woman peeking out of blinds
woman peeking out of blinds
#UX #KeepItHuman

Don't Look Now, But I Think There's a Person Behind That UX

Paul Kiernan

Web design isn't just busting out a pretty website, it's about creating a user experience that keeps users coming back to your website time and time again.

User experience focuses on having a very deep, thorough understanding of users. This means you have to understand what they need, value, what drives them batty and what brings them back again and again. This isn’t a new concept really when you think about it, it’s just been expanded upon and brought into tech age but, it’s roots are in everyday commerce.

I remember, when I was a kid, my mother always went to Deluca's, one of the grocery stores in our town, because it was clean, organized, the cashiers were efficient, always smiled, said hello and they had a wealth of products that the other shop in town didn’t carry. The owner of the place, Tony, was often there, either greeting customers or bagging groceries. He also took care to note what products people liked. My mom is a fan of peaches so, July and August, when peaches are at peak, Tony would make sure there was a nice basket of peaches for my mom to buy. There was always a cheese sample or a cookie sample offered so, I looked forward to shopping there with my mom.  Eventually, Tony’s place and the other grocery store in town were bought out by one of those giant chain stores. We went because we really had no other choice, but the new place never felt as comfortable, as welcoming as Tony’s. I guess you could say the user experience just wasn’t as good.

apple stand

The Webster’s free, online dictionary defines UX as … Wife. Origin and etymology; Latin uxor. There it is friends, you want improved UX, get a wife, like that’s easy. If you don’t use the free dictionary you get something like this; User Experience (n) The overall experience of a person using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use. The international standard on ergonomics of human-system interaction defines it as; a person's perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service. And the ISO definition states that user experience includes; the user’s emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses and behaviors and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use.

If you think in terms of commerce, the buying and selling of goods, there has been an evolution. The general store, where you could get everything from a pineapple to a coffin, moved on to be the hardware store and next to it, the grocery. Out of the grocery store, the need for just milk and bread quickly, because this sammich is going to save my child’s life, damn it, gave birth to the convenience store or the quick mart set up. Then, like a couple of days later, with the advent of the internet, came online shopping or shopping in your underwear as I like to think of it. It’s all about what the people need and how to get it to them faster or better. Before the computer, it was all based on face to face, in the shop, sell them what they need and maybe something they didn't think they needed or wanted, (that ever niggling impulse buy), and do it in a way that made them want to return again and again, as Tony did. The base of that was understanding people, meeting them face to face, reading their expressions when they walked into the store or found items they so enjoyed, paying attention to the suggestion box notes and improving the customer experience. Now the customer is “the user” and the scope of their experience is much broader. However, it is still about people.

I was trying to think of an environment that is akin to the online world. A place that is full of visual and emotional stimulus that seems to cater to your every whim in the corporeal world and, I struck upon the idea of the casino. The average Las Vegas casino is designed so that once you enter it’s doors, you never really have to leave. Unless you’re fleeing Celine Dion. From your room, usually in the center tower of the structure, you can stay within the casino to eat, drink, gamble, find entertainment, swim and use spas, bowling alleys or whatever you may desire. If you don’t find what you need, a knowledgeable concierge will certainly rectify that immediately. The casino itself is the website, the concierge is your search engine. People who frequent casinos have their favorite ones that they go back to again because they had a positive experience that they want to reclaim. Casinos, like the internet and the grocery store, have evolved as well. From El Rancho Vegas in 1941, the first insular, self contained casino resort built, on what would eventually become, the Las Vegas Strip, to the now-defunct club Intrigue at the Wynn which featured, among other mind-blowing amenities, a 1,200 square foot private club within the club was a social media free zone, casinos are constantly improving “user” experience. They did this with a clear eye to people.

