A definition of "user experience"
The past month, I’ve been working on a revised business plan for FatDUX and realized that there weren’t any particularly useful definitions of “user experience”. Just yesterday, UX designer Whitney Hess, published a compilation of 10 things that UX is not
. Interesting article but no clear description of what is meant by “user experience”. Our industry tends to preach to the choir, but not to either the client or the bank.
Having thought a lot about a definition (over a period of years), I figured it was time to get this beyond the confines of my journal and our business plan and launch it into cyberspace. Use it in good health.
UX = the sum of a series of interactions
User experience (UX) represents the perception left in someone’s mind following a series of interactions between people, devices, and events
– or any combination thereof. "Series" is the operative word.
Some interactions are active
– clicking a button on a website, giving a waiter your order at a restaurant, getting out of the rain at a picnic.
Some interactions are passive
– viewing a beautiful sunset will trigger the limbic system to release dopamine (a reward chemical). This applies to any and all of our five senses.
Some interactions are secondary
to the ultimate experience – the food tastes good because the chef chose quality ingredients and prepared them well. The ingredients are good quality because the farmer tended his fields. The crop interacted well with the rain that year.
All interactions are open to subjective interpretation – some people don’t like celery or sunsets. Remember, a perception is always true in the mind of the perceiver; if you think sunsets are depressing, there’s little I can say or do to convince you otherwise. However, this is why designers often fall back on “best practice” – most people react favorably to sunsets.
UX design = combining three types of activities
Designing a “user experience,” therefore, represents the conscious act of
• coordinating interactions
that are controllable (choosing food ingredients, training waiters, designing and programming buttons)
• acknowledging interactions
that are beyond our control (uncomfortable seats in a 100-year-old theater, lack of fresh produce in winter, low-hanging clouds that hide a sunset.)
• reducing negative interactions
(providing tents as emergency shelters at outdoor events in case of rain; making sure restaurant seating next to the noisy kitchen door is the last to be filled, putting in an extra intermission so folks can stretch their legs).
A good user-experience designer needs to be able to see both the forest and the trees. That means user experience has implications that go far beyond usability, visual design, and physical affordances. As UX designers, we orchestrate a complex series of interactions.
“Jack-of-all-trades” is not a bad thing
The old expression “Jack of all Trades, Master of Nothing” suggests that being a "Jack" is somehow less valuable than being a specialist. Or that a “Jack” has only slight knowledge of the individual subjects. I think both interpretations are faulty.
User experience turns this maxim on its head – good UX designers understand a lot of subjects to a fairly sophisticated degree, including business models. They are not dilettantes and they possess more than the rather cursory knowledge demonstrated by most project coordinators. Alas, many of today’s UX practitioners promote their individual specialties (information architecture, graphic design, usability, etc.) at the expense of others – often demonstrating a narrowmindedness that is downright counterproductive.
Jacks-of-all-trades unite. Our time has come!