It is time to dissect the experience properly. I’ve been thinking of doing this for a while, going back and forth about UI not encompassing UX, but UX encompassing UI, and how it was so much more than just that. I’ve been too abstract about the non-UI parts of this, because UI is what people ask about the most, for obvious if unfortunate reasons. Today, I am going to look briefly at all of the important elements of user experience, including UI. This is to properly define user experience for everyone and to give a definition of user experience to those who might be confused. We’ll start with the elements of user experience with UI – user interface.
UI, GUI, interface, window … it has many vague names, all meaning the visual interactive elements that constitute the program as represented to and communicated with the user. To the user, it is the program, as well as the tools to operate and interpret its output. This is the most focused on, outside the user experience profession, because it’s the most raw, concrete and organic aspect. And, it is bloody well important, don’t get me wrong here. Designing a GUI that looks good, makes sense and is efficient to use is a very critical aspect of designing good software or other interactive media.
There is also the aspect of navigation. This isn’t actually directly a GUI issue, as it affects the GUI once decided upon. Flow or navigation determines the sequence of menus, actions and commands through which a series of repeated and common tasks are performed. This is usually tailored to make the needs of the function and the mindset of the demographic meet half way. It’s a compromise. This shapes a large part of the GUI.
Another defining aspect is complexity. Flow is shaped by this and is what encompasses the difficulty to learn and operate the software. A program with a high level of complexity by this metric’s definition is something like high-end 3D modeling software, which is very tricky, involved to use, and imposing to learn. Easier software would be something like Sketchup, which lots of people with no 3D modeling experience find themselves able to pick right up and use with some success. The demographic determines this directly. If it is for a specialized and very highly professional application, as the modeling software usually is, then this complexity factor is less imposing. If it is for a general market to use readily, it becomes more of a strict variable, naturally.
Finally, I want to touch some design aspects which are too small to which to devote a point. One is installation or access, depending on platform. How difficult and tedious this is depends on that complexity variable. The same can be said for help. Making help easy to use and information easy to look up when confused is useful. Onboard tutorial frameworks on the help site can help with this significantly.
These are the main elements of user experience science. There are many smaller, less broad-reaching factors and variables, some self-sustaining, other tiny aspects of these main points. For now, let’s walk away with a good sense of what UX really is now. A concrete shape for this topic, so that I may discuss the many greater aspects of this beyond UI or vagaries in the near future.