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More than an afterthought: UX builds emotional connections

Ian Dykes

UX, or user experience, refers to the way a user interacts with a digital product. Whether it’s a website, a mobile app, a virtual reality tool or augmented reality; it’s all UX. You are speaking directly to the user, and their experience of these products is what makes them successful or not. 

Design is what users see: it is the visual communication of a product. The earlier UX is introduced into the design process, the stronger and more authentic the user experience is going to be. 

Chasing your own tail 

Unfortunately, UX is often introduced after the first round of designs, when the expectation is that it will just be a case of small optimisations. But it’s not unusual for there to be fundamental issues from a UX perspective. Far from small tweaks, these would require a full redesign. 

Typically, this happens when form is prioritised over function. For example, a company creates a new, beautifully designed e-commerce website, they launch it and customers start browsing. It looks like a success, but the user experience hasn’t been considered. The products are difficult to find and the checkout process is complicated: no one buys anything and the company suffers. 

Tweaking the design won’t fix this. The company needs to conduct user research, re-evaluate the website's architecture and information hierarchy, and redesign the interface to make it more user-friendly before the website can be relaunched. 

While this is an extreme scenario, leaving UX to the final stage before launch would have a similar impact. Indeed, even small optimisations are time-intensive for the whole team as designers, strategists and developers all have to work together to make sure the product journey still aligns with the company message. 

This can all be avoided by involving the UX team from the beginning. That way, any potential issues can be identified and rectified before they become problems, and the first round of designs will already be better optimised for user experience.  

Emotional connection

The purpose of UX is to create an experience that will resonate with your users, which will in turn increase customer satisfaction and retention rates. 

To create that seamless experience, all teams involved in producing the product must work together towards one cohesive concept. It’s much easier to do this when someone from the UX team is involved from the start. Consistency can be built in across all the touchpoints, which sets a strong foundation for building an emotional connection with your users; a connection that starts the moment users first interact with your product. 

Calm has perfected this. Calm’s goal is to improve people’s health and happiness through its app offering mindfulness services. After a seamless and personalised onboarding experience, users open the app and enter straight into a peaceful environment with soothing colours and sounds. This calming experience is maintained by the streamlined design, which presents users with clear options: no getting overwhelmed by too much choice here. Even moments that are usually high-friction, like waiting for a meditation to load, become calming as the app prompts users to take deep breaths. 

The app lives and breathes the company mission. All stages of the user journey are connected and the user experience of the app genuinely captures the emotion of users.  

Unbreakable loyalty 

Emotion is subjective, but the best user experiences create a connection from the moment the user first interacts with the product and maintain it with every subsequent interaction. A clunky experience can irritate users, causing them to seek out alternate brands. Seamless UX creates loyalty: users have no need to look elsewhere because their experience is continually positive, even boosted with offers and rewards for their loyalty. 

I know that loyalty first hand. I’ve been racing motorbikes since I was six and I’ve only ever raced one brand. Are there better brands out there? Yes. Will I swap? No. I am willing to ride through the lows of the brand because the experience and the benefits I get are intrinsically linked with my passion. I’ve built such a strong emotional connection that I’m not willing to let it go.

It may seem abstract to compare a motorcycle brand to UX but this physical example captures what happens in the digital world. Other motorcycles require modifications and tweaks before you race whereas my brand feels like it has been perfectly tailored to my needs, it’s as if they have thought about everything I might possibly need to be able to do what I love. I can get on and instantly race. And it's not just me, other riders who love the brand will tell you the same thing.

That’s what UX can do for anything digital. But only when it’s included and considered from the beginning.

This article previously appeared on Ecommerce Age in May 2023.