I’ve heard many marketers name “better user experience” as a 2012 interactive initiative, but I’m not sure that they understand what user experience is – or the fact that their design team (or worse yet, the person saying this herself) may not be qualified to analyze and improve the site’s “user experience.” This proclamation is often accompanied by words such as mobile, dynamic, depth, engaging, and interactive. What these people fail to understand is that user experience is an expertise, and it’s not the same as being a great graphic designer or digital specialist.
A user experience architect is like an advanced cartographer with an in-depth understanding of the habits and assumptions of its intended audience. He needs to anticipate the user’s every move and lead them in the right direction, even if the user makes the wrong choice. Online, this translates into organizing content into a functional format that users can understand and respond to appropriately. It does not necessarily mean that the architect will create something “creative” or “dynamic,” but it will be simple and easy to understand. And that’s beautiful.
To best express why everyone is not inherently capable of being a UX architect, here are a few examples of things you encounter in everyday life that user experience, as a field, would deem preposterous:
- People who have a voicemail greeting that does not clearly explain who the owner of the phone is, who they would like to receive a voicemail from, what information to leave, and when the person can expect to hear back – all in under 30 seconds.
- People who leave a voicemail that does not clearly explain who they are, their intention in calling, the timeline in which they need a response, and ways in which the person may contact them in return.
- Drivers who turn without signaling.
- A dinner in which the organizer tells everyone to show up at 7 p.m., and three out of the four people are late. The organizer is the fourth.
- At a restaurant, having to ask for cream when ordering coffee.
- Having unorganized piles of paper in, on, or around your desk.
- A lack of labels on things that should be labeled, such as Tupperware in a shared company fridge.
- Email signatures that include forms of contact that the owner never will respond to and/or check.
- Restaurants that do not print prices on the menu for alcoholic beverages.
- Tiny spaces in parking garages that only a Smart Car could fit into without getting dinged.
- Tollbooths that only accept exact change.
- People who talk around things, making it harder for an objective to be achieved or an idea to be understood.
In short, user experience is an expertise and it takes skill. As a species, we’re not that good at it. Collaborate with an expert when you need to make sure your map has anticipated all possible human expectations, thought processes, and actions or inactions. Anticipating your users may defy logic – and that’s what you need to do.