User experience (UX) design is so tightly woven into our daily life that it might go unnoticed. However, when UX falls short of meeting a user’s needs and expectations, its failures can have outcomes ranging from inconvenience and inefficiency to physical hazards. Moreover, we encounter varying degrees of UX design everywhere, including—in what is perhaps its most recognized form of the moment—on websites. Therefore, this far-reaching discipline is critical to driving success and avoiding adversity in many human endeavors.
To understand how UX design touches our lives, consider the following scenario:
Had the above scenario been a good user experience, you might not have noticed such minute elements of your visit because your needs would have been met without effort or confusion on your part. However, these mishaps, which reflect poor UX design, foster an unfavorable impression of the establishment.
The causal relationship between UX design and user engagement also extends to website UX, which considerably impacts critical business metrics. For example, according to a Forbes article, nearly 90% of online customers will not return to a website after a negative experience. Therefore, cultivating UX design is a worthy investment for many organizations.
Predating the computer age and rooted in ergonomics and psychology, UX design leverages human-centered strategies to enhance usability. These best practices help designers address the gap between user needs and design intent. To bridge this divide, UX designers adhere to principles that emphasize understanding end users’ needs, how they interact with the product or system, and how design elements shape their overall impression of the encounter.
According to Data Society Director of Innovation Amanda Hawkins, aligning a product or system with users’ expectations is achievable through a series of user-focused iterations known as rapid prototyping. This agile strategy makes the user part of the testing process and enables designers to incorporate incremental improvements based on user feedback early and often:
Ignoring this valuable source of information is kind of like ignoring the caution light in an airplane. You might still get to where you need to go. But it might not be the smoothest of flights to get there. And in a worst-case scenario, unlike a confused and stressed human user, the plane can’t just be asked to “get over” its malfunction.
In addition, Hawkins describes the variety of expertise this process requires, including graphic design, interaction design, architecture, and even physical engineering. Therefore, successful UX design is a collaborative effort.
Instructional Design Manager Michael Harwick, whose work focuses on learner experience, explains that UX best practices apply to instructional design as well, noting that assimilating user analytics at the outset and throughout the process is essential:
What all of these principles have in common, and what user experience design is all about, is the need to understand your user as best as possible through a mix of interviews, observation, and market research.
To deliver engaging and effective learner experiences, Harwick invites learners who represent the general personas of the target cohort to participate in a trial class and provide feedback. The insights these test subjects offer help Harwick’s instructional design team make adjustments to address the end users’ pain points and produce their desired outcomes. Harwick—who has had the “meta” experience of designing a UX design course—says common questions the team strives to answer include:
Harwick emphasizes the importance of maximizing active engagement, minimizing lengthy lectures, and incorporating microlearning to create rewarding experiences and produce positive learning outcomes. “If we think about instructional design as both a science and an art,” he adds, “the scientific component is learning science and understanding the cognitive principles underpinning how people retain information. The art form is sculpting time.”
If a user struggles to access services, understand messaging, or digest instruction, this is a failure of UX design. Ultimately, positive UX is the product of a series of choices designers make to clear the path between the end user and the knowledge, interaction, or outcomes they seek. Understanding the principles and practices that create seamless and fulfilling experiences in all environments where UX design is present can help organizations and their workforces create more effective, efficient, and user-friendly products and systems.
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