Why UX should mean User Expectations

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As UX professionals there’s little that we do that isn’t steeped in expectations. Sure, we can have high-minded discussions about design, the vision of Steve Jobs, and of course Henry Ford’s ideas about faster horses, but what we’re really talking about are expectations. Whether we’re talking about the expectations around the speed or performance of a website, app or product or around the design, functionality and usability of those offerings. There’s just no way around it. That’s why, for my part, when I think about UX, I think of it as user expectations rather than user experience and I think that you should, too.

Think about it — Many of the practices that make up the discipline of user experience are, in fact, centered on establishing user expectations. Whether, we’re talking about personas, use-cases or journey maps, these all revolve around establishing user expectations. Additionally, user-centered design, which is really at the core of UX is all about getting a user’s perspective on what they expect through research and iterative development, ultimately delivering on user expectations.

It’s all about expectations.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the term ‘manage expectations’. For a long time, I thought of it as almost a pejorative perspective, like I had to sell something that wasn’t quite up to what a user wanted, and at times that’s exactly what I had to do. At other times, though, especially when I could get in front of a project or an initiative before it got off the ground, managing expectations became something entirely different. The managing of expectations became a practice in determining expectations, researching user needs and making them part of a product vision.

Many organizations still try to manage expectations as “requirements” during this phase of a project (waterfall), but the speed at which a project tends to move and the maturing realization that not everybody can visualize what they want in a software, app, etc… 6-12 months before they ever see even a paper prototype (show don’t tell) has increased the need to undertake UX in a different way. Many organizations are doing this as “lean UX” or building a UX approach into some form of agile software development. In my experience I think that we have a ways to go here, but were on the right track.

The right track being the maturing of the UX discipline and building out that discipline across organizations to capture user expectations and include them as part of the product vision… That’s why, for me, as a UX professional, there are times when the work that I’m really doing is researching and establishing user expectations, that work alone, defines the user experience, and for that matter designs the user experience, too. After all, if you don’t know what the user expects how can you design a user experience that suits those expectations?

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