Designing User Experience: Business Edition

I've just come back from a fantastic 3 days in Newcastle where I was attending the DIBI (Design It, Build It) conference. There were many fantastic speakers but one of them covered a concept that really got me thinking.

Blasting Expectations Out of The Water

Admittedly I'm a bit biased when it comes to evaluating @Adii's talk at DIBI. I've known him for a few years and I'm a big fan of his work, so he could have talked about pretty much anything and been greeted with my approval. That being said, I did not expect for him to prove to be the most thought-provoking speaker of the day, which is exactly what he turned out to be.

If You Don't Design it, You're Doing it Wrong.

The premise of Adii's talk was simple: you need to design everything, and involve design in your business from the very start. For some designers in the room this didn't resonate, I saw a couple of tweets about "preaching to the converted", but as Adii himself explained at the very start: he was coming from a business angle.

Adii discussed how his company, @WooThemes, don't just design interfaces; they try to design every bit of interaction that a customer will have with them, including customer service. If a customer has a complaint about a product then the way in which that customer is handled is designed for a specific outcome: a happy customer.

Up until now I've always understood UI (User Interface) design and usability, but I've never full appreciated UX (User Experience) design to be something totally separate to both of those things. To be honest I don't think it's my fault, most UX blogs cover usability and accessibility, not user experience.

A Few Examples

Just to make this a little less conceptual, let me give you a couple of examples:

  • User Interface Design - A button
  • Usability Design - A button which stands out from its surroundings and is easily click-able
  • User Experience Design - A button which has your name on it

Function, action, emotion. What Adii was getting at was designing the last part in particular, designing user experience and creating an emotional reaction. Seeing a button with your name on it is familiar, it's easy, it's recognisable. Be honest, how often have you considered the emotion that your user (or customer) will experience? Here's how it applies to WooThemes customer service:

  • User Interface Design - A contact form for a user to submit a complaint
  • Usability Design - A contact form with only 3 fields that's clearly labelled
  • User Experience Design - Having someone respond to the message within 10 minutes with a full refund

Function (it works), Action (it works well), Emotion (it just made me really fucking happy). Here's one last example that shows how this can apply in the offline world:

  • Product Design - The original iMac
  • Usability Design - Everything is built in, no confusing cables
  • User Experience Design - When you open the box, the first thing you see is a handle - to help you lift it out.

That's right, Apple actually changed the design of their entire product just for the sake of the user experience when you open the box and need to lift it out.

Stop Thinking About Interfaces, Start Designing Experiences

I wasn't getting this point all the way up to the end of the talk, when I asked during the Q&A: "What's your opinion on products such as BaseCamp and HighRise by 37Signals, who don't design anything - they just build it and then throw on an interface that works."

Adii's response was instant: (quoting from memory) "The user interface may not have had design at its heart, but the user experience was designed at every single stage - this is what made those products so successful."

It's taken me a full 48 hours to fully appreciate the idea behind what Adii was talking about: the idea of designing user experience.

Conclusion

All of the talks on the Design track of DIBI were excellent (and I'll be discussing them on the next episode of @ExplicitWeb), but for me Adii's was the one that really got me thinking, not about graphics, not about CSS, not about fucking internet explorer. It got my mind working with regards to designing the layer beyond all of that stuff.

Food for thought.

John O'Nolan

Founder at Ghost.org. Writes about open source, startup life, non-profits, and publishing platforms. Travels the world with a bag of kites.