The User Experience

The user experience

In this article I take a look at the development of the User Experience (UX).

A Brief History of User Experience In Software

The term User Experience is a relatively new one. Go back a few decades, software development was all about achieving goals as economically as possible. This was a time before the web, when users were peering at green or orange text on a black background. Data storage was a premium asset and screens could only display the most basic of graphics, in two colours.

As graphical systems were developed, the User Interface became an important part of software design. But computers were still slow and could only cope with so much.

Over the years computers have improved and it has become increasingly important to make software readily accessible to users. The goals for UX should be:

  • Ensure fast response times to the users input, nobody likes waiting for the hourglass to go away.
  • It should be obvious to a user how to complete the task they set out to do. There should not be a need to refer to a manual.

Fail on either goal the user will have a bad user experience. Anything that disrupts the workflow gives the user a negative impression of the software they are using. This can lead to them preferring not to use the software at all. Clearly not something a software developer wants to happen.

A Brief History of User Experience in Web Design

In the 90’s the Web was born. In its nascent form pretty it much consisted of static pages containing just text and some images. The most animated thing was the dreaded blink text. Tools were soon being created to help make nicely formatted pages. However, software developer from that era will tell you, “Frontpage left a lot to be desired.” In a time where internet speeds were slow, every byte transferred mattered. Many of the web design tools littered the raw HTML with hidden codes that added to download time. Personally, I very quickly took to writing web pages in pure HTML.

After Server-Side Scripts, such as ASP and PHP, hit the stage, the web developer could give different visitors different content based on what they were doing. From that point eCommerce was born. The process was very one sided: the visitor is given a static page, they click a link or a button, the server processes that, and serves up a new page. This was interactive but not very dynamic.

When Javascript, DHTML and CSS came along to improve things. Suddenly web designers could allow pages to change their displayed contents on the fly. This gave visitors more immediate feedback on their actions.

Now the goals for a good website should be:

  • Ensure a visitor finds what they are looking for as easily as possible.
  • Pages should load as quickly as possible.

If your website doesn’t achieve this then your visitors are going to go elsewhere. Does this sound familiar?

Bringing Them Together

Combining Server-Side Scripts with Dynamic components in the web page has allowed the development of technologies such as Ajax and REST. Web Applications now bridge the gap between software and website. In fact, an ecommerce website is a web application – it is an application that your visitors use to purchase goods.

The key principles for a good user experience are now the same for software, web applications and websites. In each case the user or visitor should be kept engaged by allowing them to achieve their goals, without throwing roadblocks in their way. Fail at this and your software will fail to retain users, or your website will fail to retain visitors and customers.

Please note: the goals I have set out above are not the be all and end all of the User Experience. There are many other factors to consider in creating a great UX for software users and website visitors. A search of the internet will reveal a number of great articles that take a much more in depth look at these goals. Each have their own list of goals, and each are valid points. For the purpose of this article I have focused on the common goals that should be key to both a software developer and web designer.

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