What is User Experience?

As a product guy who is constantly trying to dig deeper into user experience (UX) and user experience research, I’ve been asking myself how I define UX. So here we go:

This is your product:

magic box product present

It’s a magic box with wondrous things inside. But that’s not user experience. That’s just a box with magic features, viral pixie dust, and a pretty marketing bow on top. Your job is not to make a product. This is your job:

the job of user experience

There’s an unhappy user out there somewhere in the real world.

Your job is to make the user happy. Click To Tweet

The user doesn’t care about your features or how you make their problems disappear, they care about being happy.

(Ok…sometimes your job is not to make people happy…perhaps you’re designing a better water boarding device…but even so your job is still to make the user feel something.)

So you hope that you can make the user happy with your magic box:

the job of the magic box is not user experience

…but that’s not the user experience either. That’s the beginning and the end…what’s going on in the middle?

It’s not just your magic box product. Let’s zoom in.

Since I’ve always heard that designers make wireframes…let’s make some wireframes. I’m going to redesign BBC News with a special new feature:

Wireframes with lolcat

In this magic box, we’re adding a special lolcat bonus article to BBC news…because…well…why the hell not? Everyone likes lolcats!

Is that the user experience? No.

An artifact such as a wireframe, psd mockup, or specification that does not include the user can not possibly describe the user experience.

Where is the user in this wireframe? How does the user feel while going through this sequence of wireframes?

This is the user experience if we’re lucky:

Good user experience

UX is not just a description of the product with wireframes, mockups, pretty pixels, or even running code.

The user experience is how the user is emotionally effected by the product. Click To Tweet

We hope the user has a good experience, but sometimes things turn out wrong:

Bad cat hating user experience

Maybe our typical BBC reader hates cats.

Perhaps the user has just seen this feature so many times that they are no longer surprised by it and just find it annoying.

User experience is subjective and contextual. Click To Tweet

It depends on who the user is, where they come from, how they get to the site, and their previous interactions with the site. Therefore the

User experience is constantly changing and demands ongoing innovation. Click To Tweet

But perhaps you wanted a more official definition. (Not entirely sure why you’re reading this blog if you want something official, but ok…I can cut and paste with the best of them.)

Wikipedia defines user experience as:

User experience (UX) is the way a person feels about using a product, system or service. User experience highlights the experiential,affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership, but it also includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s feelings and thoughts about the system. User experience is dynamic, because it changes over time as the circumstances change.

User experience is not the product you are building. It’s how people feel before, after, and during their use of your product. It’s everything from anticipation to satisfaction.

Stop building features and go build an experience! Click To Tweet

Discussion (4 comments)

  1. Scott Whaley says:

    I like this post. Makes me realize that content doesn’t create and “exprience”. Only the application creates the experience or the story or…somehow engaging. No engagement, no action, no experience.


  2. Pete Tinker says:

    In my lean startup, I have been contemplating using the Customer Satisfaction Model developed by Prof. N. Kano. Kano’s model of customer satisfaction could help determine the user experience. For example, the Kano Model can be used to determine what the customers want (Basic, Excitement, and Performance Factors), even when they don’t know what they want. By asking questions, you can better define how they feel.

    1. Tristan says:

      Cool, I am not so familiar with that model. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Pete Tinker says:

    Yes, the Kano Model seems like a good way to determine what features you should include, or potentially throw out. Other tools that could help a Lean Startup include:

    1. House of Quality Diagrams (Quality Function Deployment) – helps you meet customers needs
    2. Kotler and Keller’s Five Product Levels – aka Customer-Perceived Value Hierarchy
    3. Exploratory Factor Analysis – Could be integrated into the Customer Discovery phase whereby you can use it to measure some variables, such as their user experience.

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