“UX” (user experience) has always been a broad, fluffy, and rather nebulous term to me. But I’ve finally found an analogy that makes UX make sense.

The original Heinz ketchup bottle is an icon of design and branding: the clear glass container was a statement of transparency, quality and trust 100 years ago, when food preservation was often a hit-and-miss affair. Otherwise, the design makes very few concessions to the experience of actually using ketchup, as millions of tomato-stained shirts and tables over the last century can attest to.

Contrast this to the “top down” container Heinz unveiled in 2003, shown above. The design reinforces the intended use of the product. That’s crafting a design for experience and interaction, not just for appearance. That’s experience design.

This innovation was made possible by advancements in many different areas: the materials technology of PET plastic to make the container squeezable, modern food quality control standards making transparency redundant. User experience design is never its own thing: it is part of a complex, interdependent network of possibilities and limitations.

Applying User Experience Design To Your Site

Considering site design from the perspective of how it is used is a vital part of the development process:

  • Interaction with your site will increasingly be limited to one eye and one thumb.
  • Designing for inattention is likely to be the biggest challenge of the 21st century.
  • Information recovery. Most websites are designed and presented as data scattered across pages, forcing users to search and backtrack to find what they are after. That’s wrong, and inconsiderate: information components are what is desired, not pages. Modern sites should have the ability to rearrange, reorder and restructure data according to user’s needs.
  • Context awareness and anticipation. If I’m looking at from my office, I could be planning to take a dozen different actions. If I’m looking at the site from a mobile device, it’s more likely that I’ll take one of two: finding the delivery status of an order, or the location of a store (especially if I’m moving). If I’m in a store, I most likely need a map of the aisles, stock status of an item, or a comparison shopper. A site that successfully anticipates and caters to my needs is more likely to be a site that I find friendly, warm, welcoming and helpful.

There are many emotional factors that come into play as web technologies become inseparably intermeshed with our lives, making experience design an increasingly important skill in a connected world. With luck, this article will start your consideration of these factors in the sites you design, build, and promote.