David Kranes, a Salt Lake resident, is a brilliant writer of plays, novels, and short stories. He is a Pushcart Prize winner, recipient of the Utah Governor's Award for arts. CBS Playwrights Award and the Wrangler Award for “Best Short Story Collection” among others. Apart from being a prolific and notable writer, Mr. Kranes has become, arguably, the country's leading expert on new directions in casino design. I asked David what he thinks about, in terms of “user” experience when he’s looking at a casino. His ideas, concepts, and designs have radically changed the casino experience from low ceilinged, smoke-filled, dark rooms inhabited by mostly men, to the sprawling, welcoming palaces that grace the strip in Vegas today. David says the top three “user” consideration that he employs are these:

  1. The guest or user has come here to play. Classically/psychologically “play” is an expansive experience … not a diminishing one. Those small, low ceiling, rooms have been replaced with large, open areas, giving the user a view of all that is possible for them to take part in. The idea of playing isn’t just a machine or at a table, the guest can see so many different options to engage and excite their need to play.
  2. As much as possible should be done to make being in a casino feel to be a “restorative experience” - calming, relaxing (though excitement enters in) … thus elements of the natural world help; sunlight, water features, green space. Darkness, man-made light, give the feeling of doing something illicit, something that needs to be hidden away. The natural lighting, the calming effects of water sounds, play together to get the casino experience out in the open, out of the dark and make it feel like a more natural and exciting thing to do.
  3. Casino space should be “legible” and have a clear sense of order in its design. As creatures, we crave order and when order is perceived, we are free to explore. When the mind doesn’t have to focus on the details or making sense out of chaos, it is open to bounce, try, feel free and play. Play is the bottom line, the goal of the casino user experience.

Mr. Kranes admits that the first two on this list fly in the face of “classical” casino design but, on Steve Wynn’s properties, they have worked very well. Maybe flying in the face of classical design is exactly what was needed. David has gained a reputation in the field as being the best because he’s not afraid to think beyond the, “this is the way we’ve always done it” attitude and has kept in mind that casinos are about making money but, they are also about giving the best possible experience to the people who they make money from.

holding ice cream cone

Disney, I believe, offers a great user experience. People love it there, look forward to being there, and can’t wait to return so, it hits all the buttons. They achieve this by creating great, giant, eye-catching things, superior branding, unmatched publicity but, they also pay attention to the small stuff. I worked for them for about ten years and one of the things I admired was how every single employee, they call them cast members, was empowered to help the guest have a great experience. So, if the man cleaning up, emptying the trash, sees a little girl drop her ice cream bar in the hot street, he can simply go to the vendor, get the girl a new ice cream bar. He doesn’t have to ask a supervisor, wait for approval, doesn’t have to worry about it coming out of his check and best of all, he doesn’t need to ask the little girl’s parents if they’d like a new one, he just replaces the ice cream. This is small compared to the rides, the parades, and whatnot, however, it’s that kind of detail that makes it feel .. magical. A personal detail. A human touch.'

If you don’t talk to your customers. How will you know how to talk to your customers?
Will Evans

It may sound corny but, you want the users who visit your site or app to have that same kind of magical, comfortable, I want to come here again and again feeling. The way to achieve this is through great UX design. There are rules to follow and some really great do’s and don't's articles and blogs that will help guide you in your quest for the best user experience. The Next Web has a great, clear, blog about the ten do’s and don’t’s of UI and UX design. That will give you the nuts and bolts in a very readable, tech-savvy way. You could even go to Wikipedia and look over their definition of UX for some good information as well. User experience has been a hot topic for a long time and its value is palpable. UX Passion did a good piece on it back in December you may want to check out for a more in-depth view.

Where the eye lands on the page, the visual hierarchy, speed of the page load, the fact that people now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish, all of these have got to be factored in when thinking UX.  The solutions are all very technical however, you need to keep firmly in your mind the human side as well. Visit a grocery store and don’t have your face buried in your smartphone, how do you feel? Is it easy to get what you want, are you pulled in by an alluring endcap? Are the employees helpful?  What is your experience in the corporeal world and how can you translate that back into the design world. As often as possible meet clients face to face, converse with voice rather than just email. The technology is there to aid the human experience. Have empathy for your users, if you don’t understand your users as people, you’re not going to understand how to create great people user experience.