What did you expect? Self-awareness in UX

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It’s hard not to get hung up on expectations. When something doesn’t go the way you want, or work the way you thought it should, it’s hard to be cognizant of this and step back. It’s hard for most people, and UX professionals are no different. Somehow, we have to make an appeal to our bigger selves to stop, have the presence of mind to observe what’s going on and then reflect on the expectations.

We have to pause and think about what we expected. Should we have expected whatever outcome didn’t occur? Maybe we ask ourselves what somebody was thinking when they created that app, or that product or that experience. How did they arrive at the conclusions that brought me this experience that you didn’t expect.

When you walk up to a doorknob, and quite unconsciously go to turn it… but it doesn’t turn… You stop, you think about what’s happening, maybe you reef on the door knob, maybe you pull on it, but the unconsciousness of the mundane activity has dissipated and now you’re consciously interacting with the door knob, which is now a problem, that you’re actively engaged in trying to figure out.

When you visit a website, you surf around, maybe you find what you’re looking for, but then unconsciously navigate to the top left corner to click a logo and get back to the homepage, but the logo isn’t a link, or worse there’s no logo, maybe even there’s no home button. Again, you come out of that, almost unconscious, state, awaken for a second and now you’re in problem-solving mode.  How the hell do I get back to the homepage?

These are only two examples, two extremely basic examples.

Now, think about this: The average user (read: most users) won’t go through the trouble-shooting phase, they won’t investigate further. They will, unconsciously, look for another door, X-out of the webpage, delete the app, etc… they’re using a tool to complete a task and the tool isn’t working. Between the speed of life and (almost subconscious) expectations we, as UX professionals, don’t get a lot of do-overs, or second chances with bad first impressions. We have to deliver on expectations from go and keep on delivering right on through.

Sure, there will be cases like Facebook and their bazillion news feed UI changes, and Twitter with all of their timeline changes, but the value for these organizations has been confirmed and delivered, first impressions have been had, so they have some flexibility… to a point. If you screw around with the users enough times you’re going to have an Internet Explorer situation on your hands and most people are just going to give up and move just as soon as they can, veritable monopolies notwithstanding.

So, in your own life, try to take notice. Try to be aware of your expectations. Are things working the way you want them to be? If not, what did you expect and why? This isn’t an article about user research or user testing, but really a an article on self-awareness, because that self-awareness is the greatest asset that a UX professional can have.

5 tips for a feel-good user experience

Armed with a buy-one, get-one free coupon he’d gotten over the weekend we passed over the hallowed threshold of a large, national chicken wings franchise. We were regulars. We’d been there before… many times, but this time, for one of us, lunch was going to be free, thanks to the aforementioned BOGO coupon…

Free wings = A good day – An ancient law of yore, I believe.

We sat. We ordered. Lunch came without incident and the idea of free wings made them that much more delicious.

Lunch bliss ensued.

The Bill came. BOGO coupon was presented.

Lunch bliss quickly unraveled.

So, it turned out that the BOGO coupon was worded badly. The server tried to clarify, but became increasingly frustrated and emphatic when stating that it wasn’t, in fact, a BOGO coupon, but some other kind of offer. Confused, we listened and continued our inquiry, at this point, for purely academic reasons, to try and understand the printed offer. Realizing the server was quickly becoming incensed and on the verge of making a scene, we paid up and left. Our bellies were full, with equal parts wings and resentment.

“Well,” I said to my lunch companion, “that was an extremely unpleasant experience.”

“Yes,” He said, as we walked in silence.

As a user experience practitioner, I couldn’t help but think about our experience and the words of the late Tom Magliozzi, from the NPR Show Car Talk where he said: “Happiness = Reality – Expectations”, but in what world do we live where there aren’t any expectations. No world that I’ve visited, that’s for sure! This led me to the think about how the experience could have been better, and so I came up with 5 tips for a feel-good user experience:

1.) Everybody has expectations

2.) Everybody wants to feel good

3.) Everybody wants to be treated well

4.) Everybody wants to feel important

5.) Everybody has to deal with reality

1.) Everybody has expectations
Can you deliver the goods? What do your users want? Have you done the research? Have you gotten to know them? Do they know what you offer and do they expect it? You have to know what your users are expecting. Without this critical knowledge you’ll always be in the dark where your users are concerned and it won’t take long for another organization to see what you’re doing wrong, improve upon it and put you out of business.

2.) Everybody wants to feel good
Can you make your users feel good? Can your product/service take a bad situation and make it better? Can your support staff? Is your service so good that your users feel empowered, recharged and delighted after an experience with your organization? Satisfaction is one thing, but creating happiness, or at the very least a very positive experience is another thing entirely. Are you up it?

3.) Everybody wants to be treated well
It’s easy to treat users well when things are going smoothly, but how is it when things aren’t going so well? User experience, as a discipline, didn’t come about to deal with things when everything is going well, but to reduce and/or work towards eliminating those areas of the experience that break down when things aren’t going well. Treat your users well.

4.) Everybody wants to feel important
Do your users feel important? Do they feel like they’re being heard and acknowledged? We’ve all heard the adage about how the customer is always right, but even when they’re not, do they feel like they’re right, or at least feel like their perspective is important and valued? If not, those customers won’t be customers for long. The adage about the customer always being right has always been a little tongue in cheek behind the product/service curtain, but the user doesn’t need to come behind the curtain, they just need to feel important.

5.) Everybody has to deal with reality
The old marketing bromide states, thusly: Perception is reality, but sometimes reality is a bummer. It’s hard to integrate considerations for dealing with reality into the user experience, but we have to try. Those conditions in which a user comes to us are the conditions that we need to prepare for. Through quantitative and qualitative research we can learn what our users are trying to do to and how they’re interacting with our product or service and meet them where they’re at. We have to. It’s our responsibility.

These are the 5 tips for a feel-good user experience. Each one, in an of itself, will not make for a feel-good user experience, but together, combined, they come very close to perfecting the user experience. Even if you don’t think of everything the first time through, with ongoing refinement you can get darn close to perfecting an experience.

If our server or the large national wings franchise had any of these 5 tips for a feel-good user experience in their service arsenal this experience would have been dramatically different. However, most organizations are like the large national wings franchise with employees not unlike the server. Thing is, there are a lot of places making wings and a lot of out-of-work servers, and perhaps most importantly a lot of organizations working to create feel-good user experiences. There can be only one; which do you want to be?