User Experience vs. User Interface
"User experience" is a buzzword, and with buzzwords come overuse. Nevertheless, a great user experience is critical in today’s world, both offline and online. Disney has done user experience offline better than anyone well before anyone started paying attention. Apple brought forward the importance of user experience when it introduced the first iPhone.
A great user experience is more than a great user interface. User interface is what you see and how you interact with it, and is very important to a great user experience. The user experience is how you feel when using the product. For software, a great user experience starts with a great understanding of the users' needs. A software developer’s knowledge can greatly enhance or detract from the user experience.
At Geiger, when building new software or significant updates, we start with a vision statement about the project. In Agile methodology, this is known as a storyboard. Once we have the understanding of the vision, we build a prototype. A prototype allows a designer (or developer) to take the knowledge from the vision and translate it to a user interface before coding begins. The prototype focuses on how to present information in a productive and pleasant format.
Once the prototype is complete, we walk through what is expected when people click, hover or otherwise interact with the page. This is where the heart of the user experience begins. By delving into the expectations before code is written, developers and users alike can further improve their understanding of the outcome. In this phase, all the requirements that someone forgot to mention start becoming clear, and critical information gets shared. Developers also share options and limitations rather than just get frustrated with the user requirements. Once this dialog is complete, development can begin and limits (but does not eliminate) rework.
We occasionally have to compromise and choose function over form to create a great user experience even when we know there is a better user interface. However, we are more focused on the user experience so the compromise sometimes has to be made (but usually great user interface delivers great user experience).
User interface looks great in a demonstration, but doesn’t always deliver a great user experience. In fact, most software demonstrations will convince you that the software is perfect for your business because it has all the features you need and looks fantastic. Once you try to use the software you will discover your user experience.
Whether you build or buy your next software, focus on the user experience and not the user interface. Take the time to build a prototype when customizing or building software and take the time to think through your real use cases in both the build and buy scenarios.