UX: a developer’s perspective
In the last 6 months, I’ve become aware of the sheer size of User Experience (or ‘UX’) as a discipline in its own right – and more importantly its relevance to my day-to-day work as an front-end web developer. As a recognised facet of web development (although it reaches father than that), it’s never been more widely acknowledged–in part, due to a profileration of articles and blog posts by key industry figures (such as Ryan Carson, and Andy Budd, both of whom sparked long discussions on the subject).
With the field enjoying an upswell in awareness (not to mention relevance today), I felt that it would be a useful practise to take what I’ve learned, spread it out, and hold it up to the light – to work out the implications of UX to web development, and how we got to where we are today.
UX stands for User eXperience (presumably because things with an ‘X’ in them sound more cool); to quote Wikipedia, “UX is… how a person feels about using a system“. This is perhaps overly simplistic as a summary, but gives a good indication of the ambition and scope of UX.
The entry continues, “User Experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspecs of Human Computer Interaction“. What becomes apparent here is that a) UX is highly subjective, applying as it does to how a user ‘feels’ about a system, and b) that UX is by no means limited, conceptually at least, to the field of web design.
How we got here
Other design mediums (such as consumer product design, and interior design) have been ‘experientially focussed’ for some time: the fact that web design is now undertaking a similar progression is simply a sign of a maturing medium–one that has figured out its strengths and capabilities, and has solved the core issues relating to its weaknesses, limitations and format.
In the process of characterising UX, I have come to see it as the result of such progression:
1. Technology and design
Initially, during the early years of the web, the focus was on the mechanics of the web, and the new and emerging tools that developers were wielding to build this shiny new medium. The key goal were to create attractive interfaces, based on pre-existing design principles (ported over from other mainstream mediums, such as television & publishing).
2. Design patterns
As the medium began to evolve, an awareness of patterns in user behaviour emerged. As well as build upon user expectation, designers and developers experimented to forge new conventions, and new metaphors that suited the medium: metaphors that sought to create bridges between old mediums and the new interactive capabilities of the web.
3. Usability and Accessibility
As user tracking and metrics developed, it became possible to measure, evaluate and refine user interactions. Tasks became goal-driven, as the modular nature of the web developed.
4. User Experience
User Experience seeks to optimises how the user perceives an interaction. As websites have become a cornerstone of business & advertising strategy, UX is a way of binding together the (sometimes conflicting) interests of multiple stakeholders, and moulding a consistent and high-quality experience across multiple channels.
What you can do
People who excel at UX will be inquisitive, empathetic, and above all dissatisfied with the interactions they experience every day (I’ve read that a good UX designer should be ‘in a constant state of frustration’ with the world, and ‘seek to improve it one interaction at a time’ ).
Not everyone will be naturally skilled in these areas: building skills like these take time, and involves patience and observation. But that shouldn’t put you off; taking the time to challenge and dissect the interactions you experience can (and will) lead to a much greater satisfaction with the things you build–simply because you know that you can connect with your users at a much deeper, and more effective level.
Keep in mind the following points when designing and building websites:
- Think holistically. With every page in a site, remember that it represents the whole, and should be designed as such.
- Discuss interactivity. A disconnect between design and technology is common; bridge the gap, and involve the designers in discussions about how the website responds to user input.
- Be consistent. Reinforcing user familiarity across a site breeds trust in the user–invaluable in crafting an effective experience.
Here’s a collection of sites & blogs that I read in relation to UX, all of which have all been very useful in framing UX as a discipline (and putting UX into context for me personally). from the list below, I’d recommend both UX Booth and 52 Weeks of UX especially.
- UX Booth: http://www.uxbooth.com/blog/
- 52 Weeks of UX: http://52weeksofux.com/
- UX Magazine: http://uxmag.com/
- Boxes and Arrows: http://www.boxesandarrows.com/
- UX Matters: http://www.uxmatters.com/ (Usually quite long, but very comprehensive articles – worth taking the time for)
- Think Vitamin: http://thinkvitamin.com/category/user-science/user-experience/ (Not a site about UX specifically, but they have a collection of resources about UX that I’ve found useful)
Bookmark the permalink