Dissecting User Experience
The Whats and Whys of a successful product
Which phone or platform are you using to browse this article? Are you able to do it comfortably? Or do you wish that you might have had any other device in place of this? Why or why not? The answer you’ll be providing would be most probably related to the term which is quite famous right now in the market — User Experience.
Different people have different definitions for user experience but they all converge at one point — the user. All the artefacts, all the data, all the goals, and every other interaction that we all talk about, is for a real person. This article focuses on four cornerstones of user experience — the questions that one must ask during the development cycle of the product.
Four levels of User experience
Neilson Norman Group defined user experience’s four simple levels back in 2008 which are valid till now. Why after more than a decade of change in technology, the foundation remains the same? Because the cardinal character of the story remains the same — human behaviour and human psychology. These levels are based on interrogation at various product development stages and realigning the steps incessantly with the user in mind.
Requirements at each level should be met to move to the next one. These levels are
- Utility — Does it solve a problem?
- Usability — Can the user efficiently achieve the goal?
- Desirability — Does the user favour your product more than the other similar products?
- Brand Experience — How does the user feel towards your brand?
These four levels in conjunction form User experience — a term that entails the success rate of a product. Let’s talk about each level in a little more detail with examples.
1. Utility — Foundation is more important than the structure
Does this product solve any problem that the user is facing currently?
Does it align with the needs of the user?
What broken or missing link are you trying to connect?
The utility defines the foundation of the product. This is where the be-all and end-all of the product begins. This is the relic which gives birth to an artefact. But one should understand that these solutions should cater to a problem that already exists, rather than creating a solution first and then developing a contextual problem statement around it.
I am trying to make a computer table in which a chair is attached to the table and doesn’t need extra space and resource to move it from one place to another.
~Solution is already constructed, problem statement made later.
I am trying to make a workstation that also focuses on maintaining the posture of the people.
~Focuses on the major problem of corporate generation as well as respect their lifestyle
Time of realizing the idea is one of the most crucial parts of this stage. Some innovations come way before they should have, and some way later. Market analysis and good user research can provide you with an idea about the feasibility of your product in the current market.
Just at the right time
“I realised that you can never legislate away from piracy. The only way to solve the problem was to create a service that was better than piracy and at the same time compensates the music industry.”
Daniel to The Telegraph in 2010 around which the music industry was taking a severe blow from piracy. Spotify was a solution devised on an existing problem of the industry, and took a chance on developing something that can benefit both the businesses as well as users.
Products ahead of their time
Apple Newton was one of the most ambitious products of Apple and was way ahead of it’s time when it launched. Your eyebrows don’t even nudge now when you hear about stylus controlled screen, ability to save contact and manage calendars and fax — all in one device.
But in 1993, when the idea was realized, it was nothing short of a dream come true. Newton incorporated the idea of future in it, so much so, that even when other Apple devices were launched (after almost a decade), inspirations were taken from this noble device.
“Handwriting recognition was supposed to be Newton’s killer feature, and yet it was the feature that probably ultimately killed the product.”
-By Wired magazine in their article Remembering the Apple Newton’s Prophetic Failure and Lasting Impact
Understand users, when they are providing a chance to
The breakup of mp3 players from users
If the problem that your product is solving has been solved by another competitor of yours much earlier, then you are tapping into an obsolete market, a market which is almost on the verge of extinction. Examples would include mobile phones replacing the mp3 players and camera.
But this is the first step in envisioning your product. There are 3 more steps that complete the User experience of the product.
2. Usability — Where the UX starts, but not ends
How intuitive it is to use your product?
Is your product tailored to the routine of your user?
Will a new user feel comfortable in using your product?
Usability is a self-explanatory word in itself when it comes to definition but has a practical undertone to it. It defines how efficient it is for the user to reach the desired with minimum friction on his/her cognition. The major process of the UX designer starts here and stretches on to the next level that we’ll be reading about soon.
ISO 9241 describes usability as
“The effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments.”
Usability is often confused with User Experience, which is understandable as the protagonist remains the same for both the cases. User Experience is a higher entity, a bracket that contains Usability as one of its key requirements.
Take an example of a railway booking system which is just one part of the whole railway system (analogous to Usability in this case). But Railway system is a much large entity that contains multiple teams functioning actively, both in vertical as well as a horizontal framework (which is analogous to User Experience in this case).
Usability + Utility forms the MVP for the product. Wikipedia is a great amalgam of usability and utility. I need to know more about “Great Pacific garbage patch”, and voila, Wikipedia is there to rescue. It fulfils the utility of open and accessible information. Usability criteria of Wikipedia are met by making sure the navigation is quick and the discovery of different features is easy.
Usability can be divided into 5 further sections (examples with respect to Wikipedia):
- Effectiveness — Searching a topic
- Efficiency — Click hyperlinks to move to other topics
- Engagement — Submitting and editing the article
- Error Tolerance — Other related results when a topic is not available
- Ease of Learning — Represents the same old reading experience
The overarching criteria
Spotify, Apple Music and Soundcloud — Why do we prefer one over another?
All three of these are exceptionally good and quite usable music streaming services, but you’ll choose one of them over another. The one you choose is not because one rules over another or is more user friendly, it is about how you feel about that product. If you’ll notice, there is a voice in your head that is taking these decisions subconsciously for you, which is what we’ll learn ahead — Desirability.
