Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

A Primer on User Experience

Posted by Becky Carroll on July 20, 2007

ants-maze.jpg I have heard the term User Experience many times, and recently I had the opportunity to tour Intuit’s Usability Lab.  This got me thinking about how user experience relates to marketing and customer experience.  David Armano shared a presentation he did earlier this year on Experience Design as it relates to the digital experience. 

I tapped Sean Van Tyne, a friend, expert in user experience, and CEO at Van Tyne Consulting, to help me learn more about the subject.  The wisdom shared below is a summary of a recent discussion with him.

User Experience Definition

According to Sean, User Experience (also known as UX) can be defined as follows:

“User experience is everything a user sees/hears/smells/tastes with respect to a product.”

Wikipedia defines it as “a term used to describe the overall experience and satisfaction a user has when using a product or system.”  Sean agrees that it has been used quite a bit in the past with respect to technology but that it now has potential beyond the tech world.  He says that UX is still a relatively new discipline which is evolving, hence some of the confusion and mystery around it!

Sean shared with me that, from a B2B perspective (ex: enterprise software), there are two distinctions in designing the user experience. 

  • The first is designing for a “customer”, who is often someone in operations.  This design experience validates that the workflow meets the business needs.  Sean calls this “customer experience”.  (Note: now I see why I have been confused!)
  • The second is designing for a “user”, who may be an internal or an external consumer.  This design experience evaluates that the tasks are easy to accomplish.  Sean calls this “user experience”.

The design of the user experience can be done at two different places in the product lifecycle: early in the process before business requirements are completed, and/or later in the lifecycle before heavy product development is started.

The Many Faces of User Experience

User experience is a broad field and covers a lot of disciplines.  It can be broken out into three pieces: research, design, and testing.  Sean described the many faces of user experience as a continuum:

  • Information Architect – focuses on labeling, correct terminology, hierarchy of terms
  • Visual Design – colors, fonts, graphics, icons
  • Interaction Design/Human Factors Engineering – studies how people interact with technology
  • Industrial Design – ergonomics, ease of use
  • Usability Engineer – Sean broke this out into two sub-types: ethnographers, who do research on how people do things, and evaluators, who run tests to see if the tasks are easy to complete

“Experience Design” is a subset of user experience in general.

How It’s Done

User experience is a bridge between marketing and technology, where user-centered design puts people, rather than technology, at the center of the process. 

  • Marketing kicks off this process by doing research on customer needs.
  • Marketing, product development, and user experience work together to design something which will meet those customer needs.  If the customer is an enterprise, an extra step is taken here to validate the business needs before moving to the end-user needs.
  • User experience tests the design with both experts as well as novice users.  Paper, foam, and wire-frame mock-ups are used to help test the design.
  • A usability evaluation then takes place to see how easy the tasks are to complete, how well the product/service meets the user’s way of working, etc.
  • The design may be iterated many times before it goes to production! 
  • Once a basic design is ready, it is time to start bringing in other parts of the design team, such as visual design and interaction design, to help make the products more useful, usable, and desirable.

For those of you wanting more details on the process, Sean has written a great article on defining the user and customer experience for enterprise software  (pdf format) which was recently published in The Pragmatic Marketer.

Sources for User Experience

I asked Sean where my readers might go for additional information on the field of user experience.  Here are his suggestions:

GoodExperience blog – Mark is one of the experts in the field

Don Norman’s site – Don is considered one of the founding fathers

IBM Ease of Use site – good information on User Engineering

Don’t Make Me Think, a book by Steve Krug on web usability.

Many thanks to Sean at Van Tyne Consulting for his time and expertise about user experience.  Sean, you rock!

Other Resources

I would add Logic+Emotion, David Armano’s blog on experience design (also in my blogroll!).  Many of you are also experts in user experience, experience design, and interactive design.  What other resources would you add to help a beginner learn more about user experience?

(Photo credit: kim_zhai)

13 Responses to “A Primer on User Experience”

  1. Wow! This post took lots of work. Thank you for sharing.

  2. This is more than a blog post – it’s a white paper of at least worthy of a PDF that one can download. I hope you will consider that.

    Thanks for the valuable information and links.

  3. Becky,

    Well done! Let me know if you need help in making this a PDF for download — I can volunteer those skills on weekends with a new job started this week. I have been a fan of user experience ever since I had the privilege of working with a team of 5 user experience designers. Another great source is Edward Tufte [].

  4. Becky,

    Excellent post !

    Drives a lot of value 🙂

  5. Mark Hurst said

    Thanks, Becky 🙂 Nice work on this. One note – “customer experience,” as I understand it, refers to the end-users of the product or service. (I usually prefer that term to UX because UX is so often associated with tactical usability concerns – whereas “customer experience” gets more to strategic, business-oriented metrics.) Hope this helps.

    You can also find all my writings on the topic in this archive of customer experience writing.

  6. Mark E said

    Nice post.

    Think you should also point to Josh Porter’s blog ( which moves the user experience design game on to deliver “social design”

  7. Lewis, I really wanted to help iron out the differences between user experience and customer experience. What better than a primer on user experience? Perhaps I do one on customer experience next…

    Thank you for your encouragement!

  8. Roger, I appreciate the worthiness you give to this post. Thanks go out to Sean Van Tyne for sharing his expertise!

    I will consider the PDF; makes sense!

  9. Valeria, thank you for the new source for readers to look at, and thank you very much for the offer to help me create the PDF. I just might take you up on that one! 🙂

  10. Thank you for the compliments, Daksh! I am glad you see value in this. I did too, which is why I pursued this topic.

  11. Hi Mark H – Thank you so much for your compliment! It means a lot to me. 🙂

    The words “customer experience” seem to mean something a little different to everyone. When Sean was sharing his information with me, he shared it from the perspective of an enterprise software-type company. Customer experience was at the “business needs” level, and user experience was at the more tactical level.

    Typically here on Customers Rock!, I view customer experience as a much broader, strategic issue to be addressed at a high level, then executed throughout the company at all levels. I think that is consistent with your way of thinking, too?

    Thank you for pointing to your writings on customer experience.

    You rock!

  12. Mark E, thank you for the kind words and for the reference to Josh’s blog. Social design online is fascinating as, in a sense, we are all part of it! Thanks again, Mark.

  13. Hi there, everything is going nicely here and ofcourse every
    one is sharing data, that’s genuinely good, keep up writing.

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