Before starting this article, a clarification is appropriate: There are many definitions of user experience . Some as broad as the disciplines that integrate the User Experience itself, others more narrow and simple, but not less correct.
Renowned usability experts Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen present one of those definitions, perhaps the simplest and most direct:
“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.
Furthermore, if we visit the article with the definition of user experience of Norman / Nielsen Group, we will see a clarification on one of the most common confusion on this topic: The User Experience is NOT User Interface, and it’s not usability either. In future articles we will see both concepts in depth, but we must say that both are (very small) parts of the User Experience as a whole.
Of course, there are other definitions. ISO standards are the quality specifications for defining reliable, safe and durable products and services. For this reason, in UX, Usability and User-Centered Design (UCD) we will frequently use ISO standards, and logically these standards include the definition of User Experience. In ISO 9241-210: 2010 , in the document entitled Ergonomics of human-system interaction – Part 210: Human-centered design for interactive systems we find the following definition, somewhat broader:
2.15user experienceperson’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service
Although the definition is short, it’s extended with the following three definitions:
Note 1 to entry: User experience includes all the users’ emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviours and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use.
Note 2 to entry: User experience is a consequence of brand image, presentation, functionality, system performance, interactive behaviour and assistive capabilities of the interactive system, the user’s internal and physical state resulting from prior experiences, attitudes, skills and personality, and the context of use.
Note 3 to entry: Usability, when interpreted from the perspective of the users’ personal goals, can include the kind of perceptual and emotional aspects typically associated with user experience. Usability criteria can be used to assess aspects of user experience.
As you can see, the definition is already much more complex (no one ever said that ISO standards were easy!). And yet, still incomplete; or maybe a little vague.
Just to give a slight glimpse of the hundreds of definitions, let’s see what Wikipedia says about the User Experience:
In commerce, user experience (UX) is a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. It includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency. User experience may be subjective in nature to the degree that it is about individual perception and thought with respect to a system. User experience varies dynamically, constantly modifying over time due to changing usage circumstances and to changes to individual systems as well as to the wider usage context in which they operate. In the end, user experience is about how a user interacts with, and experiences, a product.
This definition is more or less correct but quite old, usually used in Computer Systems careers. However, coming from Wikipedia, is a definition that we will hear really often.
Finally, among so many definitions, I add mine:
The user experience is the sum of subjective perceptions that a person has about a product, service or system designed to create or satisfy a need.
As can be seen, my definition is simple and based on psychological and economic theories. Personally, I believe that any definition that does not contemplate psychology as a main part of the user experience is going to be erroneous or incomplete, since such experience is going to be based on measurements on these subjectivities.
In the same way, in the vast majority of cases we will try to satisfy or create a need , it is important that this concept of need is present. In other words: The user experience that we are going to create has to have intentionality. Technically we can measure random or casually created systems, but we would not be creating anything, just measuring. And if that intention did not exist, then there is no user experience. As an example, we could well measure the effects of gamma rays in a given demographic sector and the perception that this target audience has about such effects. Although very interesting … To whom do we assign these effects? What can we do to change it? Who is responsible for these changes if necessary? It is easy to see that the answer is nonsense.
To be User Experience, AT LEAST the following elements must be considered:
- User: Who do we direct our efforts to in designing a user experience?
- Experiencer: Who creates the experience. It’s a neologism I’ve invented, from the definition in Portuguese of experimenter , they may use other techniques but personally I like it for being short and understandable
- Intentionality: The reason why we undertake the process
- Design: The way the process is developed, including previous investigations and afterwards results measurement.
This list is very minimal for the complexity of the tasks to be performed in a correctly implemented user experience design process, but none of these elements should be missing. Otherwise, the process itself would be meaningless and probably not more than a hypothesis at best.
In another article we will expand more on the subject, why it is important to validate and contrast perceptions against our design, how we do it and how we will use the different tools to create effective experiences