The art and science of UX, or user experience, is becoming a topic that lots of people are talking about—but most of us don’t know the details, how UX can help, where to use it, and what it really is, specifically when we talk about using it to design the library or knowledge portal for an information intensive organization.
What is UX and how is it different from UI?
What we first have to get straight is the difference between UX and UI. These two terms often get misconstrued. UI, or user interface, is a complementary component of UX but represents only the design elements—the “look and feel.” The concept of user experience (UX) is far more encompassing. Not only does it represent the components of design; it particularly tackles how design pairs with functionality and user behavior. I recently read an analogy that I think brilliantly describes this: UI is like the saddle, the stirrups, and the reins; UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse and rope the cattle.
Where UX can benefit your organization
Now that we know more about what UX is, let’s talk about where we would want a well-designed user experience. Well, your library or knowledge management portal would be a great start. When our clients are struggling with low user adoption, we’ve often found that it’s not because their content is uninteresting or irrelevant—it’s simply that the user experience is lacking. One of the common misapprehensions is the assumption that users like to search; this simply is not true. Actually, the majority of users prefer an experience that offers the ability to discover content or have content pushed to them— rather than just providing an empty search bar.
Techniques for developing a better UX
A great UX helps uncomplicate (not simplify) the process of moving from task to result. So how can we improve the UX for a library user? One method is the use of ethnographic techniques and observations that can help you create a more human-centered design without asking the user what they want. (Surprise! People don’t know what they want.) There are many ways to gather this type of information. Luckily, most of the techniques are pretty easy to adopt.
You can always start with observation. Yes, I know we don’t all want to be creeping on people from afar, and luckily we don’t need to. As long as you can pull analytics on how your users navigate your portal, you can start mapping out their behaviors.
If you have access to your users, another useful technique is to have them take you on a tour of the library portal and let them show you how they do research. Using this information, you can start to understand and develop a better UX.
Designing the UX
User experience decisions should be evidence based. The more data you have, the more insights you can develop. With that in mind, it’s important not to get too stuck on gathering data—at some point you need to design the darn thing.
Design has a huge impact on how users feel about their experience and accounts for 94% of first impressions. That can be intimidating, especially considering everyone seems to have a different idea of what constitutes good or bad design. The best way to master the design aspects of your UX is by taking an incremental approach based on empirical evidence. There is no best way to design something, and every change you make needs to be tested. Design can take time, but there are plenty of resources out there to help refine your visual style and palette. Here is a huge list of design tools that you could use.
Just remember, designing an amazing UX is an iterative process, and requires various approaches. Don’t be afraid to fail (remember to record and learn from your failures), and keep trying.