In brief, UX, or user experience, is the practice of designing and developing software, website, web portals and mobile apps which are usable by design.
Well, quite - the dictionary definition isn't always the most helpful explanation.
For too long, the IT industry has forced us (and I include us at Sett in "us users", because we use software too) to work like computers.
Why is there no start menu in Windows 8? Because that's how the software is. Why does a mobile app allow a child to order £3,000 of virtual rubbish? Because that's how apps work. Why do I have to register before I buy? Because that's how the website works.
"Because that's how computers work" is a lazy answer. Computers work like that because someone MADE them work like that - they don't have to, it's just a choice someone somewhere made. Why?
There will invariably be a reason - cynics may have a view on reasons as to why it's so easy for small children to unwittingly spend huge amounts on their parents' credit cards - but often that reason will be that the designers or developers simply didn't know any better. They did it that way because it was easy, obvious or matched their understanding of the world - but did it match their users?
Computers As People
101 Brand Science involves thinking about a brand as a person. "If Sett was a brand, would you be friends? How would it make you feel?" And in his 1998 book called "The Inmates are Running the Asylum", Alan Cooper encourages us to think of software (which includes websites, portals and apps) like people too.
This could be dangerous - if Windows or Office was a person, we'd all become murderers - but let's put that aside for a moment.
If your supermarket's website was a person, what would you think of it? Would you get on? Would you be friends? If your software at work was a person, would you like working with them? Would they be a good work colleague?
How would your supermarket's website flashing up annoying messages, or losing your shopping, or losing your credit card details, affect your friendship? How would finding you've just lost a morning's work affect your desire to go for a drink after work with the software you use at work?
Taking that one step further, if your friend always forced you to do things THEIR way, how long would you stay friends? Would you want to work with someone like that, or would you resent their arrogance in assuming it should always be THEIR way?
So, why should software force you to learn how to use it? Surely if it wants you to get on, it should meet you in the middle, give and take.
What about the other characteristics of people you like? If you're a surgeon, you want your coworkers to be efficient, compassionate, professional - so surely you want the software you use to exhibit those same characteristics. If you're browsing the web for shoes and a handbag, you want your friends to be fun and easygoing - so surely a clingy website which wants to know everything about you before it hands over the goods is going to put you off.
The art of UX is understanding the real people who use things, and making things for THEM
A website designed around your target market will be a website your customers and prospective customers love to use. Who wouldn't want to buy from a website which reflects them, and who wouldn't love the retailer for it?
Similarly, looking at business software, nothing will make your staff love Monday mornings. But reducing delays, making software easier and more productive to use and reducing the opportunity for errors can't help but have a positive effect on productivity, motivation and morale - and of course, the bottom line.
That really cuts to the heart of what we do at Sett, which is why the Sett UX Lab was formed. We've always had a strong focus on developing the right solution for a problem, which is why we have a strong focus on bespoke and tailored solutions.
So what are the costs and benefits?
Well, as with everything we do, there is no "one size fits all" approach - every client is different. The approach we'd take with a multi-£m software system with 10,000 users will differ from the approach we'd take with a boutique eCommerce site, for example. Generally speaking, though, if you make a decent living from or through a website, software product or app, or if you have software or a portal which is central to your business, there'll be a UX Lab project to suit your needs and budget.
The key to planning a UX project is that it's based on the individual client's needs and circumstances. By sitting down with you to understand your needs and objectives, we can design a project to suit you - tailored to fit your budget and designed to deliver benefits which exceed that budget.
Importantly, leading practitioners in UX emphasise that "little and often" is a far better approach to UX than one large project - which is the way we prefer to work.
So, if any of the issues in this post sound familiar to you, we'd encourage you to talk to us about your or your clients' website, software, apps or portals and see how we can help. The cost will be less than you think, and the benefits could be huge!