As a user experience (UX) professional, I’m frequently asked how I separate how I feel about a digital experience from my professional assessment of whether it is good or not. This question usually comes when someone is trying to improve a digital experience and are struggling to put their feelings into words. The simple answer is, there is no need to separate the two. Great experiences still ultimately boil down to the feeling they create. But I understand that articulating those feelings can be difficult. In this article, I offer a framework for non-UX professionals to evaluate user experiences. This framework will help you introduce common terminology that translates feelings into actionable feedback for designers. When evaluating any experience, the first step is to experience it from the end-user’s point of view, not your own. Those who create an experience are rarely the actual users. This is critically important and leads us into our first language lesson: Affect Heuristics — in short, how people react based on how they feel. Affect heuristics tells us that experiences need to be grounded in deep user research and designed in the context of the user’s current state of mind at the point of engagement. For example, understanding that users are coming to a support community already frustrated impacts how you go about crafting an experience geared toward reversing, not exaggerating, their frustration. Now that you have put yourself in the mindset of your user, you are ready to ask yourself the following questions. Each will help translate the feelings your experience conjures into actionable language. Is it easy? Users want an experience that is easy. Easy does not mean rudimentary, it means orchestrated. They want their problem solved. And they want it without having to work too hard. There are five UX concepts that help determine if an experience is as easy as it should be. Intuitive Design An experience has good Intuitive Design if a new user can deduct the purpose and value immediately. They know where they are, why they are there, and what they should do to get the most from it. In Action: Sherry lands on LinkedIn.com. She is invited to create a profile, then itemize her skills, then connect with colleagues, and then search for jobs. Sherry deduces that LinkedIn is a professional social network where she can promote her personal brand. Does your experience intuitively highlight its purpose and value? Visual Consistency Experiences, where users must adapt to new navigation or content, flows from one page to the next cause fatigue and abandonment because it’s just too hard. Consistency in visual design increases a users comfort and reinforces a brand’s identity as reliable. In Action: One selected state for all buttons or a standard representation of hyperlinks ensures users don’t have to re-learn established visual cues. Does your experience reward a user with the same outcome to the same behaviors? Gestalt Principles Users are hardwired to understand content that is organized in logical patterns and associations. The Gestalt Principles are used in great design to add context to seeming disparate items (e.g. images, text, iconography). It’s a nuanced topic. This article does a good job explaining it. In Action: When users see designed elements close to each other, such as an image of a person’s face above a line of text containing a name, it is assumed they are related, in this case, a headshot with identifying caption. Does your experience account for users’ natural inclinations for grouping? Cognitive Load Users can only observe, interpret, and digest so much information at one time. An experience with balanced Cognitive Load limits elements to an appropriate number. This makes interaction easier on the user by maximizing engagement but reducing complexity in comprehension. In Action: Whitespace (the empty space on a page) is frequently used by designers to offer users a mental break. Does your experience overwhelm your user? Design Engineering Experiences should feel natural whether presenting the minimum or maximum amount of data or content to the user. Design Engineering is a thoughtful approach that makes experiences look elegant across the spectrum of information presented. Holistically designed experiences are perceived to be easier and more satisfying to users. In Action: The fact that professionally designed experiences are preferred by users than those built by a developer is known as the Aesthetic-usability Effect. Does your experience place elegance on par with functionality? Is it fast? Speed applies not only to functional performance, but also the ability for a user to influence the duration of their interaction and decision making. While some may want to invest more fully in an experience and derive the full value, others will desire to move quickly to their desired result. There are three UX concepts that help users feel in control of their time investment. Simplified Decisions Great experiences transfer as many decisions as possible from the user to the technology. Whether it is limiting the number of options a user can perform or pre-selecting a default option, understanding common preferences and integrating automation significantly increases user satisfaction. In Action: Most air travel search websites allow users to select a checkbox “I prefer non-stop flights.” Do you know anyone who prefers one or more connecting flights? Nope. So, why even offer it as an option? Does your experience allow the user to focus on the decisions that matter most? Information Chunking Simplifying information by segmenting it into manageable chunks helps users make decisions faster and reduces user errors. Users prefer being guided through more steps each with a limited number of options than a single question with many selections. In Action: Selection error rate decreases and completion rate increases when users are taken through a series of pages offering a single question per page as compared to a single page containing all the questions. Does your experience enable quick decision-making? Instant Gratification Users are buoyed by experiences that allow them to perform actions that generate an instant reaction from the system. Consistent calls to action with a descriptive copy of what happens if the user takes action create rewarding interactions. In Action: Seeing a reassuring Sent! confirmation message immediately after hitting a