User Experience : Re[de]fining User Expectations
The dawn of mobile platforms ushered in a new era of user interaction with computer applications or computer programs. Yes, these software are being loosely referred to as “computer applications/programs,” stemming from the stereotype : whether the application/program is on a mobile device like a tablet, a corporate server, or a powerful “rocket-science” mainframe, it is meant to be executed in the fundamental environment of “digital computing.”
The concept of “digital computing” has evolved. As time passes by, the term “digital computing” is slowly being redefined (let alone, abandoned) as “computers” transcend their initial purpose of “computation.” The term “computers” is periodically used but new terms arose to take its position in the industry : gadgets, devices, mainframes, desktops, servers, laptops, tablets, etc.
Each terminology is intended to be a derivative of the “computer” but has a very specific purpose (and strength); thus, a more appropriate nomenclature is used. Along with this derivation, the term “computer applications/programs” has been simply referred to as “applications” or by its shortened form “apps.” 1
We can qualify apps into three (3) general categories 2 :
- Web apps;
- Native apps; or
- Hybrid apps.
Nonetheless, whether one calls them “computer programs” or “computer applications” or (simply) “apps,” one thing is definite : most of them, if not all, were developed for a person. The software development community refers to this “person” as a “user” of the system.
The software development community has witnessed how users became a key factor in driving how a computer program or an app will be developed. Prior to the dawn of the mobile apps, the users’ primary expectations from computer programs generally revolve around the following :
- Usefulness; and,
As the mobile apps penetrated the community, users were given an avenue to compare consumer-grade apps and corporate software. With this, another software engineering jargon arose : user experience. By acronym, user experience is shortened as UX or UE.
UX or UE, by definition, encompasses a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system, or service. This includes all the user’s emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviors, and accomplishments that occur before, during, and after use. 3
As documented in wikipedia, the term “user experience” was introduced in the mid-1990s. 4, 5 Furthermore, the exact definition, framework, and elements of user experience are still evolving. 4 As a growing field, UX is very much still being defined. 6
When the idea of UX is tackled in a software development, the discussion on the user experience design (UXD or UED) automatically follows. Practitioners often confuse the user experience design (UXD) with the user interface design (UID); consequently, many practitioners tend to interchange UX and UI.
According to Andreas Hauser [profile link], Senior Vice President for Design and Co-Innovation Center of SAP SE, the tendency is to think that user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) both mean the same thing. In reality, they are different parts of the puzzle working together to support the new way we need to think about enterprise software. 8
Supporting that idea, the Digital Communications Division (DCD), under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asserts that creating a successful user-centered design encompasses the principles of human-computer interaction (HCI) and goes further to include the following disciplines :
- Project Management;
- User Research;
- Usability Evaluation;
- Information Architecture;
- User Interface Design;
- Interaction Design;
- Visual Design;
- Content Strategy;
- Accessibility; and,
- Web Analytics. 6
An exemplary user experience aims to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next to that will be the simplicity and elegance that produce products eliciting a joy to own and a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want. It is more than providing checklist features. 7
User experience focuses on having a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations. It also takes into account the business goals and objectives of the group managing the project. 6
UX includes a number of disciplines: visual design, information organization, content strategy, interaction design, user behavior research, and others. 9
What is the difference, then, between a user experience design (UXD or UED) and a user interface design (UID)?
Before tackling the difference between a UXD/UED and UID, it will be helpful if we differentiate first the underlying ideas of each. A former fellow SAP blogger, A. Kavaler, has summarized the difference between UX/UE and UI :
“There’s a lot of talk about user experience today, but I’m not sure we’re all talking about the same thing. I often find myself midway into a conversation about UX only to realize that some participants are really talking about UI or user interface. In actuality, while the two are related, and both are important, they really mean two different things.
“The UI, from my perspective, is what you see when you first encounter something you’re about to use, whether that’s a piece of exercise equipment, a car, a toothbrush, or a software application. When you look at a bicycle, for instance, UI encompasses the visuals of the frame color, pedal width, and handlebar grips. From a software standpoint, it’s the fonts, colors, icons, animations, and other elements on the screen.
