When I talk to clients about experience design, or UX design, I tell them it’s all about the emotional response people have when they interact with your product, brand, or service.
Most people think emotions just happen, like they’re not something you can design for. So they just put something out there and hope for the best. They think one can’t control how people react to their products. While some of that’s true, you can stack the deck in your favor by simply asking the who, what, where, when, and how as it applies to end user benefits.
People need a reason to use and keep using something, so think about the benefits your product provides to the end user. By the way, don’t confuse benefits with features and functionality. The latter two are tangible attributes, whereas benefits are an outcome, the positive feelings one develops from interacting with your brand, service, or product.
When developing and designing something, it’s easy to get so bogged down in the minutiae that one doesn’t see the forest for the trees. We start to perceive benefits to the end user where there aren’t aren’t any. Products get larded up with bells and whistles that no one needs. Or worse, we get another “me too” also-ran that’s no better than what’s already out there.
If you’re not providing your customers with some advantage over what already exists, then you’re not really designing an experience. You’re just putting out some product.
When designing with the end user in mind, consider how people will figure out what they can do with your product. Since you can’t be there hovering over their should barking instructions, the product itself will have to let them know.
Affordances, or the easy discoverability of actions, are how products communicate and engage with people.
A simple example is a button. The affordances of a button are touch and push. So when people see a button, whether it’s hardware or software, they know what they can do with it even if they don’t know what function it performs. Affordances don’t account for the action itself, but without them people have to revert to other means to figure things out.
If you need to provide instructions on the interface of your product, it probably has poor affordances.
Knowing that affordances, as a concept, exist will improve your ability to anticipate and avoid common usability flaws when designing a product.
Let’s use a simple object with many affordances. The primary purpose of a milk jug is to hold liquid so it’s easily transported. Since glass is a relatively flexible medium (at least until it hardens), you can provide additional affordances such as a hand grip on the side, a flat surface for writing, a funneled spout for a steadier pour, and a collar for holding onto the red handle.
Some products, on the other hand, have terrible affordances. It’s impossible to tell what you can do with it unless someone shows you. Restroom hand dryers without buttons are a great example of things that do a poor job of communicating what you can do.