What is User Experience?
User experience has become a buzzword within the web and application design industry, but scientists have been studying human-product interaction for years. It was Dr. Donald Norman, a cognitive science researcher, who coined the term “user experience” in the mid 1990s to describe how a person feels when interfacing with a system. In this instance, the system is a website or web application where designers are responsible for the overall experience of the product. User experience design goes way beyond the common visual elements such as the user interface, graphics, typography, and layout. The experience should encompass the visual elements as well as the functional aspects of the system based on user research data.
Graphic design, or design communication, plays a significant role in creating a successful experience but it cannot be accomplished without conducting extensive user research to fully understand the audience. As designers it is easy to get caught up in a deadline-driven environment where our focus is finishing the project on time while making it beautiful in the process. Research-driven design forces us to slow down and understand our audience before making design choices that could negatively impact the overall user experience in the end. We can still create beautiful experiences that are highly functional and usable across multiple platforms when we do our homework.
Design an Experience Not a Website
I have been designing websites for nearly a decade and it is exciting to be in a day and age where design really matters. I am not just talking about the overall look and feel but the entire experience of a website or application. I have always taken a scientific approach to design because I believe designers should be problem solvers not just artists looking for a platform. User experience has truly brought the science of design full circle for me and I am continually learning more every day.
As a user experience designer I consider myself a visual storyteller. It is important to capture the essence of the product and make the users fall in love with all aspects of the brand. There always needs to be a reason for the colors, typography, and layout, and that is where the user research is put into practice. User experience designers have so many different hats to wear and are typically considered highly intelligent analysts that are constantly compiling user data that drives every decision in the experience. I believe we are at a point where visual design and user-driven research are at an intersection that will create a new generation of user experience designers. Designers have all the tools to be visual storytellers but their focus needs to shift to user-centric design that is backed by user-specific research.
It is important to find where you fit as a designer and choose to either just design websites or create meaningful experiences.