User Experience Is More than UI Deep

Niamh Madigan

The clichê that "beauty is more than skin deep" applies to user experience as well. While the user interface (UI) provides the contact point between the system and the user, it only provides a piece of the user experience.

Today's focus on user experience focuses on the UI. Consider the typical roles in a user experience team.

  • Interaction Designer
  • User Researcher
  • Usability Engineer
  • Graphic Designer
  • UI Prototyper
  • Web Designer / UI Developer
  • Instructional Designer

Refer to the following for the responsibilities of the different roles. They heavily focus on the user interface:

The user interface is the tip of the user experience iceberg: While a pleasing user interface is important, consider a system that has a very pleasant looking UI with intuitive navigation. From the vantage point of the typical roles of user experience teams, the system may be considered a benchmark for user experience. If the system has security holes that leak private data, processes requests slowly, and has frequent outages, is the system providing a good user experience?

Building a great user experience is a holistic approach: If the current focus of user experience on the UI is flawed, how can we take a more holistic approach? The steps are akin to baking a cake.

  • Identify the context
  • Select the recipe
  • Use the correct ingredients
  • Use the correct equipment
  • Mix, sample, and check to ensure it turns out well
  • Add the frosting

Let's look at the steps in more detail.

Identify the context: A wise baker considers context before baking a cake. A couple getting married probably would not appreciate a fruitcake or a birthday cake. Similarly, the context of the intended user of a system is vital to the success of a system. The following are a few questions to start with when considering the context of the user.

  • Will the user be mobile or stationary?
  • Will the user be distracted or focused?
  • What role will the user play in the overall system?

A good understanding of the context of the user lays the foundation for a great user experience.

Select the recipe: After a baker considers the context, he or she selects the recipe for the cake. Similarly, a great user experience relies upon the correct recipe or strategy. The technology that starts to lay the foundation of the system must be considered. Would the user best be served with a native app, mobile web site, traditional web site, or a combination of them? Would exposing APIs to mash up into other systems be beneficial? What types of sensors would benefit the user?

That's just the beginning of the questions to understand what the user really wants.

Use the correct ingredients: The ingredients used in a cake determine the final outcome. If a baker chooses incorrect or poor ingredients, the outcome will be poor. A great user experience is the same. What ingredients need to be added to best service the user? Here are just a few of the multitude of ingredients to consider.

  • Personalisation to tailor the system and data
  • Location awareness
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Social networking
  • Multimedia
  • Data and sources of data
  • Resiliency with network connectivity issues
  • Speed and accuracy of responses to requests
  • Caching
  • Gestures for intuitive interaction
  • Icons
  • Animations to provide feedback
  • Sensors such as the accelerometer, compass, etc.
  • Geospatial plotting and manipulation of data
  • Charts
  • External accessories
  • Color to highlight, to elicit an emotional response, etc.

The list goes on and on.

Use the correct equipment: Using improper equipment can ruin a cake leaving it lumpy, under or overcooked. A great user experience can be ruined if the infrastructure is improper. Consider questions like the following.

  • Does it process fast enough?
  • Is it resilient enough?
  • Is it reliable enough?
  • Does it scale well?

Mix, sample, and check to ensure it turns out well: During the process of making a cake, a baker samples and checks it to ensure that it turns out well. Iterating works best when building a system or making significant changes to an existing one. Start with a minimum viable product as a target. Iterate through design, build, test, and learn. Make adjustments as needed. Sometimes you may have to throw it away and start over.

Add the frosting: Frosting adds the wow factor to a cake. Similarly, little touches take a good user experience and make it great. Consider the realistic page flip animation in iBooks and the presentation of the predictive search text in the Google app. Those details turn a good app into one that users talk about and make them feel good using.

User experience is more than UI deep: The entire system, from understanding the context to the infrastructure to the data to the UI, makes up the user experience. Get them all correct and your users will be delighted to use the system. Get any piece wrong and the user experience degrades.

The next time you see your database administrator, your network engineer, or anyone else with hands on your systems, thank them for being part of your user experience team.

Written by Tim Hundt, Senior Enterprise Architect ã?? Experience Solutions & Innovation, GE Capital

More information available on slideshare

Categories: user experience, user interface, data, social networking, apps, multimedia, social networking


At GE Capital - Americas, Tim Hundt leads a team responsible for setting strategy and standards on mobility, web, APIs, personalization, and the rest of the latest buzzwords. He also helps to transform the organizationã??s culture to one of innovation and forward thinking. Being a dreamer with his head in the clouds and his feet on the ground, he has delivered revolutionary software solutions for over 17 years.