This is the first post in a series of interviews exploring some of the fundamental questions in our field, like what user experience design (UX) is and why it matters to you. In this article, I’ve interviewed Alan Cooper, founder and President of Cooper and Chris Noessel Managing Director at Cooper and co-author of “Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction”.

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How do you design a digital interaction?

Digital technology must respond in a meaningful way when a user expresses their intent. The job of a user experience designer is making this interaction feel natural and nearly invisible. As people around the world increasingly engage with digital technology on a daily basis, the need for smart UX becomes ever more apparent.

Alan says, “When a complex digital device is easy to understand and use, a UX designer has done their job.” A skilled UX designer understands the goals and mental models of users, along with the nuances of technology. He or she uses this knowledge to shape the behavior of the technology so that it all seems natural to the user, in just the way a talented author makes you forget the narrator.

Defining user experience design

Digital technology isn’t the same as other technologies. For example, chairs are complex machines that provide a service at a user’s request, yet people intuitively know how to use a chair. We understand the purpose and behavior of a chair because we have evolved with them. Unlike chairs, humans have not evolved using digital technology, and as such we don’t instinctively comprehend how it works. The translation of megabytes and code into a deliverable product that fulfills the needs of a user is done through User Experience Design.

Chris likes to say, “UX designers manage this transition by answering three questions: ‘Who are the users?’ ‘How do they use it?’ and, ‘Does it work?’” The designer expresses the users’ goals through research embodied by tools like personas and scenarios. Then the designer creates a system controls and displays, which helps the user achieve his or her goals.

On a project, a UX designer balances the financial goals of the organization against the limits of technology and the personas’ goals. Navigating this collaboration between business, developers, and users can be difficult. Leadership skills and storytelling ability greatly benefit designers so they are able to communicate the value of their design.

What does this mean for you?

The spectacular success of companies like Apple has proven that a great user experience makes the difference between lackluster product performance and market dominance. The investment an organization makes in user experience design rewards them with increased sales and tenacious customer loyalty.

Digital systems already play an enormous role in the world, and that role is growing. More and more analog products have digital components, from automobiles to pill bottles to light bulbs, and that means we have to pay attention to their interaction design and user experience. That’s why it’s paramount to understand the users’ needs. The difference between a smart phone and a dumb one is a smart UX designer.


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