Send call-to-action button. Does your experience give immediate feedback to selected user actions? Is it familiar? Users rely on familiar layouts or visual cues to make quick decisions. If you ever tried to navigate someone else’s iPhone you know how hard it is. On your own phone you don’t have to think where a standard app is, you just know. There are three UX concepts that help users by utilizing familiar elements. Common Metaphors Certain actions are used so frequently they become the baseline for user experience interactions. Understanding which elements of your experience require common metaphors because of their overwhelming familiarity is critical. In Action: When users take a familiar action like submitting a form and don’t get the response they expect such as confirmation message, they might feel puzzled and lose trust. Does your experience act the way users have come to expect? User Preferences Expectations are constantly evolving due to user experience enhancements to popular platforms. Following user preferences for which of these will stick and which can be ignored in favor of the current standard is important to maintaining a great experience. In Action: Twitter’s “pull-down to refresh,” which began as a feature in a single iOS app, is now nearly universally accepted as the way to update content streams delivered in real-time. Does your experience have the flexibility to integrate common interactions? Personalized Defaults Great experiences have a good memory. Being familiar with a user’s past behaviors, using those details to anticipate their preferred choices, and subsequently defaulting to those selections makes a user feel that the system knows them. This type of personalization simplifies engagement and increases satisfaction. In Action: When first signing in, movie services like Netflix or HULU allow customers to select movies, shows, and genres to further personalize the experience and deliver recommendations based on user preferences. Does your experience treat the user like an individual? Is it predictable? Great experiences create a compelling path to a fulfilling interaction that delivers the desired result. They are also designed to anticipate and prevent any possible errors that users may encounter. Users are guided to what’s next while being instilled with the feeling they are in control, even when things go wrong. There are two UX concepts that help make experiences predictable. Defined Expectations Misaligned expectations, confusion or a perceived lack of control creates negative sentiment and could lead a user to discontinue their engagement. An experience designed around clearly articulated expectations means a user won’t ever learn the hard way by committing an error. In Action: If you require logins and/or passwords with specific parameters, disclose that prominently to avoid user frustration. Does your experience remove anticipated friction points for your users? Providing Resolutions Users have very low tolerance for errors that don’t provide clear steps for resolution. Great experiences have predicted where users may encounter issues and can clearly communicate the possible reasons for an error and options for remediation. In Action: If a user happens to make an error while submitting a form, highlighting a field and explaining how to correct it in a soft manner will deescalate users’ frustration. Does your experience resolve issues as fluidly as it delivers results? Is it exciting? Users want experiences that are easy, fast, predictable, and familiar, but being too focused on those important elements can lead to a bad feeling — boredom. I was drawn to UX and Design because of how exciting the problem solving and innovation can be! New Approaches Great experiences offer something unique to their users. When users find a simpler or more valuable way to do something it creates a strong preference, especially when all other things are equal. In Action: Everyone has that one app they absolutely love and want to scream about! What’s yours? Does your experience offer something no other experience can? Innovative Ideas Revolutionary design shifts paradigms, creating experiences that change how people behave. Success requires users who are willing to be change agents matched with experiences that are worth that effort. In Action: Some ideas, however, don’t stick. While 3D TV seemed like a great idea, it never crossed the chasm. Does your experience move users into the future? Community-Specific Bonus Question: Do I want to re-engage? While applicable to any experience, engagement is especially relevant to online communities. Valuable experiences are the ones that keep users coming back, whether it’s to solve a specific problem or gain something new. There are four concepts that help bring users back for more. Gamification Using gamification to engage users creates stickiness in the short- and long-term, by adding an element of competition to their interactions. Challenges Arranging content consumption or other desired actions into compartmentalized missions keeps users engaged by demystifying what’s next. Set Completion When users are presented with the fact that they have already passed a few steps, they tend to return to complete them all. Rewards Recognizing user achievements results in perceived status, which contributes to answering “what’s in it for me?” and makes users feel good about themselves. Does your experience encourage users to return over and over again? Hopefully, this UX-vocabulary left you confident you can now give terminology to the feelings that you’re left with after a digital experience. By starting with the mindset of the user and asking yourself a series of directive questions, you can give actionable feedback to improve digital experiences. This article is in no way inclusive of all the aspects of great UX. I’m always willing to nerd-out about design and experience! Let’s talk about your digital experience and how 7Summits may be able to create the feeling your users are longing for. About Andre Andre Malske leads the User Experience and Design competency within 7Summits’s Experience Design Studio. In this role, Andre applies the Design Thinking methodology to solve complex client problems. Over the past 17 years of professional experience, Andre led the creation of award-winning experiences for Sea Ray, SRAM, Milwaukee Electric Tool, AVID, Nest, Hulu, SAP, Oracle, Experian, and many others.