Not Evangelism

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

User Experience is About Layers

What Makes a Great Experience?

What makes for a great meal out? Or, to frame the question a little more specifically, a great dining experience?

Think of the last really enjoyable meal you went out for; the last really memorable time. What made it so great? There's the food and drink, obviously, but there's also an awful lot more. Was your experience affected by the atmosphere, the surroundings, the ambience? How about the company at your table, your fellow diners?

How easy was the restaurant to find? Was there good parking? How were you greeted? Welcomed? Seated? What was the dress code? Did you feel out of place? At ease? Welcome? Relaxed?

Did you like the way the tables were set? The cutlery, the glassware? Were the napkins paper or cloth? Paper, polyester or cotton?

Were the staff courteous when you asked questions? Helpful? Attentive to your needs? Was service timely?

What about cleanliness? Were there any marks on the wine glasses, on the tablecloths, the cutlery? How were the toilets/restrooms? The bar?

And what of the food? Did you like the presentation, the flavours, the quantity, the choice, the flavour? Or perhaps the seasonality of it? The details about where it was sourced?

And then there's the price...

Experiences are Built of Layers

In short (too late?), the dining experience - like any user experience (whether on the web, or in the physical world) - is about layers of detail, about layers of attention to detail (or what Eric Reiss calls a series of interactions). Some of these layers deal with the Big Stuff: the style of food, the topic and content of a website. We might relate these to the structure, scope and strategy elements of a website.

Other layers are much finer, and it's these layers that make the difference between a good experience and a great experience. These are what users notice when everything else is working well.

In a restaurant, some diners will immediately notice what to others are irrelevant details, like the thickness of napkins. Others will be more concerned with the quantity of the food.

Similarly, some website users will notice spelling mistakes, colour scheme or fonts more readily than others. Users are quick to notice those aspects of the experience that are specific to their own needs or interest; perhaps they have particularly large (or small) monitors, and so suffer from a fixed layout, or awkward navigation. Other users will have particular requirements, whether they be dietary or accessibility.

The fact is that all of the layers, no matter how fine, how seemingly trivial, contribute to the user experience.

As users become more sophisticated, the more they notice the finer layers; and all too often these are the layers that get ignored by designers and developers because they're too trivial, not important enough to spend time getting right. Sadly, they're often among the easier things to get right.

The difference between good and great is in the fine layers. After all, no one complains about correct spelling.

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