Everything is a User Experience
The other night I dropped into a local Ramen shop for dinner.
The place was busy, and the hostess was doing the standard restaurant practice of taking names and giving a time frame for the next tables. I was eventually seated at the nearest bar seat a few paces from the host stand.
To my left, there was more seating for diners. As new customers entered from my right, they would put their names on the list and walk past me to sit in what looked and felt like a waiting area. And each time a new customer followed their intuition, the service staff reminded them they could not sit in that area.
I don’t intend this as a Yelp review, but as an observation of interior design as but one example of a User Experience.
See, I get a lot of questions about what user experience is. The term User Experience (UX) is usually reserved for website or app design. The stated purpose of quality UX is to make that piece of technology intuitive and efficient.
But user experience extends far beyond websites and apps. In this article, I’ll explore the benefits of appreciating everything as a user experience.
Everyone has had terrible user experiences. Whether at the DMV, a crowded bank or airport, everyone’s been in situations that seem unnecessarily complicated.
In the age of competitive convenience, encounters with such archaic systems are even more surprising and annoying. People know these scenarios are taking their time or attention away from things they would rather be doing.
This agitation is not without merit. After all, no one wants to spend 4 hours at the DMV for something that they could easily accomplish online.
But if we approach these scenarios with exploration rather than frustration, we allow ourselves to think of the minor details that could be improved. Much like we look at a website homepage and take notes on which elements to test for increased conversions, we can look at real-life experiences and pinpoint areas for improved efficiency and innovation.
If nothing else, it provides us with an improved experience by treating what’s frustrating us with curiosity rather than urgency.
Enemies of Innovation
Take the MTA in New York City.
Here is an organization with no competition. People use the public transit system in New York out of necessity, not because they woke up and thought it would be fun to go for a train ride.
Musician James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame noticed a glaring problem with one feature – unsurprisingly, an auditory function. When you swipe your ticket and enter through the turnstile, the machines produce an annoyingly high-pitched two-second beep. James reimagined these sounds as something beautiful. A symphony of gentle arpeggios where each user creates a part of the evolving song. This was one of the most beautiful and genius ways of improving a typically unpleasant overall experience.
To nobody’s surprise, MTA officials deemed the project posed logistical issues that were greater than the value of his “art project” – their words, not mine.
This bureaucratic dismissal illustrates the point; the organizations most in need of change are also the ones that are the hardest to change. It was by a highly sensitive ear that this conversation was started. The point is that those who are not just present to their surroundings, but also to their inside life can observe what a given UX is providing.
Why Intentional Friction Doesn’t Work
There are plenty of other scenarios that employ poor UX design.
At its most effective, intentional friction is used as means of punishment. Receiving a speeding ticket does not end with a questionnaire asking them how their service was; your local prison is not trying to improve their Google reviews, and perhaps most sadly, public schools are largely designed around punishment for non-attendance rather than framing knowledge as something desirable.
More concretely, organizations still hang on to this mean-spirited technique. As industry disruptions happen at a more rapid pace, market share becomes more difficult to attain. For these reasons, the old guard of intentional friction earns a poor reputation. Helping people have a positive experience earns their trust and long-term commitment to a brand.
How to Win Friends and UX People
It is in the interpersonal relationships that these concepts of UX have perhaps the most potential. Sales, customer service, or in my role Project Managing Creative services where the client is going through a user experience.
The golden rule is easier said than done, but I’m driven to learn what a client wants and needs better than they do.
Attention to detail is a matter of dedicated mental energy combined with a sound understanding of the elements that are potentially involved.
Fundamentally, people like having things to look forward to. The goal is to keep those interactions enjoyable and always provide a meaningful connection worth coming back to – whether it’s in real life or on your website.
What is User Experience – The Real Life Parallel
So what’s all this have to do with digital marketing?
Well, the same principles that apply to real-life also apply to a webpage.
Think about it: someone comes to your website and it takes 10 whole seconds to load. When it finally does, they’re presented with paragraphs of text and have to hunt for the CTA button to submit their information. And when they finally find it, they’re taken to a form with 15 fields to fill in. More likely than not, that person will be frustrated and not convert, and you’ve just lost a lead who came in hot and ready to hit submit.
It’s the digital equivalent of the DMV. The likelihood of that person returning to that website is slim to none, and you can bet they won’t be recommending it to their friends.
That’s how we have to approach all websites – with user experience in mind. Think about every page of your website and ask yourself, is this at all frustrating for users? If so, where can we improve?
That’s the crux of user experience. And with people spending so much of their time online, it’s critical that we continue to improve the experience to not only stay competitive but provide satisfying – even enjoyable – online experiences to our readers.