Now, now. I know I just threw a bunch of buzzwords at you. And you may even be thinking: “How dare this guy say that Good User Experiences don’t feel good”. But I don’t mean that UX can’t be enjoyable, that would just be a lie coming out of my mouth (or fingers, in this case.)
What I am saying, however, is that “Feeling Good” is not what a good User Experience is about. It can be a delightful side product, but it should not be the goal to aim for.
However, before I can illustrate my point any further, I’d like to tell you a story:
Drying your hands is a User Experience.
I was about to exit the bathroom (Author’s Note: This is how you start a story), and had just finished washing my hands, when I reached to use the hand dryer. At first, the device didn’t seem to be anything special, but something struck me as different: The air coming out of it was cold instead of warm.
The hand dryer was working perfectly fine yet, no matter how much I kept my hands on it (and yes, I am aware you have to scrub for it to work), I continued feeling like they were wet. Which, of course, wasn’t the case. And, when I tried switching to paper towels, I realized my hands were already dry, even if they didn’t feel that way.
This was when it hit me: I related having dry hands with them being warm(er). And the lack of temperature had completely changed my perception of the whole event.
I had just been on the receiving end of a bad User Experience.
What struck me as interesting, however, was how I had never before thought about drying my hands as UX. It was just something I did, an action that produced an expected result. And that was the way that things were meant to be, at least for me.
It wasn’t that drying my hands before was enjoyable. I just never had to think about whether or not it was so. And that’s really the point: Good UX isn’t easy to recognize, but bad UX? Everyone knows how bad UX feels like
Everyone knows how bad UX feels like.
As a professional, my eyes may be too used to design for them to accurately depict the average user (whoever that is.) But, they can still tell you something that is just as sad as it is true: as a consumer, I never really pay attention to good UX.
As a matter of fact, if I’m honest, the only user experiences I’ve ever noticed are the bad ones; the ones that got in my way and made me question why I even tried to do whatever action I was doing in the first place.
And, unlike the ones about good UX, these examples are actually easy to find:
- Most Doors.
- Links that make no effort to let me know I can click them.
- Kitchen Stoves with bad mapping.
- Session expire timers that turn my work process into a race against time.
- Overly complicated password rules.
All of these tools have one thing in common: They interfere with my attempts to perform a certain action. Which in turn, causes frustration in me as a user. And the result, is that they end up discouraging me from doing whatever it was that they were trying to help me do in the first place.
On the other hand, good user experiences are not so easy to point out. And that is because good UX blends perfectly into the task that you’re trying to accomplish.
Good UX is imperceptible.
I started this article by telling you that Good User Experiences were not meant to be enjoyable, or at least that being enjoyable wasn’t supposed to be their end goal. But I never really told you what they were supposed to be instead.
Let me correct that.
When I use my car, one of the best designed experiences I know, I’m not amazed at the act of driving it. I mean, driving my car is enjoyable in and out of itself, but only because the interface that lets me drive allows me to, with sufficient training, ignore it almost completely.
This is because the actual things that let me operate the car (the wheel, the levers, the pedals, etc.) are all designed in such a way that, once I know what I’m doing, I can pretend that they’re not there.
The end result is that my thought process isn’t “I’m turning my wheel so my car goes right”, but instead simply: “I’m turning right”.
And this direct mapping in between what I’m trying to do and the tools to do it, is something we should all strive for as UX designers.
Good UX is meant to be impossible to perceive, but that’s not because you don’t take part in it. Instead, you’re not supposed to notice it, because it’s designed to give you the feeling that things were always meant to be the way it presents them. And, why would you notice the ways things are meant to be?
Designing better User Experiences.
I’m never going to enjoy paying my taxes online, but that’s just because paying my taxes is not something I enjoy in the first place. What the page’s designer can do for me, however, is make the experience as easy and fast as possible, so I may get it over with without much pain.
This is why I believe trying to make every User Experience “feel good” is not what we should work towards. Instead, we should strive to help our users do whatever they intended to do in the first place.
Good UX shouldn’t strive to be enjoyable. The action in itself may be, but that can only be achieved if we, as designers, give the user the tools to perform it, and then get out of their way.
And the more we can blur the line in between the action they wish to perform and the tools we give them to do so, the better our experiences are going to be.