Putting the U in UX

We bandy round the term ‘UX’ or ‘User Experience’ quite freely, but what does this actually mean? Often people talk of ‘good UX’ and refer to examples where the experience is obviously very good but there are few examples actually shown that demonstrate why ‘UX Design’ is so important.

Firstly, let me state what I believe good user experience design is. Quite simply it is designing with the end user in mind, so that what they see and use is intuitive. It is very easy to design and build something that is completely functional but actually very difficult to use. It is even easier to design something that is incredible to look at but the average user has next to no idea how to use.

So lets look at how problems arise when this approach is not taken. I have a phone contract with EE and having received some junk mail from them recently decided to use their online portal. We’ll put aside the issue whereby clicking on their link loaded a dead page. After a stroppy tweet to them it seemed to be working again. But having logged in problems soon started to arise. The main task I wanted to achieve was to see when I could upgrade my phone. This is where the problems started.

EE1

You can’t really fault the general design of the page. It is neat, easy to see, on brand and attractive. However, there is no where obvious on this screen that states that my portal is currently restricted, except for the small ‘Access Level: Restricted’ link in the account details section. This would be useful except that clicking the information icon doesn’t do anything!

So I carried on along my merry way and clicked on the upgrade options link. This loaded a new screen:

EE2

Success, this is what I want. Except that when I click on any of the links literally nothing happens. And to make things worse, most of the navigation items in the header also don’t seem to work. It was only when I did a print screen that the prompt text appeared giving some information that my account needed to be activated, but that didn’t even fit onto the screen properly.

Having stumbled blindly upon the problem I then returned to the account details screen and found the small link that allowed me to upgrade my account to full access.

EE3

But even now problems occurred. Having put my account number in, which seemed a bit of an odd step to have to take seeing as I was already logged into my account, I clicked OK and nothing seemed to happen. There was no on screen acknowledgement and the content just got blanked. I then input the details again and then on clicking OK it said that the account was already activated. I returned to the account details screen to see that it did indeed now say I had full access. I was then able to discover that I wasn’t yet eligible for an upgrade (sigh).

This experience is a classic example of how little things have big impacts when it comes to user experience. This isn’t the snazzy, sexy, all signing and dancing type of UX, it is the practical kind that almost all of us come into contact with. EE have spent a huge amount of time (and no doubt money) creating a nice brand, but they let themselves down massively here by simply ignoring the simple things. An absolute basic is to give on screen prompts, help and information that works and is obvious. I am a very savvy user and yet I found this frustrating and difficult to use. Less savvy people would no doubt have been on the phone to the helpline or simply would have given up.

The EE portal site is a classic example of where even 30 mins of user testing and IA input would make this experience so much better. It is a lesson we should all learn from. UX is not just about the big things, it is fundamentally about the little things. A seamless experience is created when a user feels they have everything they need to do the task simply. In the case of EE the site is clunky and has bugs and they have tried to just ‘tick the box’ for things like prompt messages, when they should have actually dealt with them properly.

As web designers it is our responsibility to put ourselves in the shoes of the users. That is hard when you are attached and close to a project for a long period of time, which is why user testing exists. It doesn’t take long to do, but it will make a world of difference to the users.

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