User Experience: What is it?

Lately I’ve seen some people use the term “user experience” in conversation, tweets, and blogs in a very generic way. It seems to me that this term is often taken out of context. For example, I see some postings referring to giving users a “happy” or “good” experience when using their web applications. I will provide my understanding of what user experience is.

I believe that user experience describes how closely a user’s expectations are met when interacting with a web application.

  1. The user opens a web application with an expectation of what the web application does. Perhaps the title or subtitles provide an explanation. The user will expect to see something obvious as soon as possible. The user will have a negative experience if they cannot figure out what the web application does. The reverse situation is that the user wants to know if they are in the wrong web application as soon as possible. Their experience is less negative if they can determine this quickly and return to where they came from.
  2. The user will expect some indication as to what to do next if they are confident that they are in the correct web application. The user wants to see actionable items that let him or her know what features are available.
    • Create a new record
    • See new records
    • See records displayed that are immediately relevant
    • Search for specific records by keyword or a filtered view
    • Available help that describes features on the web application
  3. Users expect related record information to be displayed to them without having to specifically search for it. Sometimes this is similar or related search results based on keywords. Other times it is search results that other users clicked on based on a similar keyword search. Users also want to see more white space and less detail in the search results. A short title and one or two sentences should provide sufficient explanation in search results.
  4. Users expect a consistent web application layout. Users will look for titles, controls, hover text, and labels. Users will almost always start looking at the top left corner and read to the right. Then move back to the left side and slightly down. Then across to the right again. They do this a few times until they find what they want or give up.
    • Put the most important details at the top left corner.
    • Keep the main controls close together where users can quickly find them.

These are the key expectations that users have. The users will have a good experience if the web application has these features and capabilities. Of course, users will expect more as they use a web application over time.

Finally, I believe that it is possible to collect information from users to determine what their expectations for a web application are. There is also a lot more detail that can be provided on user experience on each of the points that I made. But these are the key points that I discuss with clients that I work with.