What is User Experience (UX)?

Posted by Jenny Cocking on 05-Oct-2016 14:00:00

Here at INPS we have a dedicated team of specialists who focus exclusively on the user experience (UX) design of our solutions.

But what is UX and how is it developed? How do we ensure our solutions are both state-of-the-art and user friendly but also offer the best possible UX? To answer these burning questions, we sat down with our UX team and had a chat.  

Our UX team is made up of four team members - Katy Webster, Craig Beveridge, Oz Mills and William Mincher - and is based out of our Dundee office. 

1.    What is UX?
Imagine if everything you used worked the way you expected it to. UX, is aligned with that hope. UX is applying knowledge of how users interact with an item to make it easier for them to know how, why and when they should be using it.

UX is also defined as everything that affects a user's experience, whether it be the speed of database queries, screen render time, network lag, how information is architected, how interactions happen or even how the user feels about a product.  

2.    Why is UX important?
UX puts the user at the centre of design.  Without taking time to design the UX, products are built to satisfy spreadsheets of requirements rather than improve the lives of users. Without UX design, we are guessing at what users want, or blindly designing by committee - which never works. We try to get feedback at every stage of development and use that to make a better product. Without UX design, you end up with inconsistency and users who can't work out what they need to do, which leads to apathy towards your products.

3.    What’s the perfect recipe for UX?
Always putting users first.  This doesn't mean that the user "designs" the product, but means listening to what the user is trying to do, what goals they are trying to achieve so that a product can be designed to weave seamlessly into what a user does.

4.    Isn’t UX/UI just about “making things look pretty”?
Although making things look appealing is part of UX, it's only a small part.  Using a paper maché model as an analogy, the user interface (UI) would be the outer paper skin, but without a well thought out underlying structure to give it shape and coherence (the UX), it is meaningless.

Oz, our newest team member, would be the first to tell you he's no artist. There are, however, various things we've learned in terms of how colour, shape and imagery provide context to a function. The reason, for example, why buttons tend to darken if you click them is because they're emulating light shining on them, and when 'pressed in' they end up in a metaphorical shadow. This kind of detail helps a user understand what is happening without needing an explanation.

Many parts of a company can make fantastic use of UX, from development, to marketing, through to any of the literature we provide to users.

5.    Whose responsibility is UX design?
If we say "Everyone", is that too clichéd? We do have expectations for people to inform us if they've personally witnessed users having a problem with a particular function. We also like to involve our colleagues to do a first-pass test of our wireframes.

Anyone involved with the product is responsible for the user experience; from the talented requirements gatherer who is able to spot the real reason why "we need a button here", to the database developer who squeezes that extra millisecond out of a query, to the conscientious front end developer who really sweats the detail.

6.    Can you give some real life examples of the impact your work has had on INPS’ products?
There are countless ways that the user interviews we've performed have fed back into making an understandable and simpler-to-use product, but a good example would be our UX Report on Patient Services. We went into this with a few versions of how the website should look and, in a few very short interviews, quickly and repeatedly determined the style of product that users found most professional and trusted.

The Common Observations component in Vision Anywhere is another example. It is a single search box that works out what you want to record based on the number that you type in.  It removes the need for users to open up individual forms for recording data such as height, weight etc. It has really delighted the clinicians who tested it out!

7.    What’s the greatest challenge you face in your role?
There is never enough time! We need to create wireframes and conduct user interviews upfront, and then refine the wireframes before they go through an iteration of development. 

We also try to teach people that we don't 'just' listen to the words that users say. UX requires a level of insight, not just to make sure that we listen to users, but to constantly question why. Why is the user having trouble? Do they have expectations based on what else we've given them? Why are they looking at the left-hand side of the screen for a button when they should be looking on the right? Etc.

8.    What do you wish everyone understood about what your team do?
We solve problems, and make lots of tiny decisions, all day long. We need to understand the user scenarios around requirements, rather than just ticking off a list of features that we need to get developed in the quickest time possible. We ask "why" all the time, which may exasperate people, but we need to understand everything in order to get to the root of the users' problems. As new information comes to light we need to change designs - we can't reach perfection straightaway. UX Design is iterative, and just because we design one thing, don't expect it to remain that way forever!

UX is a complicated process but is an imperative step to developing great products. Luckily for us, our dedicated team are experts and up for the challenge.

If you are interested in being involved in any of the UX testing please send an email to info@inps.co.uk

Jenny Cocking

Written by Jenny Cocking

Topics: UX

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