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Creating a Great User Experience

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Creating a Great User Experience

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By Gemma Yussuf, Microsoft Technical Evangelist

As a developer, you need to consider the importance of user experience, it is not all about how an app looks within its design but  more around how the user navigates and interacts with the application, put the user first considering how they feel whilst using it. 

One of my favourite quotes is from Jean-Luc Godard who once said:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, painting, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul.”

Originality is non-existent, your creation is an aggregation of the things that inspire you most. Remember it’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them too.

So it's important to link this back to your real lives, your holidays, shopping experiences, the services you use. What kind of experiences does this give you? Are they good or bad? Consider those experiences that you regard as great - what was it about that particular experience that made it great, was it the way it made you feel? The adrenalin it gives you? Or perhaps doing something different? 

There might be a number of different elements that add up to a great experience, so what this article is going to speak about is creating a great user experience in the digital world taking inspiration from the world around us.

Stimulate our Senses

The author of Design Basics, David A. Lauer believed that design involves more than just our vision.  Although it may be true that we perceive design by vision first, consider how this in turn impacts all our other senses too. Remember the key to being a good designer is knowing that people have five senses, not just one.

For example, this is a picture I took whilst in Andorra, it was the best steak ever! When you look at this picture, what you’re perceiving is not just with your eyes, it’s a picture of a juicy steak. You might find at this point in time that you feel so tempted, your mouth might be watering. Your taste buds might be unconsciously tasting the succulent, salty beef. 

In life our five senses are conditioned and are therefore stimulated when seeing certain objects/images. With regards to food, our taste buds are triggered when we see these images. Designers need to grasp the principle that each element can stimulate our senses - the more senses are involved, the more engaged your users will be.

When we consider the medium of advertising on TV, a great memorable example is the M&S adverts.

The way that they shot the advert and the close ups to the amazing food is enough to make your mouth water, they do a really great job at stimulating our senses, the advert speaks to your imagination to the point where you can even practically smell the food.

New Visual Scenarios

­I recently attended the London Design Festival, which takes place in September and incorporates over 300 events. This has helped me consider design more broadly than the world of apps. My favourite exhibition was the Lost Soles gallery, this showcases artwork created using shoes from established and emerging artists from visual, graphic, illustration, textile and digital disciplines. 

The visual representation was magnificent. The background story was imaginative and different, yet still relatable to the audience. Have you ever come across an abandoned shoe? Have you ever wondered the story behind how it became lost and who once wore it?  Lost soles create a story from the who they think the shoe could have belonged too.  The image below is my favourite one, they artistically created what could be described as a Tim Burton ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ character.  They believed this particular man's shoe belonged to a tailor. 

The takeaway from this is to challenge, inspire and surprise your audience with unexpected projects in unlikely spaces. Speak to their imagination and consider doing something different. Creativity is powerful when it comes to great user experience. 

Be Confident
Abercrombie & Fitch is one example of a brand whose confidence shines bright. Due to their 'cool' attitude and the delivery of their brand, they can charge whatever they want and people will pay, as their confidence and competence are perceived as a direct reflection of the quality and the care they put into their product.

The layout of their shops is truly cutting edge, it creates a different shopping experience to other retail shops, the coolness is just oozing, the unique exterior makes it stand out in the shopping mall. The stores simulate a vintage beach shack, it has a dark and mysterious personality, where the inside is concealed from the outside adding to the atmosphere and to top it off they blast out music to enhance the experience for the shopper.  Image is everything to A&F, even the shop assistants are a beautiful sight, establishing in the customer’s mind that if they wear this brand, they would look fashionable and fantastic.

Let's face it the brand is so appealing, we don't mind if its printed all over the clothes, we want to showcase this brand to the point that we are advertising it to others on behalf of A&F. I know I wouldn't buy half the stuff in there if there was no association to the brand. Therefore confidence creates desire and re-enforces the message of quality.

Listen to Your Customer

Be inspired and seek feedback from your users. Believe it or not by listening to the feedback that your customers provide, it will ultimately echo the opinions of the final consumer. Good and bad feedback inspires and encourages us to keep doing the good things better and take the not so good things as opportunities to learn and improve. It's about bringing together your learnings and experience.

Consider the success of popular TV shows such as The X Factor, they encourage audience participation, whether it’s competitions they can join, second screen experiences through the app/website/social media - they even have a show after the actual show known as The Xtra Factor where the audience can call in to express their opinions to the judges. They’ve identified how they can create an experience in both the live shows (people who see it in person) and the digital world (people watching it on TV). Let's be honest, as much as we might be bored and annoyed by too many reality TV shows, there’s a reason they’re thriving, which is down to the secondary screen experience of social media which gives them the ability to listen to their customers and react accordingly. It’s genius if you ask me.

A moment to remember

My friend creates decorations for special events, so I asked her how she defines the importance of design and how this contributes to those special moments that we want to remember forever. This is her response:

“I would define event design as a form of art that communicates with people in so many ways that it stimulates their senses (visually as well as through touch and sound).

Event design is important because it sends so many messages. For example, when designing weddings, White Lime Events always likes to have personal touches in the design, something that truly captures the essence of the couple, shows their dream, their love and the fusion of personalities; as this is what ultimately makes an event personal, it creates an atmosphere that is engaging both to the couple and the guests. Going back to the design triggering their senses, not only will they feel more relaxed and happy but this is what makes the event a memorable experience.

Design is so important throughout life, whether it be at events, homes, shops or even in transport, quite often it goes seemingly unnoticed but its always felt through our senses, this is what creates a great user experience.”

In conclusion, I hope this has helped you consider user experience in the broader sense, to take inspiration from the world around you and use this as a mechanism to create innovative, cutting edge user experiences with immersive designs.Of course I hope this will be on our Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 platform! The key to successful user experience is to make it personal to the user, firstly by concentrating on doing one thing really well before expanding out and don't be afraid to challenge the boundaries to be unique. 

Lastly, I’m creating a series of videos talking around some examples of great user experience leveraging our platform, so please see the playlist here and keep tuned.

Here are some recommended resources I suggest…

Design Inspiration

Creating a Hotel Brand with Typography Helvetica

What would happen if the image were to change as the viewer approached it? If the digital face suddenly became distorted?

This is 2 France-based artist/technologists who are very good at blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. To make their performances work, the duo uses a host of devices (Kinect, projectors, computers).

Computational design of Disney's mechanical characters

Great article-Bill Buxton on the next frontier of UX

Free Design Resource

Great place to get free design assets, you tweet to receive.

UI designs Photoshop free tutorials

Windows 8 design resources

Design library for Windows Phone

  • Great

  • Top article, well written! :)

  • Fantastic article, very thought provoking!

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