Product Management, Consultant, Advisor

What is User Experience?

Courtesy of Enniz Bit (

It’s well known that one of the quickest ways to learn is to teach, so what better way to get the digital chalkboard out than to so some Mediuming-ing.

So what is User Experience? How do we design for it?

It’s at this point that a writer searches for answers from an oracle or a great teacher, to find the single truth, that one line the encapsulates all and opens up a path of enlightenment for the rest to follow.


So here I am dusting off weighty design tomes, scaling mountains to meet with gray-haired UX mentors, and entering transcendent states to discover my spiritual UX animal guide (turns out mine is a Springer Spaniel) all so that you, dear reader, don’t have to! So now, I lay before you, the pearl of wisdom:

“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

— Don Norman & Jakob Nielsen


I don’t know about you, but I’m still lost.

Sometimes pearls are too broad, or my mind too small,-or both- to get much value from them. I don’t don’t feel any closer to the truth than before I climbed that mountain — plus now I’m all covered in book dust! I feel a little like Alice going down the rabbit hole.

So, I’m going explain User Experience as best I know how to, and that means I’m going to describe the three ways UX design makes me feel.

1. UX design makes me feel like air punching!

Designers see UX all around them, they can’t help not to, they’re like the kid from the 6th Sense — except instead of seeing Bruce Willis’ they see pixels and buttons. For the rest of humanity while we encounter UX day in, day out we hardly ever pay close attention to our experience with the things we use. We just do, use, consumer, see, read, click, close, open, push, and so on and so forth, all without sparing a thought for any of it.

And that’s good, that really is what “good” UX is all about — people shouldn’t have to think in order to do.

But why have “good” when we can have great?…

Great UX get’s noticed.

Great UX releases endorphins.

Great UX makes you air punch!

Great UX isn’t necessarily just the prevail of the online or what’s on my computer. Sometimes it is my computer!

I love opening my Macbook Pro after closing it mid-work. The experience of opening it again, to get back to whatever I was doing, might last less than a second but that fraction of a moment is quality time my Mac and I have together. The time it takes to lift the screen up and the computer to be ready for action is a mere blink on the digital clock. I love it because the UX of going from a non-workable state to a workable state is so quick. The User Experience of this is wonderful. The UX design is sublime.

This is air punch-inducing stuff.

Not quite with me yet? Consider the inverse of the Mac opening UX: opening a mid-ranged windows-based laptop.

Bears emerge from hibernation quicker than most laptops awaken from standby!

2. UX design makes me feel I just got stuff done

I don’t know about you, but when I need to get something something done I take the quickest, easiest path to get that thing done with the best tools that are available to me — whether I’m conscious of it or not.

Great UX design allows users to achieve their desired outcomes in the most intuitive, efficient, and pleasing manner possible.

Design methodologies and approaches come in and out of favour, but one which currently resonates is that of considering UX design from a “jobs to be done” perspective. (Paul Adams talks about this here in his critique of the attention surrounding Dribbble.)

When its at it’s best, we feel like everything runs smoothly and we’re quickly and easily able to do what we need, or want, to do. We feel like we’re getting stuff done.

Then there are are those cases whereby the UX has (not) been designed in a way that allows the user to get the job done which they want to get done.

I suffered through just one such encounter with poor UX design last week when I tried to change the details of a flight with one of the world’s largest, most successful airlines. In a live, text-based web chat with a rep from the airline I attached and uploaded a screenshot of my original ticket. When I asked her a question about the ticket I’d just uploaded she told me that she didn’t know the answer because their reps cannot open any chat attachments!

The job I needed done was to visually share the document with the rep. So why was it that files could be attached in a conversation with the reps if they can’t even open them? Why would anyone ever design the user experience to be like that? The Job, most certainly, was not done.

3. UX design makes me feel like I’m understood. Understand?

UX design is putting the user first and designing each and every interaction and experience with the end-user and their goals in mind. Products and services designed with a user-centric focus just feel like they understand us.

They know what we want to do. They know what we’re looking for. They know where we want to click, how we want to drag, and where we want to drop.

They get us.

When products and services are designed like this I recognise that thought has gone into making me not having to think.

My most recent favorite experience of this was two days ago when I wanted to log into my Pinterest account. I went to the login page and entered my email address. I then entered my password and kept putting the password in incorrectly. On my third or fourth go, just as I was about to click “Forgot password?” an email notification from Pinterest popped up on my phone — “Having trouble logging in to Pinterest?” Brilliant in it’s simplicity, Pinterest timely email understood my goal and knew what it needed to help me achieve it.

I felt understood.

I felt zen.

Sometimes I think I’m new to this UX journey but in actuality I’ve been travelling this road for years — we all have in fact, from the very first day we opened, clicked, pulled, dragged or dropped. Whether we realise it or not, from that first day something has caused us to smile with contentment of a job achieved, or stressfully shook our heads in frustration, and that thing is UX design — for better or worse.

Hopefully better.
Thanks for reading! 😀

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Nick Hynes

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