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Strategic insights
That Darn User Experience is Wrecking My Usability

Written by on April 29, 2008

Back in 2006 I wrote the article "The Battle between Usability and User-Experience", where I illustrated that usability and user experience are two different things. Since then, I think, the problem has grown in proportion.

The main problem is that most people, and usability practitioners (like me) in particular, simply do not understand why people keep getting fantastically excited about useless stuff. We understand why people hate stuff that doesn't work, or takes an hour to setup. But we don't understand why people like something that looks and feels sensational. We don't understand what user experience is all about.

Just take a Lamborghini. It is a tremendously cool car. You don't even have to drive it to really want one. And the people who have tested it have a smile on their face like they have just... well, you know...

But the Lamborghini is one of the most useless cars in the world. It is too wide, too low, and has too tiny windows for it to be used to go shopping in. Not to mention that there is no place for you to put your shopping bags. And, even though it got 6 gears, you will be breaking the law when you get to 2nd (above 65-70mph). Basically, you will always be driving in 1st gear.

In terms of usability it is rubbish.

So why do almost everyone feel excited when they see one - male and females alike. They should hate it. Know that it is useless. They should feel nothing, and instead look at the Ford parked next to it. But that is not how it works.

Deep inside our brain, is a primeval instinct that makes us excited about cool things. And that part kicks in long before your "normal" analytical brain takes over and analyzes the situation. So you feel excited about a Lamborghini, before you realize that a Ford is a more sensible choice.

But that is not the only part that makes us tick about user experience. The most important element is the way it allows you to associate yourself with something. In short, you don't get excited about a Lamborghini only because it is cool, shiny and a bit dangerous. You get excited because you can imagine how you would feel driving one.

User-experience is the ultimate instinct for selfishness.

How to use it to your advantage

The thing is that when you create a product or web application, you, of course, need to make it usable and efficient. But no matter how hard you try to do either of those things, you will never end up with a Lamborghini.

You are using two different parts of your brain. You feel good about usability and efficiency because of your analytical brain - that part of you that thinks. But you feel sensation and childish joy using your primeval brain - the part that controls your instincts and unconscious feelings.

You need to ask yourself:

"What can I do to my product that will make other people feel madly excited about their person?"

Not what you can do to make people feel excited about your product - but excited about themselves!

Solve that, and you will have a great user experience.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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