Thoughts on User Experience (UX)

User Experience – or ‘UX’ as the technology world calls it – refers to how a person feels when interfacing with a system or product. Typically, this term has been reserved for techies who need to design products and systems people use and value. In the tech world, UX Designers are the specialists responsible for delivering UX.

Today, UX is making an impact on all aspects of corporate society. With the average North American exposed to about 3,000 ads every day, companies are looking for new ways to up their competition – and enhancing UX is the hot new trend.

There’s nowhere UX is more important than in the world of community engagement. In our practice, we recognize every point of contact is critical – from the wording of an invitation to the smile on the face of the person who greets participants at a community event. We design audience-centred engagement that create the space for genuine, authentic and meaningful conversations. Similar to UX designers, we study who our participants are, what they need and value, their abilities and their limitations – while also taking into account the goals of the project. This allows us to design and implement rich and interactive engagement programs and events that stimulate creative collaboration, transfer knowledge, gather data, drive visioning and support planning.

Recently, we produced an engagement event where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal health and social service workers explored ways to maintain healthy communities. We wanted to create an environment where participants felt welcome, were comfortable sharing and would feel they had been part of a valuable experience, so we created a UX-focused ‘unconference’ where participants led discussions about topics that mattered to their communities, exchanged ideas and built new relationships in a dynamic and supportive environment. The information gathered during that session benefited the university researchers,  the health care practitioners and the regular citizens who took part, and it also provided valuable planning and design information for our resource industry clients. But most telling were the hugs, handshakes, and even tears around the room that day. 

The public is bombarded with engagement events almost as much as they are bombarded with ads for the latest diet soda. Everyone is eager to capture the public’s attention in order to receive the public input needed to build their latest project. As engagement professionals we can only benefit our practice, our clients and, most importantly, our public audiences, by designing our consultation and engagement based on UX principles.

3 Tips for designing consultation based on UX principles:

1. Understand your audience – who they are, what they need and what they value. Consultation based on UX principles should be personalized, not customized, to each audience.

2. Understand the goal of the project before trying to achieve it. Each project has a purpose – to address a problem or issue that people are facing. You must be able to clearly articulate the core of the issue before designing the consultation process.

3. Consider the user experience at all stages – invitation, greeting at the door, facilitation and support throughout the event, breaks and refreshments, departure, follow-up activities and reporting out.

Candace Jones works with James Laurence Group to design engagement events that reflect and respect the interests of participants.