Are these the apps you’re looking for?

What? When? Where? Why? How? Who?

These are all seemingly simple questions with complicated answers. These are also questions at the core of UX, at the core of creating effective user experiences. As a UX designer on the services team here at Mendix, I work with teams to create applications that help both their organizations and end users meet their goals.

“A man looking up at the Milky Way and stars at Goblin Valley Road.” by  Greg Rakozy  on  Unsplash

“A man looking up at the Milky Way and stars at Goblin Valley Road.” by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

User experience — UX — is a term that continues to be a popular in the technology and design industries. Despite its popularity, many are unsure what UX means and how to use the term correctly. You’ll often hear it referenced when talking about digital interfaces, like those in websites or mobile apps. While that’s not incorrect, a deeper view into UX is crucial for a deeper understanding of what UX is and why it’s important.

For the past couple of months, we have been holding UX workshops with teams in our Boston office to raise awareness of UX practices and how they can help us work better with our clients and deliver successful applications.

In our most recent session, we reviewed what drives UX, its relationship to UI, and how it can drive the creation of successful applications.

UX touches upon all the ways someone views and interacts with a company, product, or service. Successful UX fits the needs and story of not only a client, but also their end users — the ones using the application. The happier we can make those users, the happier our clients can be. As technology advances and it becomes easier to create applications, successful UX differentiates from the competition.

Mapping of UX Competencies ( Kobie Marketing, Inc. )

Mapping of UX Competencies (Kobie Marketing, Inc.)

o what is the difference between UX and UI?

These two terms are often mentioned together. While they are connected, they mean different things. When we say “user experience,” we’re referring to how people interact with a product, whether it be online or in the physical world. It touches upon all the ways someone views and interacts with a company, product, or service.

UX is often incorrectly used to mean Visual or UI design. For many people, the word “design” means graphics and, but UX is different. UI — user interface — describes a mode of communication between a person and a system. With the rise of personal computers and mobile devices, this term is generally used to refer to graphical user interfaces (GUI), in other words the look and feel, the presentation, and the interactivity of a digital product.

Though UI is an important part of UX, they aren’t focused on the same things. UX looks at the context and function behind the visuals, the process that makes a product work well for those using it and help them achieve their goals. It bridges the gap between how something how something works, how it appears, and how it feels.

What? When? Where? Why? How? Who?

With that in mind we reviewed some questions that help bridge that gap and are helpful when talking with clients and scoping out projects:

  • Who are your users?

  • What are their goals and motivations? Their fears or obstructions?

  • What is their story?

  • What’s going on around them?

  • How are they going to use your product?

  • What’s important to them and critical to their success?

  • Which tasks should users be able to finish quickly and efficiently?

  • What are major pain points?

  • What needs aren’t currently being met?

  • What data to you currently have?

  • How would the business define success? How do your users?

  • What’s the one thing we must get right to make it worthwhile?

They don’t encompass all of UX, but keeping questions like these in mind, and asking them as part of your process, can help you deliver successful experiences. This line of questioning helps define your user, learn about their context, prioritize tasks, and define metrics and measurable objectives.

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

UX isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s not something you just add to a project. It’s a process. Though the questions asked might be same, the answers are always different.

Because it was May the Fourth (“Star Wars Day”), we took the opportunity to make our workshop Star Wars themed. With that in mind, we asked these questions, defined our user — in this case a Stormtrooper — and created a quick persona around them.

Our Stormtrooper Persona

Our Stormtrooper Persona

Personas help to understand your users’ needs, experiences, behaviors, and goals. For UX, personas are meant to create reliable and realistic representations of your key user segments. They are generalizations based on commonalities and trends, not a specific person. They are reference points. They guide your ideation and help you to achieve the goal of creating a good user experiences for your target user group.

For an actual project, they would be based on collective knowledge gained by user research. For this activity, we relied more on collective knowledge from the Star Wars movies to describe a stereotypical Stormtrooper. We used the movies to inform us on their story, what motivates them, how they interact with people, and to get a general idea of what their context and daily activities are.

Our use case found through user observation (Star Wars, via Giphy)

Having defined our persona, we found a need to build an app around: Helping Stormtroopers find the droids they’re looking for.

Collaboration is key to our process when developing apps with Mendix. Now that we had our user and their story defined, we discussed and mapped a user journey for our Stormtrooper persona. By mapping out their story, we were able to anticipate needs and brainstorm interactions.

Our SA team sketching wireframes on the whiteboard

Our SA team sketching wireframes on the whiteboard

By having asked those questions and documenting our persona, we were able to point to the insights they provided to help us make decisions and find ways this droid finder app could fit into their lives, help them solve a problem, and achieve their goals. With their story in mind, we were able to wireframe screens and walk people through our proposed app.

If there was doubt about a feature or flow (What information should they see first when assigned a task? Should they be able to report to superior? When is a task done, etc.), we were able to discuss our ideas in the context of our user and their story. The ideas that best fit their story are the ones we stuck with.

When you make this part of your process, you can create experiences and services you’re your users will enjoy and, well, use. More than ever, users expect a lot from brands. Each product must provide a good user experience. Delivering a great user experience is a crucial component to any initiative. Forrester Research reports that “on average, every dollar invested in UX brings 100 in return. That’s an ROI of 9,900%.”

Through collaboration, through asking these questions, and through focusing on your users, you can create effective user experiences. With UX and a user-centered approach, you can deliver the apps your users are looking for.

A version of this is posted on the Mendix Blog

One of the best parts of this one was when hearing people correct themselves when they got into discussions of UI and UX and discussing aloud what actually made sense for the use case and person they were designing for.

Nick Di Stefano