User Experience Design Blog

Commentary on strategy and design of interactive products.

User Experience Design: An Executive Summary

December 4th, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

This article strives to explain, in non-technical terms, what is user experience design, why it is critical in the modern business landscape, and how businesses can take advantage of what the field has to offer.

What Is User Experience Design?

User experience design is a specialized field that combines product strategy and usability engineering. It aims to make products and services useful, enjoyable and easy to use, which drive competitive advantage and profitability.

Making Products Useful

Customers use and buy products because they are useful, enjoyable, or both. User experience designers use their expertise and methodologies to establish what specific features and traits can render a given product useful and enjoyable to the target customer.

Making Products Profitable

User experience designers constantly strive to improve products, and they have the expertise to evaluate the most promising product features as well as to analyze the competition to discern how to gain advantage over them with new features or by improving existing ones as well as ease-of-use. Not only that, but for certain products and services like web sites, they can formulate a strategy that will increase target user actions such as online purchases and page views.

Making Products Easy to Use and Enjoyable

In today’s business landscape, ease-of-use is increasingly becoming a competitive advantage and customers are demanding and expecting products to be intuitive and easy to use. User experience designers are trained to systematically improve the organization of information and the intuitiveness of interactions of products and services.

Why Is User Experience Design Important?

A product’s effectiveness, intuitiveness, and ease-of-use have recently become tremendously important competitive differentiators. Customers have become more likely to switch to the competition as more companies focus on usability and as it is becoming easier to find and switch to the competition’s products. Therefore, a modern business will find it ever more difficult to compete without optimizing the user experience of its products or services.

User experience practitioners can help to give products a competitive edge by incorporating features that will most effectively meet customers’ needs and by making them easy and enjoyable to use. For certain products such as web sites, user experience designers can formulate a strategy and design that will increase key user interactions such as online purchases, viral action, and page views.

How to Incorporate User Experience Design into the Product Lifecycle?

Like product managers, user experience professionals generate product concepts and strategy, screen product ideas, develop and design the products, and perform beta and market testing. However, user experience professionals perform all these tasks from a usability engineering and user-centered-design approach while product managers look at the same tasks from a business and marketing angle. That is why user experience designers should work closely with product management to help define, design, and refine the final product.

Idea Generation and Screening

User experience professionals are trained to identify and analyze users’ needs and to design solutions to meet those needs. Also, since they are constantly steeped in product design, they are aware of market and consumer trends and what competitors are doing. Many user experience practitioners are also trained in conducting field studies such as focus groups and market surveys, which can help inform product strategy and design. User experience professionals’ expertise and methodology can be employed to generate product ideas.

As well as generating product ideas, user experience professionals can help to screen them from a user-centered-design perspective. They can help assess which features and traits are most likely to meet customers’ needs and expectations, while providing an intuitive and pleasant experience. They can also lend their expertise of market and consumer trends to help assess which ideas are most viable.

Concept Development and Testing

Once a product strategy is in place and high-level features and requirements have been established, user experience practitioners can define specific traits and functions of those features, so they are easy and enjoyable to use. This is the crux of the user experience field — user experience professionals are trained to design the specific functional interactions and information organization of products and services, so they are easy and enjoyable to use.

Many user experience professionals are also skilled in testing beta products through usability testing and focus group studies. They can adeptly design and implement tests to evaluate the effectiveness and appeal of a product, and can analyze data from such studies to identify problem areas as well as further opportunities for improvement. Additionally, they can also offer concrete suggestions for improving the product. Testing and refinement is an iterative cycle that sometimes extends post launch.

Working with User Experience Professionals

Depending on the size of a company and its user experience needs, it can either build an internal user experience team or work with an outside user experience consultancy.

If the company’s user experience needs are large enough and steady enough to warrant a full-time team, it is important to ensure that there is sound leadership within the team. The leadership should have significant experience defining product strategy, designing the product, testing, and most importantly, working with product development. As the team grows, members can take on specialized roles such as management, design, and testing.

We believe that due to the large overlap of tasks and the natural synergies, user experience should work closely with product management. We also have found from experience that this relationship is most effective when both departments have equal political footing in the organization.

If the company has periodic needs for user experience expertise, it should consider working with a user experience consultancy. In picking such a consultancy, it is important to assess capabilities of their team. For example, does the firm offer user testing, market research, product strategy, and product design? If the company’s needs call for all of these elements, the consultancy must be able to adeptly perform them. However, it is worth noting that sometimes user experience design firms specialize in certain parts of the process, such as design, and if that is all that is required, those firm might best fit the bill.

Further Reading

What Is User Experience Design? by Kimmy Paluch, Principal at Montparnas LLC

User Experience Design - Wikipedia

User Experience Design - Semantic Studios

About Usability - The Usability Professionals’ Association

Usability - Wikipedia

Usability Basics - Usability.gov

New Product Development - Wikipedia



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