What makes a great user experience?

Great user experiences answer people's questions.

If we understand our users' questions we can set about answering them. It really is that simple.

So for example, if you are designing a website for a cinema your users may have the following questions:

  • Which films are showing tonight?
  • What is the highest rated film that is showing at the moment?
  • Can I park nearby?
  • How much will it cost if I bring my family?
  • How long is the film?
  • What time do you open?

If your site fails to answer those questions then your users will have a poor experience.

We often talk about task oriented design and tie ourselves in knots with complicated sounding tools and techniques like 'task analysis' and 'mental models'.

When you break these approaches down, all they are really trying to do is to determine what people are trying to do and how they might expect something to work.

It is much simpler as a UX designer to focus on the questions our users may have when using a website or service that we are designing.

It is also really easy to generate lists of users questions from sources such as:

  • Listening to users
  • Common sense
  • Search logs
  • Discussion forums

If you are struggling to think of questions just think of 'Who', 'What', 'Where', 'When', 'Why' & 'How' to trigger ideas for possible questions.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a handy little poem to help us remember these "5 W's" (and one H).

'I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.'

So with a few tweaks this could become our new little ux design ditty ; )

'I use 6 useful tools,
When designing a UI,
Their names are What and Where and When,
And How and Who and Why.'

Once you have generated a list of questions you can use them as the basis for not only your user requirements, but also for deliverables like personas, task models and user journeys. You can see how they then become the foundation of your user experience design.

You should also use the questions to critique your work during the design process. They provide a great way of spotting omissions and can assist with tricky design decisions.

So take a look at what you are designing or indeed your own website and ask yourself whether it answers your users' questions.

Let me know how you get on.

James is responsible for leading user-centred design projects across all industry sectors, and also runs cxlabs. He has written two UX books, speaks regularly at international conferences, and co-founded UXBristol.