Interest in user experience is rising. But what exactly is meant by user experience? How does user experience relate to customer experience? And what are the benefits of user experience? This article introduces the boundaries of the user experience playing field.

Why do I write about user experience?

I'm Anita Wierda and I have around 15 years of experience in the design of user interfaces and designing for user experience for products and services in the high tech and medical domains. My specialties are in user research, concept development and interaction design. If you have no idea what any of these words means, but are interested to find out, just read on. In this series of articles I hope to grow your understanding of the user experience space. This first article describes the outlines of user experience. In upcoming articles I want to dive deeper into and the main process to build the desired user experience and specific aspects needed to build a great user experience.

What is User Experience?

There exist many definitions of the term user experience, see [ref4]. For this article I use the widely accepted definition from ISO 9241-210: "User Experience is a person’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use and or anticipated use of a product, system or service." This definition explains that user experience (UX) covers interactions with a product during all phases in the product lifecycle, from installation, to actual usage, to maintenance. User experience connects to a person’s perception. This implies that user experience is subjective and might change over time. This change can be influenced by the state of the user like the previous experience of the user with the system; the usage environment and the changes to the product itself. User experience is thus a dynamic concept that can lead to varying "user experience perceptions" over time for the same product. The term usability is often connected to user experience. Usability is the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments. This definition indicates that usability is connected to a specific scope of specified users, goals and environments; variables that can be defined upfront and which probably stay the same during the course of product development and during usage of the product in the market. Having a good usability of a product positively contributes to the user experience of the product. The user interface of a product plays an important part in achieving a good usability. The user interface consists of all parts of the product that provide information and controls for the user to accomplish specific tasks with the product. Besides the product user interface also manuals, training and product packaging are seen as part of the user interface of a product.

Relation between user experience and customer experience

Now that we know what user experience is, it is good to establish the relation with this other domain than includes the word "experience"; customer experience. Customer Experience (CX) consists of every interaction a person has with an organization or brand. This includes customer service, physical environments like stores and service points, interaction with the products themselves, and all digital experiences like website, mobile apps, web portals. Customer Experience is thus much broader than the user experience with one specific product. However, the product User Experience has a strong influence on the overall customer experience. What Customer Experience and User Experience have in common is that the starting point in both cases is the unchanging focus on the needs of the user.
OK, so now we know what user experience is and how it relates to other fields . However, we have not addressed why user experience is deemed so important. What value does user experience deliver to a business?

Why is User Experience important?

A positive customer experience leads to happy and returning customers so it is clear this is desirable. We have already established that user experience forms an important part of the complete customer experience. The increased focus on user experience is partly driven by the growing difficulty to distinguish products solely based on price or technical features. Especially in the business-to-consumer market the customer, who is also the user, becomes more aware of the importance of usability and ease of use. This is for a large part driven by the rise of smart phones and a range of many easy to use single function apps. When the experience with a new product or app is much more difficult than using a smart phone, customers are less inclined to buy this new product. In the business-to-business environment the products are usually more complex and need to integrate with the existing infrastructure of the organization. Furthermore the people making the buying decisions are usually not the actual users of the product. In this environment the user experience is definitely not the only factor influencing the value of a product. However, here it also helps if the user experience is positive and contributes to the productivity and happiness of employees. For both business-to-consumer and business-to-business environments there are some points of view that are relevant when trying to determine the return on investment of activities to design for a positive user experience. If we look at the product experience from a user point of view aspects that are of interest are the time it takes to finish a task, the increase in productivity that a product delivers, the number of errors and cost to solve errors and the consistency in using different products from the same vendor. When looking from the manufacturer point of view we can distinguish between a development, an operational view and a business view. From a development perspective aspects like development time, development cost, time to market and alignment of the product features with the actual customer and user needs are important. From an operational perspective, aspects like effort to sell the product, cost of installation, training and customer support are important. From a business perspectiveaspects like customer satisfaction and product differentiation are important.
I hope this article gives you a better understanding of user experience, the relation with customer experience and the benefits of focusing on user experience. I'm looking forward to hearing from you. What is your rationale for investing in designing for user experience? What struggles do you have to improve the user experience?