Creating a product for users, not for customers — User Experience Theory

A few years ago Bill Gates said the following: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Thus, this post is meant to focus on the fundamentals of user needs.

What’s the most important thing about a product?

The users are the ones who have to interact with the hardware or software. Many products are developed by an experienced team, but it often happens that one side, e.g. the technical one, takes the lead and thus shifts the focus of the product. A high-tech product does not have to be bad, but depending on the user group it can lead to dislike / rejection.

There are various difficulties here which should not be neglected. Who is the user group, e.g. software used in-house, will probably be easier to adapt to the needs, since here you interact directly with the customer and also with the user. If, on the other hand, you come to an app that is intended for the general public, then the requirements look different.

The first question that arises here is whether there is already a user base or are you opening up a new market, whereby you should know exactly who you want to address with the latter. Once you have found out which user group is intended as the addressee, it is important to find out what defines these groups. For example, how is the usability described for a user group of 10–16 years.

In the next sections, the various needs of users are first considered, using the hierarchy of needs as a basis and then the different levels will be discussed.

A user’s hierarchy of needs

The hierarchy of needs of a user should not be confused with the needs pyramid according to Abraham Maslow, however, it is based on it. The “pyramid of needs of the user — user experience” based on the design by Miriam Eberhard-Yom, 2010” is shown here. The pyramid of the user offers a positive holistic user experience.

A user’s hierarchy of needs

Primary and higher needs are represented using keywords from usability. The basis is formed by barrier-free access. The next level is formed by the utility, which describes the value of the found information. A high degree of usability for information found would be the case if it is available in an easily usable format or if it has further details. Joy of Use speaks of the emotional connection to a system, as it is connected with the goal of creating a positive user experience.

The pyramid shows the different levels where the effort increases from the bottom up or when the benefit decreases. It is also often shown that the expectations of the users ascend from the bottom to the top, which is often due to getting used to the general condition. Thus, accessibility & utility is something that users fundamentally require, whereby joy of use is rather secondary for many products, since usefulness and functionality are much more important.

Taking a first step into the user experience is not as complex as it often sounds, but as soon as it comes to optimizing down to the smallest detail, it quickly becomes complex. Basically, you should start by fixing basic usability errors before you make the user experience fun (joy of use).

The user experience describes the emotional level when using a system. There are differences in time between the moods of the user before, during and after use. Before use, certain attitudes, assumptions and expectations towards the system are manifested in the user (anticipated use).

During the usage situation, depending on the course and the positive or negative user experience, identification or distance formation occurs. After use, either an emotional bond is created through a positive experience or the system use is avoided through negative impressions.

What is accessibility?

The aim of accessibility, or barrier freedom, is to make technologies and information easily accessible to everyone. It does not matter what requirements (physical or technical) the user has.

Accessibility in software development means that applications are designed to be more accessible so that people with different disabilities can use the applications. Accessibility also means that a website is displayed in the best possible way on all devices such as PC, tablet, smartphone, etc. and even in older browsers. The challenge, especially in design and development, lies in the large number of restrictions, explained below.

Web Accessibility (mediacurrent)

Motor restrictions: A person may have motor impairments due to damage to the musculoskeletal system or an illness. For such reasons, users who cannot operate a mouse or only with great difficulty should still be able to navigate through a website, e.g. with the keyboard. The controls could also be enlarged for easier access e.g. for touchscreen applications or hardware itself.

Visual limitations:Damage to the optic nerve, congenital defects or illnesses can result in visual impairments in humans. Many people with a visual impairment in particular use the Internet, here the website is for example read out. A clear and easily understandable structure of the user interface is required in the design. Here you should note that you not only consider complete blindness, but also normal visual impairments, e.g. in an older user group, or simple color visual impairments, such as the most famous red-green weakness.

Auditory limitations: Damage to the hearing or hearing impairment is referred to as auditory limitation. A product that plays an audio, for example, has to be improved so that the user has the option to record the information differently, e.g. with subtitles or sign language.

Cognitive limitations: Cognitive impairments can be caused by hereditary diseases but also diseases in general. It is important that the information can be recorded by the user as easily as possible.

An Example: If you look at a news app, for example, on the one hand it is extremely important for the customer to establish a large readership/user group, but it’s also important for the user to be able to absorb information in his usual way. The first steps for this can be the possibility of adjusting the font size and continuing via a reading function for e.g. visually impaired people.

Modes for color vision impairments are also conceivable and are already fundamentally required in some apps. Of course, this can be applied to any other app market orientation or to other types of software (SAP; website, …).

German Law: In Germany, there is a law to ensure equality for disabled people. (see § 12a barrier-free information technology)

The topic offers a lot of game space, which is why it should be sufficient for this article, another good source for e.g. Barrierefreies Webdesign by Markus Lemcke.

What is utility?

