User Experience: Not just for software
User experience (UX) permeates everything in our lives. The name is pretty apt, really, it’s about how we see, feel (emotionally as well as physically) and appreciate the products we use. It really is all about our experience. It can relate to a complex piece of software or it can be all about something as simple as a spoon.
True story: In my kitchen drawer I’ve got a section for spoons. In there is a nice jumble of stainless steel tablespoons of two varieties. One variety has some little patterns on it. They look nice enough I suppose, as far as your average tablespoon goes. The other spoons are a bit more minimal; they’re just flat shiny steel. I can appreciate either for their looks, (I personally tend to prefer the minimal, but that’s just me.) However, the user experience of the spoon doesn’t stop there; just as it doesn’t stop with form or looks of software.
A spoon has one primary function, it scoops up soup, mash, casserole and anything else I deem fit to pour into the gaping maw I call a mouth. (My youngest son calls it the bin…) Both types of spoon tend to do this job just fine. They don’t have holes to cause food to leak out. They’ve got a concave surface to hold the contents reasonably securely. They perform their primary function. Function, while another part of the user experience, still isn’t the whole story.
When I begin to use the spoons, the real difference starts to become noticeable. The patterned spoon has rough edges and is slightly too sharp on the business end. Upon closer inspection, you can visibly see a line where the metal was cut off. It wasn’t shaped smoothly to start and it wasn’t filed down… The edge of the spoon handle is just the raw edge of jagged steel. There’s a serious lack of quality in the finishing of the spoons that leads to my discomfort. They obviously didn’t consider how someone would actually use the spoon or how their lack of planning would affect that person. The experience is a poor one. In contrast, the minimal spoons are nice and smooth and feel nice in the hand. More importantly, they don’t cut my mouth open while I’m eating like the first type does. They were built to be smooth and easy to hold. This leads to a positive experience for me, and helps me do what I set out to do… stuff myself.
The moral of the story may well be that I just need to buy more spoons or at least ditch the rubbish ones. I think, equally (maybe more so…), it’s how this applies to software. User experience isn’t about form or function independently. It’s about how form, function, research, planning and quality blend together to create an experience that can be great, painful or anything between.