User Experience design is not User Interface design and neither is an optional extra in product development
It is great that more and more clients now consider the user experience of their products to be critical to their ongoing success. It is nice to have witnessed attitudes change over the last five years or so as clients have realised what a difference a great user experience makes (largely influenced by the success that Apple have had, attributed to the excellent design and overall user experience of their products and their ecosystems).
What is not so great is that many organisations still seem to be of the opinion that designing their product’s user experience is something that they can do after they have built it. They confuse user experience design with the graphical bit of user interface design and incorrectly assume that both can be added at the end of a project build as the polish on top.
Both assumptions are wrong; user experience design and the graphical component of interface design are not one in the same. And neither should, or can successfully, just be added at the end of a product’s development as the “polish on top”.
The look and feel of a product’s interface plays a big part in the user experience of said product, but it is not the only thing to consider. There is also the product’s information architecture, interaction design, information design and navigation design to think about. The design of each of these elements should be driven by your content requirements and functional specification, which in turn should be guided by your user needs and product objectives. Once your product has been built it is too late to change all of these elements of its design.
You can’t add a great experience to a product that is already built to work in a specific way. A technology driven development process, where design is considered an optional extra to bolt on once you have built something is wrong. To create a great user experience for your customers, you need to be designing your product with them in mind from the start; for web based products that means you need to adopt a user driven approach to your development, designing your product’s interface, process flow and experience before developing the underlaying technology.
Jesse Jame Garrett was spot in his book The Elements of User Experience. To have a great final product with a great user experience you have to have been thinking about delivering that great user experience from day one of your project. You sow the seeds of success when you ask that first set of questions about what do the users of this product want and need? If you can’t tie every decision you make about what your product does and how it does it back to the answers of those simple questions, your user experience will not be a good as it could be, and no amount of polish will change that.