User Experience is transitioning from it’s buzz word phase into an accepted and necessary industry term. However, asking around you may get various definitions and opinions on what user experience really is. Wikipedia states that user experience:
“is a term used to describe the overarching experience a person has as a result of their interactions with a particular product or service, its delivery, and related artifacts, according to their design.” and that “User experience addresses and integrates all user-facing aspects of a company, from email and web sites to off-site presence in print and on other sites.”
Okay, so you get it…but do you really get it? What helps me understand user experience is to think of real world (aka things you can touch, smell, taste) analogies. Say there are two identical apartments. The floor plan and square footage are exactly the same. The first apartment belongs to an old lady. Everything is white and flowery. The furniture is formal, the art is dated, and their are weird plates and ceramic cats on the antique furniture. Now imagine the second apartment perfectly suited to your tastes. Dark wood floors, big couches, good lighting, good smells. The two apartments serve the exact same purposes yet you would clearly choose your place over hers (and she would chose hers over yours). Your place just feels right. You feel comfortable there and enjoy just being present in the environment. It speaks to you.
Now take that same analogy and relate it to the web. Are there certain sites that you love being at, sites that make you happy and make you feel comfortable? Maybe it is a travel site where you plan your vacations, or maybe it is your favorite sports site or social network. Similarly, there are sites that you dislike being at, maybe it’s a site that you have to use while you’re at work. Maybe it is your email, or a site like Stumbleupon that you feel like you have to re-learn every time you use it. Sometimes you cannot even explain why you don’t like a certain site, you just don’t. It doesn’t speak to you.
There are tons of elements that are incorporated into UX. Psychology, information architecture, user interface and usability to name a few. It is also important to note that the user’s experience isn’t solely determined by a website. As experience designers (not UX designers, however very similar) have noted for decades, the experience is established at various touch points. For online business, these touch points can include your website, emails, phone calls, postcards, parties or anything that touches or affects your users.
Providing the best possible user experience is all about understanding your users. Why are they on your site? What do they want to accomplish? How old are they? What do they do in their free time? All of these questions can help you begin to design the experience, or using the previous analogy, design the apartment.
So why is this so important? There are millions of users out there, there are also tons of competitors that they can choose from. Users will choose the service that speaks to them. Maybe they like the design, maybe their friends use it, maybe they like how easy it is to use or maybe they simply trust the brand.
The guy across the hall from you has your same furniture, but just got a bigger tv and now all of your friends prefer his place. Can’t afford a bigger tv? I heard the old lady has a great cookie recipe
Look at it another way (a list apart)
How To Observe the User and Tap Into the Experience (usability post)
Top 10 UX Myths (ThinkVitamin)