Utility is all about “WHAT”. It depends on what is to be offered to the user. Let’s assume we have a brand new idea. The first question that should be asked is what utility does this have for a user group and what would our potential, wanted user group look like. Here, first prototype tests or idea tests are usually carried out on test subjects (user acceptance tests) in order to see what extent the user can benefit from the application or hardware. Any adjustments then follow based on the evaluation of the user survey, whereby the idea is more in the foreground than an implementation of a prototype (faulty function in the prototype).

In utility, however, you should also look at the market, there may be an equivalent idea / product on the market, whereupon you have to ask yourself whether another product is needed that provides the same functions.

In the case of an already existing product, there are also options for user surveys or evaluation, for example in app development when looking at reviews in the app store. This allows you to respond directly to user requirements in order to increase the utility value. Of course, your own ideas that offer the user additional options are also possible and useful, such as sorting an audio library by artist or a search function. However, what turns out every now and then is that a too great utility value, e.g. through a mass of features, depresses the value for the user himself, since the application/hardware becomes too complex and then again scores poorly in our next topic of usability.

What is usability?

Usability is all about the “HOW”. It depends on how something is presented to a user.

But let’s first look at the formulation of ISO 9241–11:

“Usability is the extent to which a product can be used by certain users in a certain context of use in order to achieve certain goals effectively, efficiently and satisfactorily.” (ISO 9241–11)

This ISO standard was set up more than 20 years ago, in 1998 to be precise, and expanded in 2018. This also shifted the focus to other areas, so that not only the product is part of the consideration, but now also the system and services. The term “interactive system” is usually used as a collective term for this. The goals have also been given a new focus, away from solely considering the goals of the users and towards a consideration of the goals of the stakeholders. In addition, the term satisfaction has been redefined as:

“Satisfaction is the degree of correspondence between the user’s physical, cognitive and emotional responses resulting from the use of a system, product or service with user needs and expectations.”

The environment in the context of use has also been expanded and now includes the technical, physical, social, cultural and organizational environment. And finally, usability was anchored in the quality model as a dimension of “human-centered quality”.

Since the ISO standardization is usually a bit dry, we should look at usability in context again.

Usability describes how well a user can deal with a product / system. The points usability and accessibility also overlap here, because low accessibility can also result in negatively rated usability, e.g. if a user group with the restrictions listed above belongs to it.

Usability is also driven by what you have learned, i.e. habits such as that a home button is always on the top left of a website, is what we have learned over the years and if you change this now, it would most likely be classified as bad usability, because either the users would not find the function or even complain about its absence.

The usability itself can also be more or less “measured”. One method that has become more and more popular in recent years is eye tracking, which looks at which area the user is most focused on. In addition, mouse movements and clicks are usually also registered.

Other test methods are:

  • A / B testing: 2 or more user groups are formed and different product versions are presented. In this context, a tracking system is often used to check which version has a longer dwell time per season or how often a new season (app start) was started.
  • Card Sorting: Procedure for optimizing the navigation bar with the help of cards
  • Heatmap: Measurement of a user’s clicks on a GUI, with areas that are clicked frequently being highlighted in color.
  • Personas: Each persona corresponds to a special type of user who has their own individual wishes and expectations of the system. The aim is for all personas to have the most satisfying experience.
  • Interviews and questionnaires: User acceptance tests and user experience tests are also an option. Here often a prototype is shown to the user or the end product, then the user has to use the product and afterwards he has to answer some questions.

In this way, the behavior of the user with the product is analyzed, from which measures for optimizing the product can be derived. The main goal of usability is therefore that the user can carry out his activity satisfactorily without any delays.

What distinguishes good usability?

A product with good usability is characterized by the following features:

  • it is easy to learn
  • it has the highest possible accessibility or accessibility adapted to user groups
  • it is memorable to the user
  • it’s useful
  • it has high efficiency
  • it satisfies the user and his expectations

What is Joy of Use?

Joy of use describes the emotion that a user associates with a product. Of course, the joy that the user feels while experiencing a product is usually addressed. Negative emotions like fear, aversion, etc. should be avoided as a matter of principle. Since we have already reached such a high level here, negative emotions should no longer arise, in which case the other levels have been sufficiently taken into account.

Joy of Use of course also plays on marketing strategies, the motto here is the happier the user is when using a product, the higher the probability that he will come back and invest more money.

Joy of use is sometimes referred to as hedonic evaluation. The product is evaluated from my own perspective and how it affects me. Do I enjoy working with the system? Does it make me feel special because I can do great things? Is it appealing?…

The main criteria of Joy of Use are aesthetics, motivation, fun and creativity.

Using this example, it would mean that if we develop an app and provide the user with useful information in a playful manner, e.g. through a minigame, we could generate Joy of Use, if the game is convincing, works and is useful. Participation in software, for example by involving users in alpha/beta phases, can lead to a strengthening of the joy of use, but more in terms of creativity and emotional connection to the product itself.

Dave is an Alumni QA Lead at the Appsfactory.
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