Though usability forms a subsequent portion of user experience, it requires further consideration to fully commit to the UX of the product. It is called Desirability which we’ll be covering in our next chapter.
3. Desirability — The selling point
Does your user want to choose your product for a specified task instead of your competitors?
Does your product provide any kind of incentivization to your customers in any sense?
If I would have asked you to choose between Nokia and Samsung mobile 15 years back, what would have been your reply?
Will it be same if I ask you now?
Desirability is the other half of the user experience. This is the part which sets out the trail for the user to use your product consecutively and satisfactorily. Let us suppose, you want to go for an adventurous trip, something which feels more natural and home-like — you’ll go to Airbnb, but if your choice is high-end luxury, then Airbnb might not be your choice. This is called the “niche” that your product offers.
As time moves forward, the desirability criteria adapt to it. The reason why you might have been bought a Nokia with Symbian before is that the desirability of the phone was a long-lasting piece of hardware that survives the bitter conditions of the environment and just serve its purpose of calling and messaging.
Now, the mobile phone is anything but just a device to call — it is a fashion statement, a status signifier, an entertainment device and a lot of other things.
Other examples include:
- Ipad vs other tablets
- Paypal vs other payment networks
- Amazon vs other B2B and B2C business models
- Netflix vs. Other streaming platforms
What influences Desirability?
Desirability is also influenced heavily by the Brand Experience (we’ll talk about it in the next article). As we have moved ahead of physical product consumers (Xerox Photocopy Machine) to service consumers (get your products photocopied from an online service), hence focusing just on selling will not suffice.
The pre-product (advertisement) and post-product investment (customer care and service) are also important which is called Brand Experience.
Pseudo-desirability — infused desire
Why not AirPods Pro directly?
AirPods were released to combat the problem of free movement and allow pure wireless music listening experience. A desire was created by Apple to buy it (which every other company does).
But as Apple invests so much in its R&D, it must have known how important the silicon buds are for people so the first AirPods should have had it. But they refrained from this decision and rather chose to use this as a bait to attract customers to their next series of AirPods, called Airpods Pro. Quite witty marketing technique.
Can you quit the vicious circle of phone updates?
Why do I feel that my phone is older just after months of buying it? I was a gadget freak a decade ago who knew all about the latest mobile devices that would be launched. But this parasitic attitude of every mobile company has drained my complete interest from mobile devices.
Why is this desire created? Why my phone is updated with features that need more RAM, more memory and other updated feature? Why is this desire induced into me? If we can make a responsive design in terms of layout, then why not features? My 2014 phone should work equally good with current applications. Alas, it doesn’t.
Usability and Desirability are two stages where UX Designers have the most effect and control on. But there is a fourth and last aspect of the user experience which latently affects almost every purchase or service — Brand Experience.
4. Brand Experience — Why UX designers should care about it
Does the user feel good about the company/brand that produces the product?
Does your product upholds and adheres to current experience that your brand holds?
What phone connection you are having? Why?
Which website do you buy your clothes from? Why?
Which bus service do you prefer to move around in your country? Why?
The brand you are choosing in any of the above questions is not because of only their product but an experience that has stuck with you for a very long time. You trust it, just like you trust any close relative or friend. You can even go into serious debates regarding that brand.
Why is that? Why does that brand feel so personal to you? It’s definitely is greatly influenced by utility, usability or desirability of the product but the driving force here is how the brand made you feel before and after buying your product.
So what is brand experience?
“A brand experience is about designing a sensory experience that brings a person into a lasting and meaningful relationship with a brand.”- As explained by Chris Cavanaugh in his article.
He further mentions
“Humans have an intrinsic need to make connections with one another. We like to hang with our tribes. And part of what makes a successful connection is finding the right place to make it happen.
Look at places like Starbucks — as a company, it understands that people don’t just come to stores to grab a coffee and go. They want a place to meet with friends, a relaxing hour with a book, a mobile workspace, a familiar and comfortable living room atmosphere no matter where they go in the world.”
Some brands flourish even after having the same existing idea that was actually invented by someone else. Luck? Could be. Brand Experience? Definitely. That one brand that thrives on the same idea that someone else projected is because it didn’t see user experience in isolation but an intertwined emotional experience.
The best example of this would be Netflix. It is not like there are no other video streaming services, but how Netflix provides support and curated plans to their users with such a wide variety of shows (even based on how you are feeling currently) is what allows it to stand out from its competitors.
This helps the user to get attached to the brand or service and be emotional, protective as well as appreciative of that product — just like a relationship you have with a friend.
But why should UX Designer worry about it?
UX designers need to make sure the legacy continues. And Brand Experience is that legacy. If you do not understand the brand’s legacy, no matter what product you design for it, the legacy disrupts in the process. Hence every UX designer should understand the goals, aspirations, code of conduct and brand etiquettes to understand the product.
So what is important? What is the major focus?
Well, that depends on where you are in your production cycle.
Utility = Idea (Craigslist)
Utility + Usability = MVP (Zoom)
Utility + Usability + Desirability = User experience (Airbnb)
Utility + Usability + Desirability + Brand Experience = Sustainable business (Apple)
So next time whenever you see any product that you use, just try to answer the questions for that particular experience. Does it pass all four levels? Do you feel good after using it?
Great! Note down these ideas to inspire yourself next time you sit on a project.
Thank you for reading.