I recently spent some time observing online user experience testing for a big brand (thanks to Tobias Misera and his team from Seren www.seren.com for their hospitality and patient explanations). It was fascinating and eye-opening; I was reminded that, in general, anyone who’s been closely involved in designing and building a website is supremely unqualified to predict how easy it will be for its intended users to err… use. So the only sensible course of action is to find some of your typical users, let them get their hands on a prototype/ mock-up of your site and listen to what they say, but most of all watch what they do. This vitally important and fast-growing field of research is called user experience testing. My own experience (of watching the users) got me thinking about how brands today absolutely must make themselves truly available/ accessible/ approachable in their customers’ eyes. A big part of that, and for many organisations, including e-commerce retailers, arguably the biggest part, is their website. It’s the front line in the user’s perception of the entire brand. Scary, huh?

Think of your own experience as a user of the web. How easy do you find it to use websites in general? That probably depends on how regularly you visit and try to do things on them. This seems reasonable: indeed obvious. In fact, if there is no easy alternative, we’ll tolerate quite a lot; ie. we’ll learn how to use a poor site and ‘suck it up’, even though we may curse every time we need to go there to do something. But should this be the case? If brands are to be truly available to their customers (and potential customers) shouldn’t the site be simplicity itself to use? Shouldn’t the brand remove every barrier which is getting in the way of delivering a delightful experience to each and every site visitor? As users, it is too much to ask for a pleasant, easy, enjoyable experience? Crucially, some brands have stepped up to the plate and an increasing proportion of websites not only work but are easy (and even enjoyable!) to find your way around and to achieve what you trying to do. This has improved user experience generally, and users are increasingly demanding a good (preferably great) experience in exchange for their business.

It’s not just a matter of the first experience of the website (customer acquisition). It’s also a question of users’ ongoing experience as a customer (retention). And of course UX testing can and should continue even after the site is live. When the user has finished doing whatever it was on our site and is about to exit, what would they say if we grabbed them and asked “how was your experience on this visit?”?

It is possible that we wouldn’t like some of the answers but it’s highly likely that we would learn from them. Site surveys don’t get 100% participation, but they’re cheap and can sometimes yield ‘golden nuggets’ of insight, so why wouldn’t you do them?

The most general definition of User Experience (UX) is “the sum of a person’s emotions about using a particular product, system or service”. It’s all about the various aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership (or potential/intended ownership). It also includes a person’s perceptions of practical aspects such as utility, ease-of-use and efficiency. UX is inherently subjective in nature because it’s about individual perception, and to make matters even more complex, it’s dynamic due to changes in technology, user habits and preferences! Online UX today includes much more than basic ‘user interface’ issues.

The term ‘user experience’ was popularised by Donald Norman, User Experience Architect, in the mid-1990s. Massive recent growth in mobile/ social connectivity via smartphones and tablets (and maybe soon via watches and glasses!) has meant that usability and indeed user experience has (rightly) risen up the agenda of many senior marketers. Indeed, in Web UX, the focus has now moved far beyond pure usability (which is largely about engineering, having grown out of ergonomics) to the much broader concept of user experience, where users’ feelings, motivations, and values are given equal and sometimes more importance than pure efficiency. It deals with how people feel before, during and after a visit to the site.

In the design of websites , it is necessary to achieve a balance between the priorities of various stakeholders: including the competing and overlapping areas of marketing, branding, visual design, and usability. Marketing people must consider usability, while Developers need to understand marketing, branding, and aesthetic factors when designing websites. User experience testing and development should encompass the interests of all stakeholders: making sites easy to use, valuable, and effective for visitors, which should lead to increased ROI, which is in everyone’s interests.

Many factors can influence a user’s experience with a site. Single experiences influence the overall UX eg on a smartphone, the ‘experience’ of making a single key click affects the ‘experience’ of typing a text message, which affects the whole experience of texting, which in turn affects the overall user experience with the device. This overall UX is not just the “sum” of smaller interaction experiences, because some of these experiences are more important than others and should be weighted accordingly. Overall, UX is also influenced by external factors: the strength of the brand, pricing, friends’ feedback/ attitudes and of course, social media.

There is also the crucially important “emotional” factor, including momentary experiences during interaction. In the world of hardware design, Steve Jobs recognised this perhaps better than any of his peers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPfJQmpg5zk importantly, Apple products “just work” (as well as looking great) and their users love them and will pay a premium accordingly.

UX consultants also consider the long-term relationship between user experience and product appreciation. Indeed the UX of the brand at every touchpoint is critical for building and maintaining brand loyalty, and as a result driving profitable sales. And let’s remember: online, a bad experience can lead to an immediate click away; it’s so easy to ‘Google’ another site or go back to Facebook. User engagement is extremely fragile. No wonder UX is becoming such a priority for CMOs.

Here is a mnemonic which I have found helpful when advising my consultancy clients on all aspects of User Experience. Like all the best mnemonics, it’s cheesy but (I hope) memorable (and true).

So: make your website GREAT™!

Get users to the content they want – fast

Reward their effort/time

Engage them – or you’ll lose them

Add value at every stage of the customer journey

Think about users first – then your objectives

© Mike Berry Associates 2013


For all web users, the bar has been raised by effective, enjoyable, usable websites which have become the norm. Today’s connected brands need to ensure they deliver a GREAT™ experience; to every single visitor/ customer, at every touchpoint, every time. This is good news for companies like Seren www.seren.com whose mission is to help their clients ensure that every visitor gets a truly GREAT™ experience, in every channel, over their entire customer lifetime. Not easy of course, but absolutely worth striving for!