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Response to Garrett, “User Experience and Why it Matters”


Apple’s iOS home screen doesn’t look a lot different than it did when the iPhone was first released 6 years ago. Since 2007, the only real improvements to the home screen itself have been Spotlight search, the ability to create folders, and the Newsstand app’s sliding bookshelf. While other mobile operating systems such as Android are constantly changing and offer widgets, app drawers, live wallpapers, voice search and the like on their launcher screens, launch day Android looked a lot different than Android Jellybean. Also, each Android device looks and acts just a bit different than each other. The HTC Thunderbolt for example uses HTC’s Sense interface while the Samsung Galaxy S II uses Samsung’s TouchWiz interface. My ASUS SL101 tablet has the stock Android Ice Cream Sandwich interface but has some ASUS customized settings. The point is, if you have Android, you aren’t necessarily having the same experience as another Android user. If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, you’re going to be getting relatively the same experience on any of these devices, except for screen size. Apple is really good at this consistency.

Today we read the first two chapters of Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience, which introduced the concept of a User Experience and why it’s important. Garrett defines user experience as “the experience [a] product creates for the people who use it in the real world.” In Apple’s case, the iPhone is easy to use and intuitive to learn. Interacting with an iPhone is a pleasant experience, everything is smooth and flows well. You don’t have as much freedom to tinker with an iPhone as you could with an Android phone, and this means that it’s harder to break. Some parts of the iPhone experience are cryptic, such as the many uses of the home button, but in general Apple has created a finely-tuned user experience.

At it’s worst, a bad user experience can kill you. The Therac-25 radiation therapy machine is a notorious example of this, delivering fatal doses of radiation due to poorly designed software and a bad user interface. From the Wikipedia article:

The system noticed that something was wrong and halted the X-ray beam, but merely displayed the word “MALFUNCTION” followed by a number from 1 to 64. The user manual did not explain or even address the error codes, so the operator pressed the P key to override the warning and proceed anyway.

 While a badly designed website won’t give you radiation poisoning, it certainly won’t give you any business either. Garrett explained that if people have a bad experience on your website, they’re unlikely to return. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you probably won’t stick around for long.

The placement of web content matters as much as the content itself. Underneath the content is the frame of the page, and under that is the way that all the pages are organized. Garrett refers to these elements as planes, and all of these planes add up into a well-designed web product, and the more abstract planes form the basis for the more concrete ones. As with building a house, you should start with a good foundation and build up. If you have a good strategy and scope when building a website, it’ll make designing the structure, skeleton, and surface of the site a lot easier to build.

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