It sounds kind of pretentious, doesn’t it? Designing an experience. But it’s the best way to describe what we are actually trying to do, I think. A smart person once said to me that the experience is not on the screen, it’s in the mind. And I think that’s a great way to think about user experience.
Designing an experience means creating a set of interactions (what we often call a journey) that has a certain character of its own; an internal logic and consistency that is useful (and usable), engaging, and hopefully memorable. Somehow the way the interfaces look and interact – how one thing progresses and connects to the next – need to add up to something close to a real-life experience. It is absolutely fitting that we should call this a journey and think of it in terms of a metaphorical progress through space just like a walk down the road in the “real world”. And like the real world, the environment and how it responds to us very much creates an impression and makes an impact – good, bad, or indifferent.
And this experience needs to have some emotional resonance if people are going to remember it. Emotion is entirely linked with memory and cognition, and if we want the people who use our digital experiences to remember them and come back again and again (or even to recommend us to their friends) we need to connect in some way with their emotions. Many have done this with stunning visuals that move the heart in subtle ways, or just the right tone and wit in the copy, there are thousands of techniques to create a moment you will remember. The best experiences use all elements in perfect balance to create just the right kind of emotional echoes and win their way into your memory.
We may use boxes and arrows (and mock-ups and prototypes and flow charts etc. etc.) to represent the experience we are envisioning and creating, but what we are really working with are the emotions, memories, and expectations of the people who will “experience” our work.