User experience design is about creating the ideal encounter for the customer or visitor while using a product or service. The term is mainly used in relation to digital experiences, including websites, software, and mobile apps, but can also apply to the remote control to your TV, the control pad on your microwave, and the process you go through to return an item to a store.
User experience design can be described by seven factors, according to Peter Morville:
In my next seven blog posts, I'll be doing a deeper dive into each of these factors that shape the user experience. Today's post is about if an experience is useful to the user.
Merriam-Webster defines useful as 1: capable of being put to use, serviceable for an end or purpose (ie useful tools), and 2: of a valuable or productive kind (ie do something useful with your life).
Often useful is confused with usable. According to the dictionary, the synonyms of useful include useable among others (actionable, applicable, applicative, applied, functional, practicable, practical, serviceable, ultrapractical, usable, workable, working). In the context of user experiences, useful specifically applies to if the users want to even visit our website or use our service, while usable is how easy our website or service is to use.
A product or service must fill a need. If the product or service isn’t filling a perceived gap in the users’ lives, then there is no real reason for them to use it. If a product isn’t useful to someone why would you want to try to sell it? If it has no purpose, it is unlikely to be able to compete for attention alongside a marketplace full of useful products and services. It’s worth noting that “useful” is completely dependant on the viewpoint of the user.
A product or service deemed useful to me, but not be useful to you. Usefulness also includes products and services that deliver non-practical benefits such as fun or aesthetic appeal. Collectible miniatures or modern art may be deemed useful by some, even if the product doesn’t enable a user to accomplish a goal that others might find meaningful. A good example is a rubber ducky. A rubber ducky might be very useful for a person that loves baths. A rubber ducky doesn't actually do anything, other than bringing the bather some joy.
The first thing web and app designers (or other stakeholders) need to find out is what users need. What is missing from their lives that our product or service would help fill? When UX designers are creating a new product, user research comes first. UX designers must define the target audience or who the most important users are for the product. As well as what goals and needs do the people in this target audience have.
UX designers have several methods for determining the target audience and goals for a possible new product or service, including conducting interviews and contextual inquiries (users are observed and questioned while they work or play in their own environment), reviewing analytics and customer service call history on an existing product or service, and determining if a competitor is missing something with their product or service that you could design better (competitive analysis).
As features and content are added to your website or mobile app design, ask yourself if this item is going to be useful. Will adding feature X better help users to accomplish their goals? Obviously, some features and content can fulfill a business need or goal, but that shouldn't stop you from scrutinizing every addition to the requirements list, content, etc.
A good example of a website that is very useful, but doesn't have a fancy interface that one might assume goes hand in hand with good user experience is Craigslist. It may not be pretty, but it is useful. For example, you visit Craigslist to find some cheap furniture for sale for your new apartment. You go to the site, either type your search term in the box and hit return or click on the furniture link under the for sale category. Both give you a list of available furniture for sale in your area. If you have a limited budget, you can enter a price range. So Craigslist is very useful for someone looking for furniture to purchase.
Can you think of any other websites or mobile apps that maybe be more useful than they first appear? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!