What are the components that make a great user experience?

These components can be ordered in a hierarchy or pyramid, with the most essential at the foot and the ultimate at the top. Let's examine this hierarchy, which is taken from Econsultancy's Best Practice Guide: User Experience and Interaction Design for Mobile and Web.

hierarchy of ux

Viability

Is the system capable of achieving the job that the user wishes to perform?

This seems a pretty basic requirement, but the user may not be trying to accomplish the task that the authors of the system intended it to be used for. For example, a ‘description’ textbox on a database system may be used for storing addresses, dates of birth, etc.

UX is all about the job the user intends to perform. A system must have a viable UX for that task to be performed.

Consistency

Next up is consistency - does the system approach solving the same kinds of problems in the same way throughout? Steff Aquarone and Will Grant, authors of Econsultancy's UX and Interaction Design Guide, give several examples of consistency in UX:

  • All dates are entered using the same date picker control.
  • All binary (Yes/No) decisions in the system are entered using a toggle switch.
  • Every page of the system has the same header menu and page footer.
  • Terms are used consistently e.g. ‘Log In’ vs. ‘Sign In’.
  • All multi-line textboxes will automatically expand as you type more text into them. 

Predictability

Can users doing an unfamiliar task predict where and how to complete that task?

Where inconsistent systems will trip up users doing tasks they’ve done several times already, consistent but unpredictable systems will only trip up users doing tasks for the first time.

Predictability is particularly important for onboarding and for passing transactional relationships. Some systems deliberately challenge the predictions of the user, in order to get their attention, but this must be done carefully to guard against attrition.

Friction and flow 

Over the entire customer journey, UX designers can structure the system to facilitate flow or create friction. Flow is used to promote certain actions and friction to highlight areas that might cause problems or do not meet business objectives.

Again, Steff and Will give some good examples of both flow and friction.

Flow

  • The Spotify mobile app has a ‘Running’ feature, which detects your running pace and plays a continuous mix of music that matches that tempo, meaning you can keep running and listening to appropriate music without touching your phone.
  • Contactless payments using payment cards without a PIN.
  • Smartphone fingerprint readers letting you unlock the phone without a passcode.
  • Facebook’s tagging feature detecting people’s names as you type. 

Friction

  • On an iPhone, sliding a web page down when there is no more content will allow the page to move a little, but then it springs back into place. Users implicitly know what this means.
  • ‘Advanced’ settings areas for configurations that should not be changed by inexperienced users. These help new users to not feel overwhelmed, while more experienced users can still change the settings if need be.
  • Finding the exits in a Las Vegas casino can be tricky.
  • Cancelling your account often involves making a phone call rather than clicking a button.

Brand 

Building an emotional connection with users is right at the top of the UX pyramid. This is where brands convey an identity or personality. Of course, these brand components are only appreciated if the rest of the UX hierarchy works well. They are also tricky to get right, but if done well can create loyalty and word-of-mouth.

Examples range from Twitter's 'fail whale' page to Netflix's personalised suggestions and even comparethemarket.com and its cuddly meerkats. 

For a heck of a lot more information on the principles of UX design and how to instill a culture of UX design within your own business, download Econsultancy's Best Practice Guide: User Experience and Interaction Design for Mobile and Web.

Ben Davis

Published 1 March, 2017 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Deputy Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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