User Exwhatience?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine sent out a tweet asking what the ‘x’ was in Ux. I shot back a pithy “Ux is User Experience.” In a small way, the question got my mind rolling. I didn’t realize, at the time, that I was considering who does and doesn’t know anything about user experience and why that might be.

Today I landed on a slideshow put together by a gentleman at Microsoft all about Ux and why it’s important. This is particularly poignant as Microsoft developed a reputation for building applications that weren’t always pretty, or clear, but essentially got the job done.

Microsoft is a company that hails from the old guard and is trying to move into a new era of user-based production. Their oldest applications were built to serve the techs and speed their progress. They weren’t terribly interested in the average Joe since said Joe wouldn’t be using their software much anyway.

As we hit the 1990’s and computers became much more commonplace in the home, the average Joe became a more critical factor. Apple recognized the need for point-and-click ease of use and simple configuration. The Mac Classic became quite popular for people that wanted a machine that was simple to use and not quite so “techy.”

The straw that ultimately broke the proverbial camel’s back, I’m certain, is the proliferation of the web as a popular platform for distributing and maintaining information, entertainment, tools and any combination of the three. Now we have engineers, users, designers, data people, games people and most other types of people you can imagine, all interacting.

User experience has become paramount in conveying anything through the human interface staring you in the face right now.

So, what is user experience? In short, it’s precisely what it sounds like. It is the experience that a user has while interacting with things around them. This is really important, as William Tschumy says, because there is no choice of having or not having an experience. Every user has an experience. The question is, was the experience good or bad?

Designers have the demands of user experience placed directly on their shoulders. They carry the social albatross of ensuring the user has a great experience and they dictate what can be seen, heard and interacted with.

Though designers are often blamed when Ux goes awry, it is typically not their doing alone. Even if a designer is the best of the best, if you have an engineer that is not focused on carrying through with solid execution, the best designs can be laid waste by the mere use of a keyboard and an engineer.

In the end, everyone who touches a project that will be seen by a user, and that is most projects, is responsible for the end experience the user has. In the end, the thing that will set your product apart may not be the features it does or does not have, but the way the user interacts with them.

If you are presenting information, ensure your user gets to the information quickly and easily. Ensure their path is scattered with signs and directions. Find pitfalls and mitigate them. This task is not for the faint of heart.

In the end, the day is gone when merely having an application that did something was sufficient for a business plan. As the information age takes hold and rolls forward like a juggernaut, we find ourselves as businesspeople, as doers, in the age of the user. If you embrace the user and make things as pain-free as possible, you will do well. If you do not, you may fossilize right next to that old Commodore 64.

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