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Sunday, March 11, 2007

The User Experience Onion

8:50:00 PM Posted by Oscar Berg , No comments
The value of a rich and high quality user experience cannot be overestimated. In the content economy, the user experience is a key differentiatior between content products and ultimately what will make it a success or a failure. But, what exactly is contained within the concept “user experience”? Which are the key questions to ask when developing a content product – anything from a simple newsletter or whitepaper to an entire web site or e-learning application – in order to create rich and high quality user experiences?

Jesse James Garrett defines user experience as “how the product behaves and is used in the real world”.

In other words, creating rich and high quality user experience is about getting to know and understand the users and identify the qualities that a content product must possess to create superior user experiences for them. After that, it becomes a matter of realization, requiring a certain amount of skills, resources and luck.

I like to look at user experience as an onion with many layers where each layer needs to be there and be of a certain thickness to create a positive user experience. And the thicker each layer, the greater the total user experience will be. Here are the main layers and the key questions to ask to determine the existence and thickness of each layer:

The Content Layer - Does the content product deliver the actual benefits or value that the user is looking for and expecting? Is the content purposeful, relevant, correct, up to date and complete?

The Functionality Layer - Does the content product provide the necessary capabilities so that the user can interact with the content as desired? What can the user do with it?

The Presentation Layer - Is the product presented visually so that it communicates the content and functionality in an efficient and appealing way, encouraging interaction?

The Usability Layer - Is it easy for the user to use the content product for the intended purpose? Is it easy to understand and use it?

The Accessibility Layer - Can users with disabilities, from visual problems to cognitive impairments, use the content product? Can a user that should have the right to access the content product access it? Can it be accessed where and when the user desires to? (the last two questions are not within the scope of the traditional definition of accessibility)

The Findability Layer - Can the user easily discover, locate and retrieve the content product?

The Brand Layer – Is the brand known to the user and how strong is it? What kind of expectations does the user associate with the brand? What emotions does it trigger? What previous user experiences are connected to the brand?

The Content Layer is of course the heart of the content product user experience. Each layer above the Content Layer is there to enable and enrich the usage of it.

The Brand Layer is to me in a way the most interesting layer. A thick Brand Layer, a stong brand, can in some cases – at least in the short run – compensate for very thin layers underneath it. And the other way around, a content product with superior content, functionality, presentation and so on can create superior user experiences and become successful basically overnight even though the brand is totally unknown.

I will explain the dynamics of this User Experience Onion model further with a real world example in a coming post. And possibly even provide an illustration of the onion.

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