When talking about our user experience focus with customers as well as internally at IFS I tend to get the question why we have chosen to talk about user experience rather than usability, which is the more commonplace term in the software industry. (Especially our PR folks tend to swap to usability as the more common term should give higher search rankings. Look – I managed to include both in post title!).
I normally answer the question by citing the Wikipedia definition of usability, which states “Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object.” And then explain that user experience is much more than usability just like the driving experience for a car is much more than the “ease of use and learnability of a human made object”. I’m sure a Ford Mondeo or Toyota Aygo can be perfectly easy to use and dead intuitive to drive. But they still don’t offer a driving experience of a BMW, Porsche, or by all means a go-cart.
At IFS we have spent a fair chunk of our investments in the last few years on building a better user experience for IFS Applications, with the end goal that all users should love our product. Needless to say we are not done yet, although I am proud of what we have achived. In software a good user experience requires excellent usability. On top of that it alsoneeds an appealing visual design, high quality, good performance. But most importantly it needs “it”. The “it” that creates the “must have” and “love to use” desires.
And therein lays the problem. What really is “it”? How could we describe what we are looking for?
In a Newton moment this morning I think I finally cracked it. As typical this time of year on the west coast of Sweden it was raining. I was backing my car out of the drive when I noticed that the rear wind screen wiper came on. Perfect because I could see out the rear window, but I didn’t understand how it came on automatically. My car has rain sensors for the front wipers, but the rear is operated manually. Turns out after consulting the manual that if the sensor for the front wipers detect rain, and you put in reverse gear, then the rear wiper comes on. It was then it hit me. That this was a really good user experience. It was positive surprise that someone had thought about my situation and designed a solution that was truly helpful. It made me feel happy that my expectations of what a car should do had been exceeded.
So maybe that is it? Could “positively surprise the user by showing thoughtful consideration to his or her needs” and “helpful solutions that exceed traditional expectations” be the “it” that sets user experience aside from usability?