User experience (UX) design is a term you may hear a lot these days. It's used by web designers, advertising specialists, product manufacturers, and graphic designers all over the world. But what is true UX design, why is it important, and why should you care about it?
UX design makes things easier
I like to think of UX design as a way of letting people do what they want to do without having to think very hard about it.
An example for you:
I live in Philadelphia, PA and our public transit system, SEPTA, is a common source of headaches for many residents here. Their website's purpose is to help riders find the best way to get from one place to another, and yet when you look at it, it's not immediately apparent that the website can do that:
Did you find the search function of the website at first glance at this page? It's on the left side of the page under "Choose Your Service" and is entitled "Google Transit". You can almost hear someone saying "uhhh no I don't want Google transit, I want SEPTA transit!". The "search" function is not front-and-center, the user's eye is not immediately pulled to the most important information. This forces users to think and to read and to search for what they really want, which detracts from the whole experience of using the site.
As a contrast to SEPTA's experience, London's public transit system has a much better design:
As you can see, the most helpful aspect of the website, the search function, is right in front of users' faces as soon as they navigate to the site. It's immediately apparent what one is supposed to do on this site, and that ease of use results in a great experience for anyone riding a bus or "tube" in London.
We don't want to have to think when using the web. We just want our information as quickly as we can get it and not have to search for it. This is where UX design is so helpful.
People have a wide array of choices in today's digital world, why should they pick you?
Back in the early days of the internet, we didn't have a lot of choice in the services we used. There were only a couple of web browsers, only a handful of email providers, and not many ways to search the web.
Now, however, there are almost too many choices. You can use Safari or Chrome or Firefox or Opera to browse the web, you can host your email with Gmail or iCloud or Yahoo or Ymail or AOL or Comcast or Outlook (and on and on), and you can search the web with Google or Yahoo or Bing, you get the point. There are so many choices on what to use in the digital world that in order to gain a user's loyalty, a brand must make sure using their service is a pleasure.
Take Apple's calendar app for example:
When I'm adding an event to my calendar, I want it to be quick and easy to do so. I'm a busy guy, I'm in a rush, I need to write something down: "Piano Recital in the Auditorium at 4 on Friday". In order to do this on Apple's calendar app, I must:
Press the "+" button
type "piano recital"
tap the location field
tap the date and time field
set the date and time
This, while only taking maybe 30 seconds longer than writing it down on a paper calendar, is annoying and feels tedious. I don't like using the calendar app because of this.
Instead, I use Fantastical:
To add an event to Fantastical, all I have to do is:
Press the "+" button
Type "Piano recital in the auditorium at 4 on Friday"
See how much easier that is for me? Instead of 30 seconds, it takes me 5. That reason alone is why I am completely loyal to Fantastical and will always go with their product over others. It takes into account how real users do things and makes it easy for me. It's like it knows me, knows how I think, how I operate. And that's what great UX design accomplishes.
Great UX is worth it!
Great UX design is not a frivolous matter. Doing it right may mean the difference between someone using your app a lot, only when they need it, or not at all. In today's world, people want information fast without having to think, and they have a lot of choices for what they will use. If you make sure your experience is a pleasurable one, you will not only earn your customer's ducats but also their loyalty for years to come.