Welcome to the UX Recession

Buzzword Bingo

Let’s face it, User Experience (UX) is the *new* Web 2.0. It’s a buzzword that people really don’t get the true meaning of. UX first came in the form of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) studies and has evolved into an interaction design role. An experience can be defined in many ways. I define a true experience as the sum of many interactions with people, an environment, or a product. In this case I am talking specifically about Rich Internet Applications (RIAs).

Beauty is only skin deep

When I am called on a project I am normally just asked to “skin the app”. I understand the term, but I think it leaves a bad impression in what an Experience Designer really does. It is like the saying “beauty is only skin deep.” This gives off the impression that the design piece is nothing more than a sprinkle of decoration to make things look pretty and that there is nothing deeper in creating this. XD is much more than just “eye candy”. There are many theories, laws, and best practices behind it.

Welcome to the UX Recession

Technology is causing the products and interfaces of the world to become very complex. The simple behaviors of products from the manufacturing age are being replaced by very robust and extremely complex behaviors of digital products. So we are essentially asking the user to make their life easier by using something much more complex. So that is where the need for UX has grown.

There’s something standing in the way of this. I believe that beyond our current world recession, there is a UX Recession. The tight purse strings of businesses and the rush to market without spending the time to make the application right have caused many bad experiences to be created. Companies have a hard time being the “best to market” when they want to be “first to market.” They have very little understanding of the value of UX. If you look at history of products you can see that things like the iPod and the iPhone were not first to market, yet they made a huge impact on the market through creating a great experience.

Emotion and UX

For a long time we have had usability in UX touted as the most important. The design outside of that isn’t as important. Same with the way we make decisions on products we use. The rational side of our minds was thought to overcome the raw emotion. Our minds are wired to enjoy and dislike many things though. So we are setup to automatically enjoy and react good to “attractive things” before we begin to interact with them.

So how do attractive things work better? Studies have shown that when you are in a relaxed and happy state your mind is at ease and tends to be more open to creative problem solving. So if you come across a problem in an interface you tend to be able to overcome this and move on. If you are tense and unhappy your mind begins to narrow it’s focus and if you have a problem it becomes more difficult to find your way around it. And that compounds into frustration and a bad experience.

There is a danger though of using just pure “attraction” in design to create a product. One example is with Tropicana and the redesign of their orange juice package. Although the new design isn’t bad to me, if you look at it in the mind of a customer, it is a disaster. Just take a look at it on the shelf where the customer sees it.

“Do any of these package-design people actually shop for orange juice? Because I do and the new cartons stink” – Tropicana Customer

Lead by example

By taking a look at some of the best experiences out there we can learn a lot. So many markets seem to be “locked down” where a few big players own the share of the customers mind and dollar. And we as users are force fed crap experiences because these are the only choices, or blame ourselves for being stupid and not knowing how to use these websites or products.

We can look at the Flip as a great example of this. The product is very limited in features in comparison to the big name video camera makers like Sony. Even the zoom is nearly worthless. By creating a very focused set of features that it does very well, and making it a very easy and fun experience the Flip has taken 20% of the market share. I like to think that great UX took 20% of the market share.

Survival of the fittest

Over time people will begin to find value in UX by understanding what it is. This will happen as the industry grows and other fields begin to see it as a vital part of the product. By educating clients and bringing up issues while building the experience they (the client) will begin to see that they can put out a “best to market” product.

I hope to see UX move towards the planning stages of application creation, rather than an afterthought. I think that in the end, the best experiences will win, and the companies that disregard this will simply die off. It’s a harsh reality, but in this economy people don’t have the time or money to waste on things that are not quality experiences in their life. They will just move on to the products and services that are better.