Illustration by Avery Adamson

User experience is what happens when you use a product, and how you feel using that product.

Enjoying the ride?

If you ride lots of rollercoasters, you’re good at judging the rollercoaster ‘user experience.’ You can tell if it’s going to be fast and scary, slow and rickety, or boring and predictable. And maybe even if people are going to throw up.

Each rollercoaster has a different ‘user experience,’ like any other type of product. Hopefully it’s what the designer of the rollercoaster intended to achieve. But other factors matter, too, like the age of the rollercoaster and the vibe of the amusement park.

‘User experience’ is a term coined by techies in Silicon Valley. It didn’t exist when most rollercoasters were built, but the idea of ‘how the riders feel’ certainly did.

Before computers came along, there were no ‘users’; just drivers, riders, operators, customers, shoppers, subscribers, and audiences. Product designers thought about how people would interact with their designs, whether cars or silverware or hand tools. But there weren’t always good ways of measuring those interactions.

Then the Internet came along, and suddenly designers could closely monitor every user’s interactions with their products. How do they ‘engage‘ with the product? What do they do, exactly? How do they feel? Where do they get stuck?

Many companies today make user experience their primary focus. Because the better your product’s user experience, the more money you’ll make.

So next time you use a product or service, even a rollercoaster, pay attention to what the designers did to create your user experience… and what they’re doing to improve it.