The Elements of User Experience

Jesse James Garrett’s “The Elements of User Experience” explains the fundamental blocks behind building a successful UX. Jesse’s broke down the elements into 5 planes: Surface, Skeleton, Structure, Scope, and Strategy to explain how each plane is dependent of each other. I will be sharing a few points in the book which I thought was helpful in understanding the basic principles behind his book.

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“Websites are complicated pieces of technology and something funny happens when people have trouble using complicated pieces of technology: They blame themselves. They feel like they must have done something wrong. The feel like they weren’t paying enough attention. They feel stupid.

This is true. I am a walking testament for that. And if you are anything like me, you will stop using a product that makes you feel stupid. Web pages do not come with instruction manuals, (and even if it did, people would most likely not read it) therefore it only makes sense that websites should be designed in a way that should be self-explanatory to whoever your target users are. Most users are not willing to invest their valuable time into figuring out how to use your product if it isn’t self-explanitory. 

Some companies may argue that they cannot afford to spend so much time into designing a UX that works (especially if they are an early-stage startup), but I do not think that's a valid argument. Most users will only give you once chance to impress them with your product. If you are an early stage company, you are most likely trying to develop a user base. If your website/product gave your first users a bad first impression, you can count on them not returning, especially if there is a competitor out there that can deliver this product better than you. In the end, you will lose even more when your product fails. 

 

“Successful interfaces are those in which users immediately notice the important stuff. Unimportant stuff , on the other hand, doesn’t get noticed- sometimes because its not there at all

Designers should definitely keep this in mind, especially when creating a landing page. A user should not have to spend more than 5 seconds (hence the 5-second test method) to figure out what your website/product is about. I believe a successfully designed landing page should clearly communicate to your user; your user should immediately know “oh, this website is for an coffee shop that serves single origin coffee in SF” or “this website looks like a shopping website for casual women’s shoes”. The last thing you want is for your page to be so abstract that your user will leave because they think you only sell women’s shoes when in reality, you also carry men’s shoes, but it was hidden behind a different page. Chances are that that user would not return because he thinks that there is nothing for him to buy on your page.

 

“Instead of evaluating visual design ideas solely in terms of what seems aesthetically pleasing, you should focus your attention on how well they work. How effectively does the design support the objectives by each of the lower planes?

Your website/product could be beautiful, but if I can’t find how out how to perform a certain task quickly, your website/product will be useless to me. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against products that are aesthetically pleasing; who doesn’t enjoy some eye candy from time to time? But theres a fine line between aesthetics and functionality. 

I use to own a Lenovo X200 laptop. It is an ultraportable laptop (in terms of surface area, its comparable to the MacBook Air) that looked amazing. It was easy to bring around and its a great travel companion.  It was a great computer, with the exception of one thing: the trackpad. That thing was TINY. It wasn't a matter of space; there was plenty of unused real estate on the keyboard. It was near impossible to use that as your main mouse. At first, I thought I only needed to get use to the smaller size but it only got more frustrating. Not only was the size of the trackpad extremely small, the functionality of the trackpad was also flawed. One of the functions of the trackpad was the ability to scroll down pages using two fingers swiping up and down. It was not responsive and eventually I stopped using that function altogether. It was a great idea, but it was obviously poorly executed. Instead, I opted to manually scroll using the scroll bars. All I can say is that I am glad that I am not using that laptop anymore. There are many other laptops in the market that are the same size without sacrificing functionality.

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The book was an insightful and quick read. I highly recommend this book for anybody new to UX Design. I would even recommend this to a well seasoned Designer as a refresher for basic principles behind UX.