• Sara Watkins

What is User Experience?

Updated: Oct 16

User Experience, or UX, means designing a product specifically with the user in mind so their experience is seamless but also enjoyable. It’s understanding what people are trying to do and building products to help them do it.


If you have ever had a bad experience trying to book something or to find information then this is how not to do user experience. The best user experience is invisible which is why it's taken a while for UX to receive the recognition it deserves. These days UX is firmly on the agenda for large businesses interacting with customers.


What's the difference between design and user experience?


I am often asked this question. They are separate things, but they both need each other in order to be successful. You can have one without the other but they will soon fail.


I like to use the photo below to explain the difference. In this image the designer likely created this park design on paper and if we could see the whole park, we would see a pleasing design. However, in reality the daily users of the park just want to get from A to B, and have less interest in walking the aesthetically pleasing route which takes longer. These unintended paths created by people are called 'desire lines' and they are everywhere, you will start seeing them now I have pointed them out. The role of the user experience designer is to get people from A to B in the most efficient, conducive way without delay.



Often town planners will try to curb these desire lines in an attempt to keep people safe, for example, herding people to cross the road at a certain point. This often feels unnatural to the pedestrian but is likely to be safer. Sometimes when people try to challenge this it can have consequences as in the video below!



What are the principles of UX design?


UX occurs anywhere where there is an interaction between a person and a product or service. From booking a holiday to turning up the heating on your Nest.


The key principles for good website user experience are:

  • Be user focussed - refer every design decision back to the user

  • Keep it simple - use clear navigation and sign posting to make things easy to find

Remember the Ronseal ad? 'Does exactly what it says on the tin'
  • Be digestible - don’t overburden your pages with information

  • Be trustworthy - encourage customer loyalty

  • Be familiar – use familiar/established website design techniques, challenge this only for good reason

  • Feel good factor – users have an emotional response to your product so make them feel good!


How did I get into User Experience?


When I started working in user experience, it didn't really have a name, there were no degree courses, no software, I just used intuition (and still do).


One of my first wireframes was drawn in Powerpoint, it was for a video player for BBC News. I needed to tell the developer how I wanted it built and it seemed to make sense to create line drawings of what it should look like. The developer wasn't interested in colour or design and his screen was set to black and white so he was more than happy with my crude line drawings. But I quickly realised that this was a good way to focus on how something worked, and not what it looked like, a distinct difference. Interfaces were still in there infancy, it was the year 2000 afterall. Previous to this I had been building CD-ROMS for Dorling Kindersley and it turned out that this was a good grounding as I was basically designing interactive interfaces. Since these early days, I have enjoyed being part of this digital evolution and being responsible for large projects that large numbers of people use. These projects have included booking systems for South West Trains, Premier Inn and Megabus, plus the very first BBC iPlayer.


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