What makes a truly great car? Beauty? If that were the case, then every millionaire in the world would drive a gaudy, two-hundred-thousand dollar sports car. While they are often undeniably beautiful, many sports cars leave much to be desired: they lack storage; they are bad for the environment; they are uneconomical… the list goes on and on.
On the flip side, there are some remarkably reliable cars that can get a person from here to there for a very reasonable amount of money. But how many people want to show up at a business meeting in a Ford Focus?
Many of the world’s most successful car companies share something in common: they don’t just settle for making great cars; they offer something more. BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen sell an experience – a vision of driving. As an owner, they make you feel as though you’re part of something larger.
Do you remember Volkswagon’s Fahrvergnügen campaign?
The road less travelled
Fahrvergnügen, directly translated, means driving pleasure. This is what Volkswagen drivers want: something beyond the “everyday” experience of getting to and from work; something better. At the end of the day that’s what good UX design is all about: giving people a product or service that amplifies (or transcends) their experience.
It sounds simple but, along the way, we often forget. People often confuse “good design” with “good looks” and while looks are certainly part of it, actual design is more than just skin deep. Recently deceased Apple CEO and user experience genius Steve Jobs summed this up perfectly when he said: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Good design doesn’t showcase a company’s vision so much as it enables that company’s users to tell a story. User experience design, then, encompasses everything from the initial idea to the last pixel on a page. It is about performance and efficiency, intellect and emotion. It is about solving problems and finding the optimal way to affect users with a sense of purpose.
Assuming you have a great designer – a true expert who understands form, functionality, and emotion – it’s easy enough for them to offer a relevant experience… but is it exceptional?
The danger zone
Yet another common misconception regarding design is that any designer will be fine for basic user testing. While the expert designer’s review can certainly be useful in finding obvious usability issues, it is never a substitute for good, wholesome user testing.
It’s probably apparent by now that there are many misconceptions about what constitutes good user experience design. Talking about it is easy, but defining it is difficult. The best way to avoid (almost all) of the common traps is to never forget that good design centers around serving content – be that a message or an idea.
If you are interested in learning more there are plenty of great resources:
- First and foremost, you’re reading this blog which is an incredible source of information and always shedding new light on the world of UX and many of the obstacles we have to overcome as a young and highly misunderstood field.
- Box and Arrows features podcasts, cutting edge articles, and a job listing board.
- What more, UX myths helps dispel many of misconceptions about design and user experience in general.
Regardless of how you choose to look at it, we are in the midst of a user experience boom. There’s information and misinformation around every corner. Hopefully, though, armed with this knowledge and a few good resources, you can begin to differentiate for yourself.
To theyself, be true
User experience design enables us to effect a sense of purpose. It facilitates a conversation between the audience, the designer, and the object being designed. To that end, start by learning what your users really want. Then use design to exceed it: form and function, intellect and emotion. It is, as cheesy as it sounds, not only about creating a great product but also delivering something more: a real, exceptional experience.
During my years in an agency, I've seen the spectrum of tool experimentation. I've heard passionate user experience designers argue in favor (and equally as often, against) Axure, Balsamiq, UXPin, Invision, Photoshop, you name it. We've tried it. Usually, the outcome is something out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: the tool is too robust, or too simplistic, too slow, or too buggy, and no one's happy.