“User Friendly,” Usability, and User Experience Decoded
by Jazmyn Latimer on October 22, 2014
“User friendly” and “ease of use” have been used as catch-all phrases to describe two very important developments in design: usability and user experience. Often people use these terms interchangeably, but they actually encapsulate different methods working together toward common goals.
Usability vs User Experience
Both “user friendly” and “ease of use” refer to usability. Usability is the amount of effort a user puts forth to find what they need and to get the things they want done. There are five main components of usability: how easy something is to learn, how quickly a user can accomplish tasks, whether the user can remember how to use it after periods of non-use, what errors are made, and how pleasant or frustrating it is to use. Usability is only one of many key components integral to crafting an exceptional user experience.
The term “User Experience” is commonly misused in place of usability. But, user experience is actually a much more holistic way of thinking about human-computer interaction. User experience includes the monitoring, analyzing, and managing of a user’s feelings, mental models, and motivations when interacting with a system. User experience designers use the understanding of these factors as well as the understanding of user behavior, environment, and culture to design work flows through systems that help users solve their goals in delightfully subtle ways.
The Secret Sauce of User Experience
User experience is more than ease of use; it is the strategic crafting of an entire experience for users that helps them accomplish their goals and enhance their lives. In designing a user experience, the most important ingredient is very simple: knowing your users.
First and foremost, there is no user experience without constant communication with, and deep understanding of, your users. Without this step, you are creating an impersonalized, random experience based on assumptions and your own personal preferences. It doesn’t matter what you want; it matters what your users identify with and need. I repeat: user experience cannot exist without connection to, and understanding of, your users.
This doesn’t mean doing exactly what users tell you they want. Rather, you listen for their models of the world, goals, and motivations. Henry Ford has been attributed to the saying “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It’s unclear if Ford actually uttered those words, but what is important to understand is that a user experience designer should never be afraid to ask what users want. And, a great user experience designer should always be suspect of the answer. If Ford had asked his customers, and they did respond as he suspected, he could have probed further and found that his users didn’t need a faster horse; they just wanted to get to their destinations without the hassles of horseback riding. Maybe, from studying the values and motivations of the culture of that time, he discovered that a person’s primary means of transportation is very connected to their identity and status.
Over the past two months, I've sat down with a large number of OU Campus users. I was given an inside look at how our customer’s web teams are set up, how they work together to create and maintain their college websites, and how each person uniquely deals with the responsibility of creating and maintaining content in OU Campus for their institutions. But, that’s just scratching the surface. They told me about their lives surrounding web duties, their primary responsibilities on campus, their goals and aspirations for the future, and even how they like to manage stress as well as how they de-stress on the weekends. A lot of stories were shared that helped the OmniUpdate development team understand how our users think about their roles, how they work with technology, and how our product affects their lives. This allows us to further refine the OU Campus CMS, think about additional problems we can solve for our customer community, and even enhance their lives.
User experience design is a holistic practice, incorporating usability, user interface, strategy, and research. All ingredients have to work in concert with each other; each one does its part to create the symphony that is user experience. We can think of these like musicians in an orchestra: the user experience designer is the conductor at the front and the whole organization plays its part to make the production a success for its users in the audience.
User experience is about a deep understanding of your users and how they think about and model their world. With that understanding you can more accurately craft an experience specifically tailored to your users, meeting their needs and goals in a pleasant and seamless way.
Now get out there and get to know your users!
A special thank you to all the schools and individuals these past months who participated in user research with me!
If you are an OmniUpdate customer and would like to be notified of future user research opportunities, add yourself and any others on your team to our User Research Contact List here.