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Defining User Experience in the Enterprise

User experience in the context of web performance is an an overused term that's often conceptually understood, but difficult to concretely define. That's why we asked Akamai senior network architect Matt Ringel to help us define and qualify user experience in the context of enterprise application delivery. In his own words: User Experience = User Interface + User Expectation + Desired Outcome.

Breaking Down User Experience
Naturally, one might wonder what those terms mean. Matt describes them as follows:

  • User interface refers to the raw mechanics of the user interface. For example, a scroll bar, radio dial, and clickable button are unique examples of interfaces.
  • User expectation is the contract between an interface and a user. For example, if a user moves a scroll bar, the page should move. If the user clicks on a button, the response should be instantaneous. These interactions must be consistent with how a user is led to believe the interface will respond.
  • Desired outcome is the fulfilment of the implicit "contract" between a user and the interface. For example, if a new employee begins navigating their way through an organization's online training course, their desired outcome is to have their progress tracked, logged, and saved across sessions. Meanwhile the desired organizational outcome is to see that employee complete the training as efficiently as possible.
These three components create a holistic and concrete definition for user experience in the enterprise. Taken together, they define the "Real Performance" of the user interaction, for instance, the time it takes to retrieve a page element, load a high resolution photo, or submit an expense report. Most importantly, real web performance is the question of whether or not an employee can get their job done in a timely manner.

Improving User Experience
In today's modern enterprise environment, employees are often required to use a defined set of secure tools established by their IT department. Typically, these tools are slow and less than ideal -- making the task of user experience improvement absolutely critical.

To optimize the user experience, it's helpful to remember that feedback is key. While web performance is important, how the interface communicates what's going on matters a great deal. Any scalable user experience strategy should include these considerations:

  • Analyze Site Response: Take a page from the e-commerce playbook by examining an application's conversion and abandonment rates. By measuring how long each action takes, user completion rates, when/where users are abandoning and other aspects of performance, enterprises can guide their development process to optimize an application.
  • Develop For Scale: Behind the scenes, every site and application runs scripts, loads layouts, text, and images, as well as dynamic databases. As requirements expand to meet the needs of new platforms, devices, and application capabilities, so will the codebase, making scalability a top priority for application development.
  • Design Feedback Elements: This involves design considerations like the overall layout, the speed of responsive elements, spinning images, mouseovers, button actions, color changes, progress bars, and the text displayed while they activate. How these look, how quickly they appear, and what happens next are all types of feedback.
  • Optimize Application Performance: The coolest spinning beach ball won't matter much if the application is too slow to fulfill a database query or display dynamic content. Admins must ensure that their database connections and site servers are fast, reliable and secure. The more robust a site or app, the more important it is to consider redundancy, edge server solutions and cloud network delivery.
In sum, abandonment costs real money. With that in mind, user experience is no longer a "nice-to-have." It's a must that directly impacts an organization's bottom line.

More Information
Want to learn more? Check out the full interview with Matt Ringel or a deep dive into enterprise user experience and visit Akamai's new Internet Insights for Application Delivery video series to hear other Akamai enterprise experts.

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