Why You Need To Invest In User Experience Design
For as long as I have had an account with Facebook, they have had some sort of messaging functionality. Sending IMs and the like to other Facebook friends is a core feature of the service. Facebook has always concluded that chat would play a major role in web products, and would continue to rise in popularity -- they were spot on. Last month's WhatsApp purchase is testament that this belief is still true to this day. Facebook believes in chat so much that they split their messaging service from their main app, separating the two into unique experiences.
Yesterday, it was revealed that Foursquare, the popular check-in and local search service, would be splitting its main app into two: Foursquare and Swarm. They have watched the way people use their app, and have noticed people really only do two things. Those things are quite unique from one another, in fact. Swarm will focus on your friends -- where they are, what they like, and what they do -- while Foursquare will focus on exploration and discovery, truly pitting itself against Yelp.
This splitting Facebook and Foursquare are both employing a silo approach, isolating different tasks to different areas. While I disagree with how these solutions are being implemented -- I think native apps are a shortsighted solution, but that is a discussion for another day -- it is certainly noteworthy that both approaches were implemented because of extensive user experience research.
During months of testing, the company found that unbundling the two halves of Foursquare made each experience more focused and efficient. - The Verge
Different tasks create different experiences. Facebook's decoupling of messaging and browsing, and Foursquare's decoupling of checking-in and discovering, are results of watching, listening, and learning about how their audience is using their products, and trying to make each a delightful experience.
Experiences Should Be Delightful
A delightful experience will make the difference between a longtime, returning user, and a one-time, never-again user. And that has little to do how things look. Of course, aesthetics and visuals help, but they are not the be-all-and-end-all. Craigslist, for example, is a terribly unattractive website. But the service itself works wonderfully, and using it is a joy; navigating the site is easy, and searching individual postings is very efficient. Would a "heightened" interface make a difference? Perhaps. But it might also get in the way of the site's sole function: getting you to look at various postings. The lack of embellishment allows you to focus exclusively on the content.
Many times, user experience can be diminished by factors out of a designer's control: Internet speed, for example. Or even more out-of-our-control factors, such as external happenings and context. But user experience design tries to take all of this into consideration, making the product as great as it can possibly be.
User Experience Is An Investment
So the big players are investing in user experience research. They see the necessity in studying how users are using their products, and are listening to the experiences they are having. Now what about you? Do you need to? Yes, absolutely. In fact, you don't even have a choice.
I have heard recently, "Oh, we don't want UX design. Just make it." There are many things that make me uncomfortable with this, but the one of most importance is the notion that user experience is something you can just choose to do or opt in/out of. Which it is not. It doesn't matter whether you pay $10 or $10,000 for UX design, whether you have a single designer or a team of twenty, or whether you choose to invest in it or not… when someone interacts with your product, they are experiencing it. Experiences are an inherent part of design. They just exist.
You may as well invest in a good one.