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Product Management: User Experience

Definition: User Experience refers to the feeling users experience when using a product, application, system, or service. It is a broad term which can cover anything from how well the user can navigate the product, how easy it is to use, how relevant the content displayed is etc.

What is User Experience?

User Experience (UX) is the holistic journey users traverse as they use a product. Not only does it include their direct interactions with the product, but also how it fits in with their overall task completion process.

Regardless of whether different aspects of the experience are under the direct control of the product or are merely associated with the product, the total experience is considered part of the UX from the user’s perspective. Every touchpoint between the customer and the company is included in the total User Experience.

Difference between UI and UX

UI and UX are often used interchangeably, but when the acronyms are actually spelled out User Interface and User Experience are quite different.

The User Interface is literally what the user sees and interacts with in the product: the buttons, the layout, the navigation, the form fields, etc. Much like the cockpit of a plane or the buttons on a remote control, it is what a user sees, touches and clicks. “UI” can also sometimes be shorthand for the “look and feel” of a product.

User Experience encompasses a far wider swath of elements than the User Interface, although UI is definitely contained within this larger definition. The User Experience includes everything an end user does related to the product, including how it fits into their overall workflow and the steps before and after the product is actually in use. Additionally, the User Experience covers how those interactions will change over time as the customer’s usage evolves and the product and company change.

How, What, and Why: UX design principles

UX efforts concentrate on making the entire customer journey pleasant and productive. This begins with highlighting the value of the solution so it is clear what capabilities and benefits the product can offer potential and current customers—and that the value proposition is clearly desirable to the target market.

To achieve this, UX aims to make this value discoverable and accessible. That includes clear wording and imagery and a short and simple path to understand a product’s potential, as well as accounting for users that may have physical limitations.

Next up is spurring engagement and usage of the product, which entails a smooth and clear beginning experience and clear navigational hierarchy. Users must be able to start using the product and realizing the value as quickly as possible, even when it’s a large enterprise offering.

From here UX continues refining customer interactions, removing points of friction and minimizing the required steps to complete various tasks. As the product itself matures, UX can extend beyond the bounds of the product by assisting with related tasks that directly impact the value proposition and satisfaction for the actual product experience. This refinement can also include building consistency into the product and providing as much contextual guidance as possible.

All of these goals are accomplished by using a variety of tactics aimed at better understanding real-world user needs. One of the most critical is consistently challenging internal assumptions about what customers are trying to do and how they’re actually using the product versus what the product and UX teams think customers want and do. Confirming assumptions and theories—or discovering their flaws—will dictate further improvements.

What does a UX designer do?

A UX designer leverages a toolset spanning user research and testing, graphic design, layout, language and wording. They may do some coding (usually in the HTML/CSS realm), create wireframes and mockups, design logos and buttons or even write text that appears in the product.

To understand the customer experience, UX designers may perform or participate in customer interviews to get a better picture of what matters to customers and how they perform critical tasks (either with the product or using alternative methods). Once the product is ready, UX will often take the lead on usability testing, designing the scripts, analyzing the results or even conducting the tests themselves.

Once the product is shipping, UX designers will leverage analytics to dive deeper into the customer journey and trying to identify what workflows are successful and what narratives are hitting roadblocks where.

UX designers will also define the “visual grammar” for a product, either creating or selecting icons and typography that communicate the brand and provide visual cues to users, which they will grow familiar with over time. They will also ensure the language used on the site is relevant and clear to the audience while also being consistent and familiar throughout the entire customer journey.

Value of UX design for product managers

UX design and product management are two sides of the same coin; UX covers the user end and product management takes care of the business side of the house. But unlike a coin there is plenty of overlap between the two disciplines.

Product managers essentially focus on the “what” part of the equation: What is the target market, what problems is the product trying to solve, what capabilities must be in place to solve those problems, what is the business model and value proposition, etc. Meanwhile, UX concentrates on the “how” component of product development, namely how is the user going to complete their tasks.

By leaving the “how” to UX design, product management is able to spend their limited time on the many other aspects of the product to people with a more acute focus and expertise on the customer journey, usability and user interface. And by teaming up with UX design instead of trying to do it all themselves, product managers get the benefit of additional perspectives and viewpoints on creating an overall winning experience.

The best relationships between product management and UX design start by performing user research and developing use cases collaboratively. This creates a unified foundation as each party goes off to work on their own areas of focus and ensures that the user experience is fully informed by the business objectives and customer needs.

Product managers can also benefit from increasing their UX education and incorporating UX design into their overall approach. This ensures the strategy they set and vision they paint takes the user experience into full account, which is essential to the product’s ultimate success of failure.