A new boss once said to me, “I suppose you’re a bit of a gadget man, then?” I wasn’t and never really have been, except maybe a bit as a kid. I wondered if I ought to be. I wish then that I’d had the clarity of mind to say, “No, and it’s precisely the fact that I’m not interested in the latest thing or the coolest piece of technology that I’m passionate about delivering a positive user experience.” Oh well, benefits of hindsight. I would go as far as to say that the ultimate goal of user experience is technological invisibility. People only really care about content: finding something out or putting something in: the latter, usually to complete a task.
The bare truth is that the only people that care how good your website or your app are, are the geeks, the gadget chasers and, perhaps, the competition. In other words, if you love technology then it could well be that you’re not best placed to deliver user experience. The technology is the enabler and the latest isn’t necessarily the greatest. For example, pushing a product to only work on HTML 5 and being dismissive of those that don’t have the latest web browser is the kind of technological ignorance and snobbery that is suprisingly prevalent. You can actually exclude users and give them a worse experience: but you got to play with your new toy (I hope it was worth it). As with other areas of life, it’s what you do with it that counts. It’s more mindset than toolset, to keep up the analogy.
It’s actually very liberating when you face up to the simple and what-should-be obvious truth that users want one or both of two things: data out or data in (other than playing games maybe.) When you see it that way then you realise that the system/website/app/whatever will either facilitate this or just get in the way. And that is user experience. In fact, you may not even deliver a system/app, you may just give users the data if they already have the technology and a familiar interface…and if you really care about what they want rather than doing what you want.
When I was designing a corporate user experience strategy for a global company I shied away from saying this: perhaps because it still wasn’t crystal clear to me then. I wanted to say something about making systems invisible or making them facilitate access to information or the completion of tasks. For me, that’s the nub of it, that’s precisely what user experience is. No one wants to see your hard work, they just want the end result. Information technology begins with information for good reason, yet everyone focuses on the system. Technologists love systems, versions and upgrades and users even rate systems for the quality of data, which is invariably due to processes and governance that have little or nothing to do with the system.
And, by invisibility, I don’t mean that it doesn’t matter what a system looks like or getting your online branding right isn’t important. I completely support the idea of design in the fullest sense: something should work well and look great. A symmetrical home page with clear calls to action will not appear as such – it will just appear easy to use. No one (except geeks, early adopters, etc.) will ever sit down and analyse why your site/app/etc. is so damn beautiful that it delights them. All people will tell you is that it works well and, yes, if you push them, that it looks the part and is nicely laid out. The point is this: the site/system/app bit is the frame but the information or the task is the picture. And once you start to see things that way then you know what your real objectives are: speed and ease, information and task, nothing else. The means by which you get there will be hard work, demanding and challenging (if you do it right) but invisibility is the ultimate, seemingly contradictory, goal. And, ironically, it is invisibility that that will make you or your organisation memorable and give you strategic differentiation, user adoption or whatever is your main business goal. The rest is just noise.