At TryMyUI we review a lot of user testing videos. In these narrated videos the tester verbalizes her thoughts as she performs the tasks in the usability test. In this free-form mode, we are actually getting information that points to 3 characteristics that affect the user experience:

 

1. Recognition

How well does the site model map to what the user has in mind; or put another way, how easily does the user understand what the site is about, what services it provides, and how she can access those services?

2. Impression

How does the site design, look and feel, imagery, and visual cues affect how the user perceives the site? That is, what type of emotional reaction does the user have to the website? Does it look casual, fun, official, corporate, etc?

3. Interaction

How does the user react to her interactions with the site? Is the site responsive? Are the forms smart? Is it easy to recover a password? Does the site require the user to register before they can see what the site is about?

 

While the users don’t delineate between these three factors in articulating their thoughts and impressions, we can usually see how these elements are affecting the user experience.

What’s interesting is that entire businesses are launched based upon the premise that they can gain significant competitive advantage by optimizing one of these areas. For example, evite has been around for a long time, but pingg and a number of other sites came about, in part with the idea that they can make the invitation design experience easier and more fun.