Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Defining and Designing "User Experience"

"What seems to be missing is a clear idea about what experience is; what its components or elements are; and, perhaps more importantly, whether it even can be designed or scripted," said Jody Forlizzi at a Usability Professionals' Association conference workshop on experience-based design (EBD) a couple of years ago.

XMod's view is that experience is both definable and designable. In the Fall 1998 issue of The Journal of Design Management an article appeared on experience-based design written by another En Vivo co-founder. EBD involves analysing everyday experience, and making the results useful to design stakeholders. It calls for creating an experience "framework," using ethnographic techniques to study what people "think, do, and use," gain insight into consumer experiences and identify opportunities for new and better ones.

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The author is not aware of any ISO standard defining "user experience"; so what is it? XMod's XVP says: "We use 'experience' to refer to the ways in which people develop habits, assumptions, and routines in a particular domain. We do not believe our clients can or should in most cases be focused on the single event - experience is a repeated event and this means that it implies a history that is invoked each time an individual interacts with the particular product, interface or environment in question."

And Now . . . Whither XMod?

Susan Dray and David Siegel observed difficulties between promoting a vision and implementing the changes it requires. They acknowledge that a vision must be behind any company's effort to become more user-centred, but note that "Vision can get in the way of change when corporate activities that focus on vision are disconnected from the current work in progress. ... By itself, a vision does not tell you what to do next." They also write that "despite the growing awareness of such things as the importance of good user interface (UI) design, usability, and UCD practices, it is extremely rare that companies adopt a fully integrated UCD approach in one grand strategic shift."

Written a year before XMod came into being, Dray and Siegel's observations seem relevant to XMod's first year. It hasn't been painless. Much of the emphasis in the discipline in the first months of its existence was on strategy rather than human-centred design. The nascent discipline seems to have gone through a bit of an identity crisis. There has been some confusion, for example, about what XMod is and what it does. "The notion of 'user experience' has become overexposed. It's moving toward becoming a mere buzzy sentiment," said one information architect. "I think there is a need for clarity. We need a nice, hard-edged conceptual model of XMod."

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