User Experience Design (UXD, UED), Interaction Design (IxD), User Interface (UI) Design and other web/application design professionals use the term User Experience Design to refer to the judicious application of certain user-centered design practices, a highly contextual design mentality, and use of certain methods and techniques that are applied through process management to produce cohesive, predictable, and desirable effects in a specific person, or persona (archetype comprised of target audience habits and characteristics). All so that the affects produced meet the user’s own goals and measures of success and enjoyment, as well as the objectives of the providing organization.
This is not the only definition of User Experience Design. The term was coined by Don Norman while he was Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple. In his own words: “I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose it’s meaning… user experience, human centered design, usability; all those things, even affordances. They just sort of entered the vocabulary and no longer have any special meaning. People use them often without having any idea why, what the word means, its origin, history, or what it’s about.” 1
Given the persistent level of confusion about the meaning of User Experience Design, defining it by what it is not can be useful. It is not a trendy new name for, or in any way synonymous with
- Web design
- User-centered design
- Graphic design
- Human factors engineering
- User interface (UI) design
- Information architecture (IA)
- Interaction design (IxD)
- Usability testing
- Customer satisfaction
The most common or default interpretation of User Experience, of anything that we expect another will experience while using an interactive system, also falls far short of usefulness. A definition of it that does not encapsulate within it specific methods, techniques, and success metrics, is not useful to designers, producers, or managers. A user-centered mentality is necessary for the success of any interactive system, so perhaps the term is better used poorly than not at all. Yet, as with any definition, the more precise and widely agreed, the greater power and utility it provides us.
No discussion of User Experience or User Experience Design would be complete without acknowledging the profound and practical insights of Jessie James Garrett. In his easily absorbed diagram we can see how the elements of user experience relate to both “web as software interface” (interactive utility) and “web as hypertext system” (content delivery) site types. Shortly after Garrett’s diagram was published The Elements of User Experience arrived in book form, where his model of “planes” was expanded to include those of surface, skeleton, structure, scope and strategy, across a continuum of design effort. This is an extremely useful model which emphasizes the relationship between elements as a project takes shape. I strongly recommend Garrett’s landmark book to anyone involved in web design, in any capacity.
Another Approach: A User’s Eye View of User Experience Design
As a web/software designer, my concept of User Experience Design was arrived at in 1999, well before discovering that of Norman or Garrett. It is borrowed from the discipline of linguistics: User Experience Design as a synthetic, compound language, or pidgin, resulting from the integration and synthesis of multiple discreet vocabularies, which are apprehended by a user simultaneously as one.
To show you what I mean allow me to build on Garrett’s diagram, and shift the perspective, so we can see how by looking at it from a users point of view, instead of as a development process, the elements of user experience occur singularly in our mind’s eye:
The result of comprehensive User Experience Design is a controlled design vocabulary that can then be applied to a number of related communication media for different purposes so that their entirety results in the intended overall experience of an individual, or group. Ideally, this synthesis results in a cohesive Gestalt pattern registered both consciously and sub-consciously by the user, so that the whole expresses, and equals, more than a collection of parts.
UX Design Is Contextual Design
Garrett’s diagram, being process-oriented, appropriately includes User Needs and Site Objectives. “Site objectives” are easily correlated to strategic business objectives. But like user’s needs, strategy is implicit. In terms of process, these are contextual elements. Other contextual design elements such as technology and resource availability provide limits and constraints, which can lend a work focus and clarity, thus power. Design context discovery is one of the designer’s main challenges: it is the key to successful User Experience Design. The outcome of each project should be as unique as its context. The mix and proportion of contextual elements will vary widely from one project to the next. However, there are some contextual elements which most interactive media share in common:
Too, we can consider the cultural contexts of User Experience Design. That is, the cultural assumptions, beliefs, memes, and shared expectations that color our personal experience while using an interactive system. Which of course are many and varied. Yet the expectations and assumptions people bring with them are not to be ignored if we seek success, any more than we can ignore other human factors.
Organizations of all kinds and sizes can foster specific cultural habits. And so the role of Ethnographer is borrowed from anthropology in service of Interaction and User Experience Design. The Ethnographer contributes “contextual inquiry;” observing the person using the system when, how, and where they normally do, rather than in a controlled environment such as for Usability Testing.
Though User Experience Design is closely allied with Usability Testing and other User-Centered Design methods, which focus on human performance enhancement, one of its distinguishing aspects is inclusion of emotional aspects of human experience. E.g. happiness as a worthy pursuit in itself.
User Experience Design Process
One of the main tenets of User Experience Design is simply incorporating user feedback in to the design evolution process. That is, co-evolving the system with its user’s. If the design process is not managed for timely collection, experienced interpretation, and judicious application of user input in to the system’s design revision cycles, then it is not a User Experience Design process. In my view this is the most difficult aspect of User Experience Design. It cannot be achieved without consistent management support. And it is why UX Management, and management by any name, is tightly coupled with UX Design.
UX in Organizations
Evangelizing subjective individual experience and co-evolutionary (life) processes in organizations that are still anchored in industrial age models of hierarchy and achievement is no small feat. Commercial enterprises are organized for self-reinforcement. But a shift is occurring. Some organizations, especially those who produce web-based software primarily, accept the idea of equal, or nearly equal, provider-user and external-internal interchange and symbiosis. Networks are nothing if not reciprocal. Businesses that recognize themselves as a network node often have a flatter organizational structure, and are more informal in style in order to support collaboration. What’s more, the ‘network-ification’ of work may relate to a growing awareness of the merits of qualitative metrics of success. Regardless, only by utilizing such metrics can we ensure a desirable user experience, as well as a functional and efficient one. Or, as one respected supervisor once put it, “the better part of design is empathy.”
User Experience, Culture, and Human Experience
Of course we don’t work all the time. So as use of interactive digital/information networks becomes more frequent, socially acceptable, and ubiquitous, our social interaction models reflect increased network consciousness too, resulting in the recent social networking revolution (a.k.a. “web 2.0”). What’s more, though we use and design interactive networks in a cultural environment, the cultural environment, itself an interactive network, influences us in return. We and our environment continue to co-evolve, as ever. The difference now is in our increased ability to define our environment. In my view this expands the scope of User Experience Design to that of Human Experience in a potentially useful way.
Continued on UX Defined 2 »