Beyond Ease of Use: Designing Happy User Experiences

By definition, User Experience concerns itself with the total user experience.

In practice, User Experience design often means ensuring your users can do what they need to do with a minimum of confusion and wasted time. It’s pain elimination, digital novocaine. And a good percentage of UX should concentrate on those ease-of-use issues — especially if you are designing tools for busy professionals in the field.

Good UX should be more than the elimination of pain. It should be about the creation of pleasures, however modest. Life’s too short for boring UX.

We were reminded of this truth when we redesigned our proprietary content management system, AppKits.

Content Management is not sexy. It involves attaching and posting assets, integrating spreadsheets, and entering copy. So, after interviewing about a half dozen users, our initial discussions focussed on how to streamline this process — how to eliminate steps and clarify direction.

Finding the sexy in content management.

But after speaking with one of our senior user experience designers, we realized there’s a kind of pleasure to uploading content. It’s a defined, tangible thing in an often undefined, intangible world. Say you’ve spent the morning in a meeting which attempted to tackle some big strategic issues but never quite came to a consensus. You have a half hour free and use it to make some content updates.

You’re checking things off. You’re seeing the immediate results of your work: there’s an image and copy where there wasn’t one before. That’s kind of cool.

That’s a positive user experience in both senses of the term — it’s upbeat, but it’s also positive in the philosophical sense of being real.

This is about your feelings, private.

Ultimately, the AppKits site wanted to inspire five feelings (including the original goal of efficiency, usefully redefined as a feeling.)

  1. Confidence: Users know where they are
  2. Clarity: Users know what they can do and how to do it.
  3. Efficiency: Users can work quickly
  4. Reassurance: Users can painlessly save and post their work. They know when they’re done
  5. Accomplishment: Users feel good about their experience. They feel like they’ve accomplished something.

Each of these feelings was then consciously reinforced throughout the site.

The takeaway:

If you want to build tools which get embraced by users, don’t just ask how you can make a given user experience more efficient. Ask “what’s pleasant or special about this and how can we reinforce that?” The answer to that question points to the kind of UX that makes users smile — and, we’ve found, when users smile while they’re using a particular tool, they keep using that tool.