Feelings first – Why user experience is the key to digital success

Published: 26.4.2023
Author: Maija Helminen, Service Designer
Categories: Culture
Reading time: 6 min
Oksan is pointing a map on the wall

User experience is not just about colors and layouts, it is about emotions, thoughts, and feelings evoked in the user and actions done by the user. If done right, it can turn your business into a real success story. Let me - a Service Designer - reveal a couple of secrets on how to add some sparkle to your digital service.

Most services these days generate little to no physical value to the consumer, with the exception of literal online stores. Instead, the reason people keep coming back to a certain website or online service is much more intangible. Most often, however, the answer is stunningly simple – they simply like it.

Now, what does like mean? Perhaps it means that the users find the information provided by the service useful and easily accessible. The content on it might be just right and caters to their specific niche better than any other website found on Google’s search. Maybe the website’s elements just move in a super satisfying way, and the service seems to know what the user wants even before they dared to ask for it. Or maybe the interface reminds them of their old Nokia 3310 phone – simple, easy, and reliable to use.

As a digital service designer, I hail from the substantial expertise of smart city development; carrying out the strategic and human-centered design and development of some of Finland’s biggest cities, transportation organizations, and media houses. Needless to say, from the private to the public, clients and their respective services have various duties, objectives, and responsibilities, from making a profit to guiding everyday citizens to public services. In my experience, however, no matter how unique the target user pool or how complex the digital ecosystem, in the end, users come back to the service for pretty much the same reason.

Ready for it? (Drumroll, please)

The users trust it to meet their needs and feel seen and understood by it. And when you think about it, it does make perfect sense: who wouldn’t want that?

Unwrapping UX

UX is an acronym most people working with service development come across sooner or later. It stands for user experience and is mostly used to describe the emotions, thoughts, and feelings evoked in the user by their interaction with the service or product. It’s the intangible value. UX is usually paired up with UI (user interface) design, and at Wunder, both enjoy the gentle care of experts called UI/UX designers, who work closely together with service design professionals to develop the overall user-friendliness and human-centricity of services. And as UX is the most defining factor between a crummy service and a great one, it’s no wonder most clients want to put a lot of effort into developing it.

Oddly enough, you can not actually develop user experience. (Pause for shock effect.) Now before throwing away the whole UX budget of your service project, let’s examine why. While a service can certainly be developed to enable better user experiences or “spark joy”, the user experience itself cannot be externally “developed”. This is due to the fact that, as the name suggests, UX is about the experience – something that is inherently individual, personal, and heavily based on some very human emotions. And don’t we all know that even if you’d like to, emotions just can’t be forced.

The simplest way to understand the concept of UX and how to “handle” it is by comparing it with any other emotion; for instance, the all-time favorite one, love. As with UX, even the idea of developing someone else’s feelings is inherently redundant: you can’t make someone fall in love with you. No matter how hard you’d try, you simply can not be everyone’s cup of tea. In terms of services, this translates roughly to “if you try to cater to the whole world, you could end up pleasing no one”. However, this doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. As with finding love, the breeding ground for better user experiences should be done through knowing oneself first. Therefore, before diving head into panic mode and generating aimless solutions on a whim, a service should first define its own goals and premises: What does it aim to achieve, with who, and most importantly, why? Now, this is the part where service design usually steps in.

Service designer – the Cupid of digital development

Any service can and should strive to spark more joy in its targeted users. The simplest way to do this and consequently allow great user experiences to be born is through defining both the needs of the users as well as the goals of the service itself. After that, it’s just a matter of letting an expert design the perfect UI solutions to answer those specific needs. Simple enough, right?

Figuring out the needs – the problem to be solved – is always a good place to begin in order to avoid time and money wasted on lost causes. In service design, need assessment is done firstly by understanding the context and goals of the service: objectives, possible challenges, specific industry and its standards, competitors, dependencies, and other related services or databases. From this, the service’s mission and vision can be defined as why the service exists and what it is striving towards in the future. That, in turn, dictates the targeted users and other important stakeholders of the service; in other words, those whose user experiences the service aim to nurture now and cater to in the future.

Understanding your own needs and objectives is a piece of cake compared to figuring out what others want. Humans, I’ve found, will do almost anything to avoid saying two things: “I’m just not that into you” and “Tell me what you like”. Consequently, A LOT of time, money, and love has been wasted on assumptions when, in reality, the only way to really know what someone thinks about you or your service would be to simply ask them. User research is an integral part of both service design as well as the overall development of successful services, solutions, and systems; not to mention game-changing innovations. We may be experts in our fields, but when it comes to what makes or breaks a great experience, more often than not, the answers lie outside the project team. Therefore, no matter how much we’d like, the best ideas don’t actually come from a steering group but from the users themselves: their real-life situations, everyday insights, and problems they themselves don’t yet even know how to put into words.

"The reason why users return to the online service is that they trust it to meet their needs and feel seen and understood by it."

Maija Helminen, Service Designer, Wunder

While love potions and UX silver bullets only exist in fairytales, careful introspection and user research usually reveal that there are some specific improvements to be made. Instead of only relying on fate to bring the right people to your service’s doorstep, why not make the most of the design resources available? With some self-awareness, strategic goal-setting, empathic user research, and a little help from your fairy godmother UI/UX designer, it’s much easier for the right people to perceive your service as delightful, attractive, fun, responsible, and trustworthy. And after that, it’s only a matter of time (and some really great SEO) before the right one(s) comes along.

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