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'User Experience' is far broader than product interaction

By Tim Hutchinson, Managing Director



The Drum Network article

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September 21, 2015 | 5 min read

This is not an article about the Apple Watch, but that particular product did play a very important role in my understanding of the true meaning of ‘User Experience'.

RE:SYSTEM's director of mobile and web Tim Hutchinson.

Not long after the launch, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the long awaited, eagerly anticipated, marketeers dream product. I was one of the evangelists happy to express the virtues of this product, and while I fully appreciated Apple was slightly late to the market, I couldn't help feel that this might be a game changer (or at least get more people onto the field).

After a few days of living with my new favourite piece of technology, people started asking me: “So, what does it do?” My initial response was stuttered - unconvincing pitches about notifications, health benefits and weather updates. Then, one person enquired: "What do you think of the new watch?” This was a question which completely changed how I thought about the whole experience, but also reinforced everything I have come to understand about User Experience.

Before I ever touched the product, seeing the box on my desk was exciting. Unpacking of the product that was almost ritual like, removing the first part of the box and putting it to one side, then seeing a slightly more rounded 'soft to touch' box and lifting the lid to reveal the watch itself. It appeared to never have been seen by another human being before, let alone touched. There is a distinctive smell to Apple products which always reinforces quality, innovation and exclusivity. You get this in the shops also. There was a pause of reflection just to look at the product, not wanting to pick it up because once you have it becomes soiled! I was soon awoken when a colleague slapped me on the back and said: "Are you going to use that thing or put it in a glass box?"

Setting the watch up and starting to use it, wear it, look at it was equally as impressive and satisfying as looking at the unopened box. Thereafter the journey continues, but the experience is more 'task' driven and it has become just another piece in the technological eco-system that surrounds and follows me everywhere I go.

A few days later I gave it to one of our designers to use and spend time with for a couple of days. Following this, I did the same with our lead iOS developer. I asked them both about their experiences with the watch and the responses were significantly different to mine. While they said similar things about notifications, health benefits and weather updates, that was it. Because I handed the watch straight to them, unpackaged, with a charging lead dangling in my other hand - they went straight into the features and completely missed out on the other aspects of the experience that I had enjoyed so much.

Products, both online and physical, are becoming more about delivering this kind of 'experience' than ever before. Andy Goodman, group director of Fjord explains this extremely well when he talks about Zero UI and what design looks like when screens go away. Just because a device has no screen, it doesn't mean that there shouldn't be an interactive experience which is creative, innovative, and satisfying. Car manufacturers have been doing it for years - driving the car is only one part of the overall user experience.

We are often asked to design a product that will suit a purpose, answer a question or solve a problem - which if delivered successfully can be ‘killer’. Yet the product is only one part of a journey that can end in a good or bad experience. As designers, we must consider a much bigger journey than just interacting with a product, we have to understand what happens before and what happens after.

Tim Hutchinson is director of mobile and web at RE:SYSTEMS.

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