As designers, we’d like to know what things contribute to a positive user experience, and what things contribute to a negative user experience, so we can work on building the former into our products and avoiding the latter. In other words, we want a list of “do’s and don’ts”.
There are many things that can cause users frustration and annoyance with software. The list of “don’ts” could become quite long, depending on how specific we get with particular problems.
Unfortunately, trying to capture and name the general things that make products enjoyable and easy to learn and use is a bit more difficult, and this list of “do’s” will tend to be much more general.
Firstly, we could say that a positive user experience is characterized by the absence of any of the problem factors that contribute to a negative user experience. If our list of “don’ts” includes things like unreliable behavior and a lack of prompt feedback, then a product probably doesn’t have a great user experience as long as these negative characteristics are present.
But we’d also like a list of “positive” characteristics associated with a good user experience, and the following list attempts to name some of these characteristics. Note that not all characteristics may apply to all types of products.
A product exhibiting a good user experience typically…
- is generally enjoyable and rewarding to use (and in the case of games, may even be addictive);
- enables high productivity and efficiency;
- enables the user to produce a good quality work product;
- enables and encourages the user to enter a “flow state”, i.e., a mental state of focus, concentration, and total immersion that engenders creativity, productivity, and satisfaction;exhibits acceptable performance (such as responsiveness);
- is visually appealing;
- is stable, reliable, and trustworthy;
- gives the impression that there is a logical, rational, intentional design behind it; and
- does not make the user feel incompetent, dumb, or embarrassed.
It should be noted that all of these are vague, subjective, and not easily measurable, and thus don’t lead themselves to easy checklist-style verification.
There are some cases where a product can have a rather poor interface, and yet users still rate their satisfaction with the product highly. This can happen, for instance, if the product facilitates enjoyable experiences, such as social interaction, or if the product is perceived as providing extraordinary value (especially if it is free). For instance, a free videoconferencing application lets geographically-dispersed family members stay in contact, and so even if the interface is poor, users may still highly value the application — it’s not so much the application that they’re focused on, but rather the emotional aspect of the social connection and interaction that the application lets them enjoy.