The hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow describing the stages of human growth. But just like in humans, user interfaces go through stages of growth too. These stages of growth for interfaces are the user experience hierarchy of needs.
The most basic needs start at the bottom of the pyramid and end with the highest needs at the top. If the basic needs aren’t met, it’s difficult to find the desire and motivation to meet the higher needs. The basic needs in the UX pyramid are functionality and information. The higher needs are aesthetics and usability.
The most basic need of an interface is functionality. This need is met when the interface will work without breaking. It’ll have little to no bugs, and everything you click will take you exactly where it’s intended to go. To begin working on your interface’s functionality, you need to at least know what tasks your interface will perform and how it will do them. Without proper functionality, your interface will surely have a poor user experience.
An interface without information is a useless, empty shell. Information is the next basic need for an interface. This need is met when your interface delivers correct and up-to-date content in a readable format to users. If users have to struggle to read your content, they won’t bother. And if your content is not correct or up-to-date, it’s not usable for them, and they will end up going somewhere else. Information is the meat of an interface. When you fill your interface with quality content, users can rely on it more.
After you meet your interface’s basic needs, it’s time to focus on your interface’s higher needs. Aesthetics is the first higher need. To meet this need, your interface needs a unique, friendly and professional look that sets it apart from the crowd. Good aesthetics is what will make users remember your interface. It can even help you create a loyal following among your users. By examining the aesthetics, users should get a sense of your interface’s values and personality.
When most speak of user experience, they’re referring to usability, the highest need of the UX hierarchy. Usability is the ease of use of an interface that increases user productivity. Interfaces that have a high level of usability allow users to complete tasks quickly and accurately. However, most interfaces rarely achieve usability to its full capacity. This is because most interfaces have many tasks, and there’s always some task users will make mistakes on.
To fully meet this need, you need to analyze the accuracy and speed it takes users to complete every task in your interface. This requires putting your interface in front of the user and observing how they behave. It also requires critical design thinking to come up with solutions that clarify and simplify the user’s flow. When users can consistently do each task fast without making mistakes, your interface will have met its usability needs.
Many people think that user experience is only about one or two of these needs. But, in reality, user experience makes up all these needs. They are all important. Without meeting the basic needs, it’s hard for your interface grow and meet the higher needs. Without meeting the higher needs, it’s hard for your interface to give users the best experience possible.
There are many specialists who work to fulfill a particular need of an interface. Some may contribute more to the functionality, while others may contribute more to the usability. But everyone involved plays a role in building the user experience. The big problem is when people focus too much on one need and ignore other needs.
You can’t build a great user experience without meeting the user experience hierarchy of needs. In the same way a human needs to reach its full potential to live a happier life, an interface needs to reach its full potential to give us a happier life.