If you have been seeking a clear and concise overview on what exactly User Experience Design (UXD) is all about, your first stop should be to snag a copy of the read by Jesse James Garrett, a well respected and highly accomplished master of the craft.
First published in early 2000, The Elements of User Experience Design delivers a quick and detailed primer on the fundamentals of UXD that still prove highly relevant today. While compared to some newer publications (read Leah Buley and Laura Klein) with a tendency toward the frank and funny, do prepare yourself for a read free of flash and sass. A dry read to be sure, but the information is well worth the handful of hours it will take to consume.
Growing out of Garrett's earlier contribution to the field through his conceptual module of User Centered Design, the book explains systematically and simply the complex process of providing a high-quality experience by deconstructing both the human and conceptual issues involved in addition to defining a precise vocabulary.
- Plane dependency: The choices you make on one plane dictates the choices available to you on the next and each plane is dependent upon the ones below it. When we make decisions that are misaligned with those above and below, we risk compromising deadlines, unexpected (significant) costs, and possibly derailing the entire project. In short, be sure to clearly define project requirements and consider the "ripple effect" of your decisions.
- Functionality vs Information: On one side of the plane we have functionality elements and on the other information. Functionality is primarily focused on tasks and tools, in other words the actions and steps the user must take to accomplish their goal and the tools available to them to do so. On the other side we have information, which is you guessed it, concerned with providing a content rich and relevant experience.
The one opinion I was not in agreement with was Garrett’s belief that when a user has difficulty achieving their intended goal through your product, it leaves the user feeling stupid and blaming themselves. While this may have rang more true in the early days of the Web, nowadays it seems any glitch in the user experience is seen as the product or service failing them, not the other way around.
Regardless of what role you play along the product development process, always remember it is the user experience that will form their opinion of your product, determine if they will continue to use it or return, and set you apart from the competition.