleasantly easy to use to do what they wanted to do.