“User Experience” is everywhere. As an emerging formal discipline, its degree programs, best practices, vocabulary and models have made User Experience (note self-important uppercase) feel terribly significant, but totally inaccessible. The province of techies and experts.
But before there were “users”, there were customers and consumers—the regular people who bought and used products and services in the market. Customers interacted with and kept or returned a product. If they were satisfied, they may have come back to the same company for more or they might be lured away by an innovation, better price or clever advertising. Similarly, before students became users, they chose a school, a field of study and courses that they took with more or less enthusiasm and/or learning. Ironically, in a field that prides itself on human-centric design, the very word “users” feels less personal, less human.
If the fundamental idea behind user experience (note less arrogant lowercase) is not new, what has changed? Here are five major shifts.
User experience is often unnecessarily narrowed to refer to on-screen interactions, ignoring bigger goals and context. Instead, user experience at a university might be seen as everything and everyone a student (or parent) interacts with from the first visit to a website to an on-campus visit to a phone call about financial aid. It includes online (marketing, enrollment, delivery of education), books, physical materials, and—most important—contact with real people. Good user experience allows students to manage their own education and achieve their goals.
Faculty members also enjoy or despair of a user experience. In their quest to help students learn and share their passion for a subject, they feel that their knowledge, abilities and time are valued to a greater or lesser extent. Good user experience allows faculty members to use a variety of techniques to deliver content, talk with students, set up meaningful collaboration and create and test new models of learning.
The institution has its own goals: attracting and retaining students and faculty, providing education, improving its reputation, and meeting financial expectations. Good user experience can help a university stay competitive, raise standards, manage risk, and use resources effectively.
Why User Experience?
Providing a great user experience is a challenge and an opportunity. If you’re looking for reasons to focus on user experience, here’s a short list.
User Experience Questions
A good user experience results from asking lots of questions—broad and tightly focused—listening carefully to the answers and pursuing new lines of inquiry. A by-no-means comprehensive list of questions includes:
User experience work is totally accessible, so there’s no need to be intimidated. Like all disciplines, a good guide can help you get smarter fast. JenEd Consulting can work with you to clarify your goals, understand your audiences, and create a process to meet their needs. We practice what we preach—lots of questions, careful listening, advocating on behalf of users, with better results through relationships and collaboration.
Senior Consultant, User Experience
JenEd Consulting, LLC