Creating a great consumer product today means producing something that people love. It has to be useful, look fantastic and delight the user when they interact with it. But that feeling of delight doesn't happen by accident – the user experience (UX) is designed in from day one.

UX design is about effectively understanding and addressing the needs and circumstances of your users to produce product interfaces and interactions that are useful, simple and enjoyable. It involves strong research and analysis, organised planning and strategising, as well as conceptualising, designing, testing and development to produce the overall result of the experience itself.

But while consumer products are designed to evoke that feeling of delight, industrial and scientific products are generally designed to be functional and look more ‘serious’. Until now, that is.

Through consumer devices like smartphones and tablets, we have seen computers evolve from being difficult for non-experts to use into devices that can be used with confidence by most people. The demand for UX design in industrial and scientific products is now growing as users expect that same level of experience.

Good UX design leads to products with competitive advantage through focusing on usability, improving user productivity and performance, and reducing the number of errors that a user can make.

At Cambridge Consultants, we’ve brought user-centred design to the fore in product developments for many clients – using a UX design process to develop products with user interfaces that are focused on interactions that simplify complex tasks. The fusion of user-focused design processes and in-depth knowledge of engineering complex products and systems is a potent cocktail for creating successful, usable products.

A good example is how we exercised our UX design process and expert knowledge of wireless telecoms networks to develop an interface that allows users of a new satellite communications system to manage service availability across the planet. Through research into who the users of the system would be – and analysis of the behaviour and tasks needed – the design team developed an information architecture and interaction models that formed the basis of an innovative user interface. Testing early prototype builds with users allowed the team to iterate towards interactions that removed ‘friction’ from the tasks the users needed to perform to achieve their goals.

Considering UX at the system level opens up new possibilities for how people interact with everyday items to enrich their experience – improving performance, for example. Our ‘connected bike’ – with its automatic gear-change system – uses low-cost wireless technologies to collect performance data from elite athletes. Its smartphone-based interface enables users to turn that scientific data into performance analysis and feedback at their fingertips.

Employing a UX design process doesn’t just benefit the users of a product. It leads to other, less obvious, advantages such as product developments that avoid unnecessary product features and therefore save development time. Also, products that deliver a good user experience enhance a company’s customer experience and reputation – and this in turn translates into customer loyalty.

In today’s competitive market, can you afford not to consider the user’s experience?

Read more from Steve and his colleagues in our Interface magazine.

Steve Haigh