Self-service checkouts at supermarkets are becoming more common. You fill your basket, rock up at the checkout area and press the button to start scanning. Two items later and you get the “Unexpected item in bagging area”. The red light comes on and you can do nothing more until someone notices and resets things for you.
How does this relate to UX?
Well, User Experience is defined as “a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service”.
Your perception of this system is probably a bit negative when you’re stood there with a big queue of people huffing and puffing behind you.
So, this is what we measure and make every effort to improve. Actually, it’s not quite so altruistic. What we’re trying to do is balance the goals of the business with the needs of the user.
With User Experience in the context of the digital marketing world – whether it’s a full web site, a couple of user journeys on a web site, or something like an electronic marketing piece – we have to think along the same lines. We have a set of business goals and we have to make every effort to meet these whilst ensuring that the user can complete their own goals as quickly and efficiently as possible.
As UX practitioners, we err on the side of the user but we still have to consider the business goals. What’s important to remember is that satisfying the needs of the user will maximise the chances that the business’ goals are met.
Where intuition meets science
Much of what we do is based on our opinions, experience and industry best practice: Should this button be at the top or the bottom? Should it be red or green? We back this up with user testing but it starts to get complicated when you start thinking about large sites with complex user journeys. If you think about something like applying for a job through a recruitment site then it starts to get much more complicated.
We have to start considering physiological reactions from the user and factor in different cognitive loads. We use different parts of the brain depending on whether we’re trying to recall information or imagine something new. So, in the job application process when we have to create our online profile, we have to remember details about previous jobs and imagine new information to tell the company why we would be good for the role. These 2 tasks use different parts of the brain so we need to ensure that we keep them separate.
Convention tells us that we should be able to complete tasks in as few clicks as possible. Actually, there is a trade between how much thinking we have to do versus how many clicks we need. In terms of load, clicking a mouse involves bits of our brain that control motor functions. Filling in a form uses a cognitive load. Cognitive loads cost more than motor functions so less thinking but an extra click is more desirable than more thinking to save a click.
In summary, any user experience exercise can range from simply ensuring your visitors can find your contact details easily to analysing the physiological and psychological implications of grouping different tasks on a complex user journey.
But isn’t UX just a fashionable term that costs money and adds no value?
No. It definitely isn’t. From helping with conversion optimisation to reducing costs by removing features that users won’t value, UX has a very definite ROI. IBM conducted a survey and found that for every $1 spent on usability, a minimum of $10 was returned. That’s a minimum of 1000% return on investment. NN Group state that if you spend 10% of your project budget on improving usability you’ll increase conversions by over 80%.
Ultimately, no business should ignore the experience that they give their user. If they do, there are more and more companies that are taking user experience seriously and anyone of them would be more than happy to take your customer from you!