I’ve been in a number of conversations recently where a couple of common threads have come up over and over again. At first sight these might seem to be unrelated but, as I’ll explain later, perhaps not so much.
The first is around the difference between User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX).
The second is the (almost daily) request for a feature (differs per conversation) that we “absolutely must have in product to compete with <insert your competitor of choice here>”.
Let’s tackle the first one first.
UI and UX, whilst often used interchangeably, are not the same thing, as this rant from Gary Barber tries to explain.
This best came home to me in a conversation with a chap in New Zealand a couple of years ago. He had used both a product I had been involved with and also one from a competitor.
He said this:
[The Competitors product] has great UI’s on all of the products in the suite … but, as a user, the UX is just terrible. It looks good, but it isn’t terribly usable. [Your product] however, really isn’t very sexy, but the UX is fabulous. You get the feeling that it has been designed around how people actually work.
And that’s the point.
Good UX requires a high degree of business process understanding, behavioral analysis and user testing and validation (as well as a bunch of other things).
As Dain Miller put it,
UI is the saddle, the stirrups, and the reigns. UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse, and rope your cattle.
So on to the second issue, the features we absolutely must have to compete with <insert your competitor of choice here>.
I believe that products become fabulous not by us focusing on competing with <insert your competitor of choice here> but instead by focusing on specific usage scenarios faced by individuals within your target market, and designing around the desired user experience for these, or, in the words of my New Zealand friend, “designing around how people actually work”.
Of course, we often need products to be generic enough to address multiple specific scenarios, but that still doesn’t mean trying to compete feature-for-feature with <insert your competitor of choice here>.
To put it another way, it’s about designing products with end user adoption (or usability) in mind, not based on the possible features that can be included.
Paradoxically, this is how a clear focus on UX has the potential to deliver huge competitive advantage for your products.