UX Design: At the Heart of Application Development – Part 2
In the last edition, we learned that User Experience (UX) defines the manner in which an individual responds when interacting and interfacing with a system. These systems encompass a wide range and they include websites, web applications, and desktop software. All of this has been classified as coming under the ambit of human-computer interaction (HCI).
UX designers analyze and measure user perception about a system. To do this they pay attention to several factors including perception of the value of the system, ease of use, efficiency, utility and so on.
The next step UX designers employ in the process is to gain insights into sub-systems as well as core processes inside a system. For instance, they would evaluate the checkout process of an e-commerce portal to understand if purchasing products is an effective and pleasing experience or not. UX designers then get a notch higher and examine the components of the sub-system. This process includes user-response while entering input fields in a Web form.
In the realm of Web-based systems, UX is the newest kid on the block. It is Dr. Donald Norman, widely regarded for his expertise in the fields of design, usability engineering, and cognitive science, who is credited with coining the term “user experience”.
Even though all along user experience has been confused with usability (for example) and interpreted in different ways; it can never be used as a substitute for any other discipline, such as the following:
- Web design
- User-centered design
- Graphic design
- Human factors engineering
- User interface (UI) design
- Information architecture (IA)
- Interaction design (IxD)
- Usability testing
- Customer satisfaction
This is a day and age where user-centered design rules the roost. There are no in-betweens or half-measures in this game. However, things were vastly different in the era before the codification of user-centered design, usability factors, and Web accessibility. Websites were of a different build altogether. Earlier, there were just two points that were taken into consideration when building websites—the personal preferences of the web developer and the client’s needs. Yes. It was as cut and dry as that. There was very little deliberation on audience reaction to websites; and more importantly, usability.
All this changed dramatically when millions of people across the globe took to the Internet. Today’s websites are complex, loaded with information and of course, feature-rich. The challenge in this scenario is to lure users with exceptional user experience design (UXD).
There has been phenomenal growth witnessed in the ways in which people access the Web. We now have smartphones, tablets and other handheld devices; and also dozens upon dozens of browsers. In this milieu, accessibility (to our Web-based products) has gained prominence for a gamut of users such as those with special need requirements—for example, screen readers.
Importance of Human interface guidelines
Human interface guidelines (HIG) are software development documents which offer application developers a set of recommendations. Their aim is to improve the experience for the users by making application interfaces more intuitive, learnable, and consistent. Most guides limit themselves to defining a common look and feel for applications in a particular desktop environment.
The guides enumerate specific policies. Policies are sometimes based on studies of human-computer interaction (so called usability studies), but most are based on arbitrary conventions chosen by the platform developers.
The central aim of a HIG is to create a consistent experience across the environment (generally an operating system or desktop environment), including the applications and other tools being used. This means both applying the same visual design and creating consistent access to and behavior of common elements of the interface – from simple ones such as buttons and icons up to more complex constructions, such as dialog boxes.
HIGs are recommendations and advice meant to help developers create better applications. Developers sometimes intentionally choose to break them if they think that the guidelines do not fit their application, or usability testing reveals an advantage in doing so.
But in turn, the organization publishing the HIG might withhold endorsement of the application. Mozilla Firefox’s user interface, for example, goes against the GNOME project’s HIG, which is one of the main arguments for including Epiphany instead of Firefox in the GNOME distribution.
Benefits of UX Research
User research is a highly challenging and important discipline. Some of the biggest IT companies, as well as startups, have utilized it to make their products attractive for their end users. In fact, Google boasts its own user experience (UX) research product, one in which users can volunteer to aid researchers in bettering their products. Despite its importance and popularity, UX research is still a mystery to many people. They fail to comprehend the full import of user research in the product cycle.
The iOS human interface guidelines by Apple is an eye-opener. The first two principles read thus: “Focus on the primary task,” and “Elevate the content that users care about.” Those directives hit the nail on the head, in more ways than one.
Going back to what we discussed earlier, there are an entire array of customer needs, requirements and demands that have to be delved into, well before the app is designed. For designers, user research is also about having empathy for the target users. Experts opine that it is next to impossible to devise a product that can satisfy users, in the absence of empathy.
So there you have it. We have studied several different aspects and gained an understanding of various perspectives about UXD and its role in the technology ecosystem. Application developers can ensure a great degree of customer satisfaction, coupled with continued app usage if they offer a robust UXD.
The importance of UX research should not be neglected, as it forms the pivot on which the success or failure of an app depends. At the end of the day, it must be remembered that even though we deal with technology in its various manifestations, the human element is what makes it all worthwhile.