From a 10,000 foot view, the user experience is the way a person (the user) interacts with your digital product (app, microsite, software, portal, tool, etc) and how they feel doing it. It is designed by a talented team of interaction designers and user researchers that take a good hard look at the people using your digital product and figure out the best way to make it work for your users.
However, user researchers and interaction designers do not live in a vacuum. They must work together with the rest of the digital product team, the back end developers and the user interface designers, to name a few. To illustrate this, take the example of building a custom home:
The architect plans the house. The way the light will flow through the rooms, the way the home owners will use the different spaces for different reasons. She finds out what the home owner needs: how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, as well as what they would like to see in their new home: an open kitchen layout, a mudroom off of the garage. The architect then collaborates with the owner to map out a blueprint for the home that will work perfectly for their lifestyle.
In the same way, a user experience or interaction designer (often called User Experience Architects) plans the way a user will interact with the digital product. How will they proceed through the checkout? How can they find what they’re looking for in the database? How will they match their savings plan? The UX Architect plans all of this with the rest of the team, then goes away and comes back with a prototype that acts as a blueprint.
The trades take the blueprints, and work as a team to physically build the house. He is responsible for all the pieces fitting, and creates the structure of the house according to the blueprints. Carpenters frame the walls, drywallers install the drywall, and everyone makes sure everything is sealed off and functional. When the trades are done, you have a functional, though empty structure.
The development team takes the prototype and builds the digital product. The coder writes line after line of code until he is left with a product that works. He works with systems administrators and database managers. He works out the bugs and ensures all the functionality of the product is there.
The Interior Designer
The interior designer sees the blueprints and sees a blank canvas. He plans the paint colours, the type of carpet and hardwood, and which counter top style will work best in the kitchen. He selects furniture and artwork that suits the homeowners personal tastes. Often, the architect and interior designer will work together.
The user interface designer does much of the same. He designs the parts of the product that you see and interact with. He applies the branding to the product and makes it ‘pretty’. He selects data visualization methods that are easy to understand. When he’s done, the end result is a beautiful product that works seamlessly.
Just as with building a house, the UX architects, developers, and interface designers work together to plan and build the digital product. Sometimes the different roles are all played by the same person, but as with building a house each person has a specialty. A great product is one that is easy to use, works flawlessly, and is beautiful to look at.
This article is part of UX101 – a series designed to educate and inspire complete UX newbies.