A happy tale of user experience design

Happy faces icons


Coming up with a topic for my blog debut activated the UX designer in me and led me to actually ask people: “If I’m going to write a blog post about design, what would you like to read about?” or “Is there anything in particular that interests you about design?”, “What do you normally read about when you go online?”

You see, recently I’m understanding how important it is to watch, analyse and interact with people. Before I was convinced I could just study and work from my dusty desk avoiding human contact as much as possible and praying for an opportune advent of the robot era. But now I know that’s not going to work.

As a designer, I made a vow: to improve people’s lives by designing their daily experiences, making the world more efficient, yes… making your day brighter too. And in order to do so, I have to talk to you, find out about your likes, dislikes, your behavior, your habits, your needs and the pain-points of your everyday life.

I must study people.

Good design makes your day brighter

What is all this talk about user experience. Why’s it so important?

First of all, because everyone is tired of those little useless and easily avoidable frustrations we incur while performing very simple actions. That door that I pulled instead of pushing, the queue for the ticket machine that didn’t accept my card, one more queue to buy a ticket from the human, struggling to find the correct platform and finally checking the information on the screen but hey, it doesn’t update…

This are just the first thirty minutes of what will be a very very long day. If someone removed that huge handle perhaps I would have pushed that door; an ‘only cash’ sign on the ticket machine would have saved my precious time; some clearer information would have merrily guided me to the right platform; and with ease I would have checked the status of the service on the screen.

Design matters.

Check out this fun TED talk from Don Norman, father of the user experience design, about design and happiness: http://www.ted.com/talks/don_norman_on_design_and_emotion

What happens on the web?

When websites are not responsive to our needs a simple task like buying a ticket online can end up being a nightmare. If we struggle to understand what to do and where to click, if the site doesn’t adapt to the device we’re using, or to our special needs, it’s very probable that we will never come back to that website. This is where good user experience design makes a huge difference: it converts visitors into customers and customers into loyal customers.

What is worse than missing out on customers, is that a bad experience makes us feel dumb, and this is totally unacceptable. It’s not our fault if we have misunderstood, if we’re lost, if we made an error. Nowadays we can happily say that’s the design’s fault. A good design has the duty to guide us and help us to reach our goals through simple steps, avoiding fear and stress.

So how can we make experiencing a website more enjoyable?

I try to keep in mind Jakob Neilsen’s 10 usability heuristics for user interface design.

The aim is to make sure users will never get lost, to make sure they’re never left alone without a clue of what to do, to never design an experience with a dead end*.

Before starting designing anything, I need to have a clear picture of who is my user and what the user flow will be.

I pay particular attention to those details that I call ‘reassurant’, keeping pedantic consistency between the pages and the elements of the interface, using words that can’t be in any way misleading, positioning calls to action where the user expects them to be.

It’s only after working on the structure that I can escalate to the surface level and start making my website look pretty.

Jesse James Garrett talks about the levels of user experience consisting of 5 planes: Strategy, Scope, Structure, Skeleton and Surface. His book is really inspiring and a very good introduction for everyone who’s approaching UX design.

 *I always keep in mind that the user journey doesn’t end with the last page I design. The process continues beyond those pixels and a good example is what happened to me last week…

There is life beyond those pixels (!!) – A little tale about user experience


I’ve recently moved. Last Saturday I was at my old place packing things when I got really hungry and, as my fridge was sadly empty, I decided to order some sushi.

I didn’t call the restaurant because obviously I was interested in trying out the process of ordering the food online. Many UX design ‘mistakes’ but the design and the language was quite friendly.

I filled in the form with all my information and delivery details until I got to that point where I had to leave some notes for the delivery guy. I knew my old place wasn’t one of the easiest to find: even Google maps is quite misleading. Normally I used to leave some notes like “Black door, on the roundabout” that rarely helped. But this time, I’ve decided to write a bit more. Something along these lines:

 “OK. Everyone struggles to find me. Let’s see if you can make it. My house is easier to access if you go to the end of XXX road and XXX road, where the roundabout is. You’ll see some work in progress on the street. The door is black and says 161 B C D. Good luck!”

The bell rang 30 minutes later. A guy with a helmet was handing me my well deserved meal. He asked me if I had written those notes. With a bit of apprehension I said ‘Yes’ and I thought ‘Oh no, maybe he got offended because finding the place was easy enough and he feels I treated him like an idiot!’ But suddenly he said: ‘I’ve done this job for 20 years, these are the best delivery notes anyone has ever written. They are fun. It was like a game! And it would have been really hard to find this place otherwise.’ He gave me a big smile.

I’ve ordered food for less than 20 years, but that was the first time someone delivered to me in such a happy mood. I was happy I made him laugh, and I was happy I didn’t have to chase my food around the neighborhood.

 A win win. Great user experience.

So… what was your best experience this week?

PS: What were the results of my little user research about this blog post? Well, given that my sample group consisted 99% of software engineers, they asked me to write about… colours. Maybe next time.

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