How is user experience design different than user interaction design, and why is it something you should pay close attention to?
In previous posts, I’ve addressed some of the most common questions people have when creating an app — especially the many technical aspects. But creating a great app isn’t just a coding exercise: if it isn’t easy to use and if the overall experience isn’t consistent, your app may suffer regardless of its amazing functionality.
Why does user experience matter? There’s one company that pioneered in the field and has achieved some notable success over the past decade: Apple.
A lot of people will readily agree that Apple makes awesome products, but what makes them awesome? Part of what makes Apple products stand out is how they make their owners feel – the user’s experience with the product.
From the familiar smell when you open the box of any Apple product, to the seamless connectivity between Apple devices (about to get better with iOS8 and Mac OS X 10.10) and the customer service they deliver if those devices go wrong.
Apple’s figured out how to bring it all together in every product they ship — it’s recognizable, it’s consistent, and it keeps customers coming back.
But great user experience didn’t start with Apple
The technical discipline of “user experience” all started with Don Norman, an expert in cognitive science, who’s an advocate of user-centered design and co-founded the usability-focused Nielsen Norman Group.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that he was once the vice president of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple.
Norman invented the term “user experience” and says there’s a specific reason why he did so: “I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction and the manual.”
The difference between “user interaction” and “user experience”
User interaction is how someone actually uses your product. So, in the context of mobile apps, it includes details like:
- Icons with images that are recognizable,
- Using already accepted elements of design (i.e. putting the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen), and
- Making sure the “touch points” are the appropriate size and location (i.e. the on-screen button isn’t too small for someone to miss).
User experience, however, is more subjective. It includes:
- A person’s perceptions and responses — not just their interactions, but what they perceive;
- The results from the use, or anticipated use (i.e. they may not have used it yet), of the product; and
- The actual product, system or service.
Perceptions are a big part of user experience, and they don’t just come from what a person sees or feels. They can also be shaped by:
- the specific view of the world that user brings based on past events, knowledge and culture;
- that user’s current mood; and
- recent events experienced by that user.
In short, it all boils down to how the product, system or service, makes the user feel. But those feelings can be created long before the user actually owns the product.
As an example, I’ve long enjoyed the design of the famous Eames lounge chair and ottoman, from Herman Miller. Although I’ve never bought one, when I see one I enjoy it and remind myself that one day — when the time’s right — I’ll buy one.
I’ve experienced the product, without sitting on it, using it — I may just be responding to a photo in a magazine — and I certainly haven’t owned one. In fact, my ultimate experience may be improved by the years I’ve spent admiring it from afar.
Noteworthy then, that its creator Charles Eames said this in 1976 — long before the discipline of user experience was created: “The details are not the details. They make the product.”
User experience and mobile
I left my career as a corporate lawyer before focusing on my entrepreneurial passions and identifying mobile as what I feel is the opportunity of this decade. Through my company,AppInstruct, the key lesson I’ve learned is that the key differentiator on mobile — the one element most likely to influence whether your app succeeds or fails — is the experience the app offers.
Unconvinced? Play with an iPhone for five minutes, then play with a basic Android phone for just as long to compare. I’m happy to acknowledge that the experience on top-end Android phones is getting much better — and Android certainly has its fans! — but there still is a clear difference in what you, as a user, will experience.
Why is the difference more distinct than when the world was PC centric? I think it stems from a couple of factors:
- the dominance, and resultant conformity, that Microsoft and Windows achieved on the PC, but also critically
- the smaller size and more personal connection we have with our phones.
The experience matters more, because the device matters more to us.
We explain more about user experience design in AppInstruct’s online course, which provides all the most critical elements you need to learn how to create an app. In my next post, I’ll share the key lessons my team has learned while building a new private photo messaging app this year.