Would you keep coming back to an application that felt clunky and boring? Would you recommend it to your friends? Probably not. A system may be perfectly functional but fails to inspire a positive reaction — which isn’t an easy thing to quantify. This is where User Experience design comes in.
User Experience (UX or UE for short), in the simplest of terms, is how a user feels and reacts to a system. UX design is the process that allows teams to create meaningful & contextual applications that people will enjoy using and ultimately build a relationship with. The system in question could be a mobile application, a website or a digital service.
UX can often be confused with User Interface design (or UI), however the two terms are not interchangeable. UX is concerned with a users journey to solve a problem within a system, it focuses on a person’s perceptions and responses, therefore is mostly subjective. UI is how the product actually looks and is probably more what people think of as conventional design. The two practices do go hand in hand though, simply put, the User Interface facilitates the User Experience.
UX is the art of understanding the range of human emotion and translating it to a meaningful interaction within a system. Within SaaS creation, UX also has to help us fulfil a client's commercial strategy and take into account the customer's journey. Therefore, prioritising the user experience will result in improved conversion rates and boosted sales.
Making a user’s experience easy and enjoyable while fulfilling their needs is what inspires the loyalty between the user and the application. Everyone has their favourite apps and services they are unlikely to switch from after many years of use, most of this comes down to good UX or good UI design. Often people will opt to use less functional apps simply because they are more aesthetically pleasing.
As a UX designer, putting yourself in the mindset of a prospective user and imagining the experience of moving through the system to achieve an objective with fresh eyes can help inform design decisions. Making a system feel as intuitive as possible to the user is often the key factor in user retention.
At its core, good UX design is about making the functions of an app or system feel natural and easy to use. As UX designers, we will often leverage a user’s expectations and understandings through concepts like skeuomorphism in order to facilitate an easier user journey. Using icons that convey instantly understandable meaning (a bell for notifications, a speech bubble for messages), placing buttons where they’d feel most natural on a screen, highlighting items in specific colours – these are all tricks of the UI trade that help get users up to speed when interacting with a system without the need to explain things to them.
We utilise Co-Design sessions to gain user feedback and insight, tailoring a session around a specific user group to gain the right information that will inform our UX design. Co-Design is the first step we take in our UX process, it’s absolutely crucial for us to engage with the people who will use a system before engaging in guess work ourselves. This process often brings up unexpected insights into how things should look and feel that we would miss had we began working off our own assumptions.
Once we have a clearer picture of what prospective users would like to be able to do in a given system we begin to brainstorm using the collaborative design approach we adopted when we switched to using Figma as a design software. We’ll begin with a flow chart detailing a users journey through the system, informed by the co-design. Once we have our process map we can start roughly designing parts of the system to make this journey possible. These designs will then throw up questions which can be answered with UI design, leading to other parts of the system which are then designed out. This process continues until the whole system has been mapped out and then the nuts and bolts of how things should properly look are ready to be addressed.
Designing applications that are simultaneously functional but also aesthetically pleasing is immensely complex. It takes a lot of time and effort to make the simple and engaging systems that we’ve become so used to using. However, as we strive for effortless engagement it’s important to remember that the best way to make sure a system actively pleasing to it's users is by engaging the user in the design process. At Ember, this is the philosophy we believe in.