Q&A With Anton Sten, Author of User Experiences That Matter
Anton Sten borrows notes from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to communicate why user experience design matters, regardless of whether you work in UX or not.
Anton Sten is a UX designer and freelancer who literally wrote the book on User Experiences That Matter.
“I think we spend a lot of time these days on websites and in applications that are okay to use, but none of them are really a pleasurable experience. That’s what I’m on a quest to change,” Sten said.
Based in the south of Sweden, Sten chatted with us via Skype to answer our questions about his book and what it takes to create user experiences that truly matter.
Two reasons, actually. One of them is that I wanted to combine different blog posts into a bigger package — something that would be more of a product and not just separate pieces.
The other reason was that I wanted there to be more of a lightweight option for people just beginning to learn about user experience. I think there are some great books on the topic, but most of them are heavy and not really aimed at normal people. It’s quite a light read. It’s not a long book, but it’s something that hopefully will get people thinking more about user experience design, even if you’re not necessarily a user experience designer.
I’m going to ask you the same question you asked several UX designers throughout your book. To you, what defines a great user experience?
I think it really depends on the product. Take something like Dropbox. In my opinion, they offer a great user experience. It works and it’s not in my face. There are no pop ups coming up — it’s out of my way for 99 percent of the time. The syncing is fast and it just works. When I do need additional features, it’s integrated into my system and my existing workflow, so I don’t have to launch an extra app or something like that. that’s a really good user experience for that kind of product.
On the other hand, I think something like MailChimp is nice because their branding is very much aligned with their product. They have taken the time to put effort into all of these tiny details, like when you send the campaign, for instance, you get a high five prompt from their character. They have all of these minor details, but all of them embrace the product and the brand.
I think a great user experience really depends on the brand, the product, the use case for that product, and making sure that all of these sort of align in a great way.
You talk about user experience design in the book as not a separate entity from the user experience entirely, but as just one part of the user experience. What do you think the difference is between the full user experience and that of the user experience design?
User experience design is just part of the bigger picture. If you think of loading times, they are basically crucial to the user experience, but they’re dependent on a number of things. Design is one of them, but it’s obviously not the only one.
I think we need to focus more on user experience, not necessarily user experience design — users are not thinking about user experience design as a separate entity. They’re not coming to a page and thinking, ‘Oh, I understand that this page is slow and that’s fine because these designs are so nice, and the wireframes behind it all are really great.’ You want everything to work together. I think splitting things into silos, like separating design from the entire user experience, is just one of the things that our industry needs to work at in order to create better products.
Absolutely. And on that note, you mention in the book that you’re not the biggest fan of the term “UX designer.” Why is that?
I think that’s related to what I just mentioned. It puts the responsibility of the total user experience on the designer whereas design is one part of the user experience, but it is not everything.
If you have the best possible user experience designer, but have people in logistics or tech that don’t value the user experience at all, the product will still ship with a bad user experience. The designer can only do so much. When something doesn’t work, we tend to then blame the user experience designer.
Yeah, what you’re saying then is user experience is a much more of a holistic thing than just that of user experience design. You’ve mentioned logistics, but also in your book you talk about sociology, and things like the UI, and everything that kind of goes into it.
Absolutely yes, and that can be really small things. If you order something online, for instance, and you find a product, you find the website, you check out, and everything is working just great. But then you get the email confirmation and the tracking number isn’t linked to a tracking service. It’s a really minor thing, but that sort of breaks the experience you had and it’s not necessarily the user experience designer’s fault. That’s just one thing where I think the user experience is bigger than just design.
One tool you reference that can be used to prevent any inconsistencies is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Why did you choose this and how can this be used to assess an overall user experience?
Most of the time, products and services ship when they’ve reached the bare minimum requirement. As a human, that would be like breathing, getting food, and getting sleep — those are the bare requirements.
For new products, that’s fine. But I think in order to make something really great, they need to keep reiterating and trying to fine-tune the experience to move higher up in the hierarchy, just as we as humans need to evolve and work on ourselves ]in order to have the most fulfilling life. I think products and services can use that same term of thinking. There needs to be constant evolvement to become something that’s really pleasurable to use.
You equate pleasurable to use to self-actualisation. Is that what designers and everyone involved in the user experience should ultimately be striving for — whatever you have created is actually a joy for the user to use?
Exactly. I think when we try to list all of the services we are using or have used, there’s just so few of them we actually consider [to be] pleasurable to use — most stop before [they get there]. They reach something that’s good enough, which, in a way, is what most of us humans do also. We tend to live our lives on a scale of what we think is good enough and, in some cases, that’s fine. But I think a lot of us would be happier if we think a bit more about how we’re spending our lives and why.
In the book, you reference the Maya Angelou quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Why did you choose this quote and how does it relate to user experience design?
I think that’s a great quote because I think it’s true for people. We tend to choose our words wisely and think about what we’re doing, whereas it’s mostly how we make them feel that is the key to tactually changing someone’s opinion about something.
I think that relates to user experience design in the same way. Great user experiences actually make users feel something. That could be a tool that makes you feel empowered. Going to myself, the first time I used an iPhone, I probably felt empowered in a way that a mobile phone hadn’t made me feel before because it was something completely different.
I think we tend to work on the practical sides, but not really think about how we want to make our users feel. That could be a tool that makes them feel healthy. It could be a tool that makes them feel like they’re saving time. It doesn’t have to be life changing, but I think just thinking about that sort of perspective can be really useful.
Right, designers must remember that a user is a person.
Yeah, I think that’s really the thing that user experience design, for me at least, is really about — making people’s days a little bit better and a little bit brighter, in whatever way we can. I think we have so many possibilities to do that. Even if it’s something that might seem like a boring task, like paying your bills. If you can actually make a mobile or online bank a little bit more fun and easier to use, I think that goes such a long way.
Anyone that has just the slightest interest in what user experience design is, how people areworking with user experience design, how they’re thinking about creating products. So basically, anyone that has the slightest interest in digital products and the why side of things wondering,‘why is this working in this way?’ Anyone that’s curious, really.
Thank you Anton!
To learn more about Anton Sten and to purchase his book User Experiences That Matter, visit antonsten.com.