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If You Wanna Be Happy for the Rest of Your Life

Create Happiness in Your Users…And Yourself

Delight is one of the buzzwords of the UX profession, but several Madison+ UX 2014 speakers asked UX professionals to dig a little deeper when it comes to the responses they evoke with their products. “Delight is not sustainable,” says Brandon Harris, who spoke on Saturday about designing good user experiences for the non-profit world. “Instead, we should seek to be predictably worthwhile.” His sentiment was enthusiastically tweeted and retweeted, perhaps because of the clever way he linked it to the reason he chose to marry his wife.

Pamela Pavliscak, a user experience research expert and founder of Change Sciences in New York City, posits that sites are predictably worthwhile when they make their users happy. Based on a combination of online studies, observational user research, interviews and social media analysis, Pavliscak believes changing user perspective is more about the small pleasures than the big groundbreakers.

By tracking a sample of 7,000 people, she found the best sites make people happy. “We know we have to go that extra mile,” she says. “But what I found is there is a whole scale of happinesses, and they’re all important and they all factor in. The more happy moments people have as they are using a site, the more happy feeling they’re taking away. We remember the feeling we had, rather than the experience itself.

And it matters dearly: “When we are happy, we are more likely to recommend, explore, and come back to a site,” Pavliscak finds. “Happiness in the short term affects behavior in the long term.”

The Madison+ UX conference provides creative extras to their attendees for this very reason. Door prizes, snacks, free lunches, circus performers, an after party at the children’s museum with social lubricant for those so inclined, a conference app and a live feed of all the proceedings made everyone quite happy indeed.

Pavliscak shares some design principles for spreading happiness in digital users. The first is autonomy, she states that, “People want to feel they are in control. When people are familiar with a site and comfortable with it, they’re happy. Familiarity breeds happiness.” More time spent on a site without success lowers happiness. For example, people are often anxious on healthcare sites because they can be confusing. She goes on to say, “Usability is a baseline. If you don’t have that, you can’t have happiness. Think about that the next time someone wants to put a CAPTCHA on your site.”

A second “happy design principle” is rich interaction. “This seems counter to simplicity,” Pavliscak says, “but what we see are folks who are confronted with new ways to think about things or to try things out without risk are happy. The best sites support curiosity. WebMD makes so many people happy with its ‘what other people searched for’ function. Offer play, variety and managed risk.”

Happy users are, of course, essential, but several speakers talked about what it takes to remain a happy UX professional as well. Andy Montgomery, Director of User Experience at Recurly, compared his experiences working at an agency to working at a startup. His insights helped those just starting out in the field decide where they may want to land.

At an agency, he says, “The focus is on billing hours and producing deliverables. The process is waterfall, sequential, step-by-step. Projects are estimated and billed by the hour. If you are a designer there, you will have multiple clients and projects at one time. You’ll have a more specialized skill set and designated role.” He explains that the development process at an agency is less iterative. Deadlines are hard; relationships with clients can be combative. It’s exciting and high-concept. “There is a lot of variety. You learn time management and foster relationships. You get a lot of practice and build a good portfolio.” Of course, all of this excitement can lead to long hours and burnout. “UX is tacked on and might not be considered throughout the design process.”

Conversely, at Montgomery’s startup Recurly, “Everything is UX, UX is everything. All that matters at the end of the day is the customer’s experience.”

“You are working with a team to improve a product, so you have a long-term relationship with a product,” he explains. “It is outcome-focused rather than deliverable focused. The process is lean and collaborative. A broader skill set is required and cultivated. The number one pro of the startup environment is focus. You get to work on one thing. You understand the product and the customer at a deep level. You have a sense of purpose—you’re building something. Failure is seen as valuable.”

However, Montgomery explains that work at a startup tends to be slower. The deeper learning on one product can be boring, and it can be risky. You can get pigeon-holed into a particular industry.

In the end, he says UXers can find happiness working at either an agency or a startup, and councils trying both to see what suits your particular personality and career path best.