“When we talk about UX, the conversation broadens to discuss not just the interface but also the entire experience of interacting with the product or service. On a bike, it’s the difference between test-riding the bike outside the store and riding it on a mountain trail with friends on a brisk fall day when the experience is imbued with emotion and excitement; and the bike’s interface elements can really show their stuff.” 10
User experience design (UXD/UED) is the process of creating products that provide meaningful and personally relevant experiences. This involves the careful design of both a product’s usability and the pleasure consumers will derive from using it. It is also concerned with the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability, and function. 11
User interface design (UID) is sometimes referred to as “user interface engineering.” UID is the design of user interfaces for machines and software, such as computers, home appliances, mobile devices, and other electronic devices, with the focus on maximizing usability and the user experience. The goal of user interface design is to make the user’s interaction as simple and efficient as possible, in terms of accomplishing user goals. 12
Most of the time (if not all of the time), a UX designer is expected to furnish a result that is visual just like a UID. This is where the confusion arose. Whereas UXD and UID are different from each other as individual concepts, keep in mind that they are intended to go “hand-in-hand” to achieve the customer expectations.
UID is, essentially, the outcome that can be visually verified, used for a simulation, or evaluated to validate if the expected functionalities are in place. The UID is intended to elicit a certain level of satisfaction from the customer by “experiencing” how the user interfaces works and how the UIs are designed. Though not immediately verifiable, a UX designer must already consider in doing the UID the aspect of performance. It will be very advisable that, while doing the UXD, common pitfalls or obvious combinations of processing idea (as manifested on the UID) that will make the execution slow upon the actual build should be avoided.
On the first part of this blog, it is mentioned that prior to the dawn of the mobile apps, the users’ primary expectations from computer programs generally revolve around the following :
- Usefulness; and,
When the mobile apps were introduced and UXD has emerged as one of the key drivers in developing an app, the primary expectations were not replaced. Instead of being replaced, they were re[de]fined.
Arguably, now, the users’ primary expectations from apps revolve around the following questions :
- Is it useful; will I be able to accomplish my tasks with it?
- Is it fast? (Loosely, this should be qualified as : is it reasonably fast?)
- Does it look nice? (as instituted by the user experience)
- Can I use it on my mobile phone? Does it have a tablet version?
- Is it simple? (another expectation after incorporating the user experience in the “formula”)
Tackling user experience cannot be squeezed in a single blog lest it becomes very long making it cumbersome to read. It can be summarized but there are many aspects of it that will require another blog to clearly assert key points. Whereas this specific blog can stand on its own, I intentionally wrote it to subtly open a transition point to let another blog continue from where the narrative stopped.
1 – Holden, R. (2011, October 14). The rise of the app. https://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2011/10/14/the-rise-of-the-app
2 – Dua, K. (2018, March 7). A Guide to Mobile App Development: Web vs. Native vs. Hybrid. https://clearbridgemobile.com/mobile-app-development-native-vs-web-vs-hybrid
3 – International Organization for Standardization. (2010 March). Ergonomics of human-system interaction – Part 210: Human-centred design for interactive systems (ISO 9241-210:2010).
4 – User experience. In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 9, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_experience
5 – Norman, D., Miller, J., et al (1995). What You See, Some of What’s in the Future, And How We Go About Doing It: HI at Apple Computer.
6 – User Experience Basic. https://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/user-experience.html. Retrieved April 1, 2018
7 – Norman, D., Nielsen, J. The Definition of User Experience (UX). https://www.nngroup.com/articles/definition-user-experience. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
8 – Hauser, A. (2015, December 2). Design, UX, UI … What Is the Difference?https://experience.sap.com/basics/design-ux-ui-difference
9 – Simon [BloggerId]. 5 Fundamental UX Design Principles. https://erminesoft.com/5-fundamental-ux-design-principles. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
10 – Kavaler, A. (2015, February 9). UI vs. UX: What a Difference a Letter Makes. https://blogs.sap.com/2015/02/09/ui-vs-ux-what-a-difference-a-letter-makes
11 – User Experience (UX) Design. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/ux-design. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
12 – User interface design. In Wikipedia. Retrieved Dec 14, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_interface_design