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Article on User Experience 2004

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Article on User Experience 2004

  1. 1. Usability? I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more, Toto For years many HCI professionals have had to contend themselves with interface design usability issues. But now as many companies scramble to differentiate themselves through their customer experience, new opportunities are opening up for HCI professionals. In this article, Dr. Jackie Moyes and Iain Barker of Different describe the evolving field of user experience design and reflect upon what the changing landscape means in terms roles and responsibilities for HCI professionals. The evolution of usability into user experience Many companies’ perception of the role played by user research is changing. Sure, our discussion lists and conferences are still largely concerned with usability research and interface design challenges, but a new focus is emerging – that of “User Experience”. This article gives an introduction to the changes that are occurring and discusses some of the new challenges that HCI professionals will encounter. A brief and simplified history of interface design In the “dark old days”, interfaces were ‘designed’ by the same technical folk that created the back-end code. Within the limited options offered by the green-screen environment (and within their limited interface design skills) they created products that people bought because there was no other choice. Then along came GUIs. It was a major step for the popularity of computers. With GUIs computers began to cross the divide between the technical/engineer/operator workplace and in to the home environment. Interfaces continued to be designed by the technical folk, but now they had engaging interactive elements to conjure with. People continued to buy and use products largely because they still had limited choice. Jump to the mid-to-late 1990s and the range of products readily available to the general public exploded. Internet, kiosks, handheld devices and other interactive products meant that users had a choice as never before. In the stampede to be noticed, some companies chose to differentiate themselves through their eye-catching interface designs, others read books with a polar-bear 1 or a teapot 2 on the cover and started providing products that people found easy to use. But then the party stopped, with the sound of a crashing index. One of the repercussions was that companies slashed web design budgets. As design agencies merged or went into administration, usability professionals started to come to the fore. No longer did companies have millions of dollars to spend on redesigns - companies instead wanted to make their existing sites more effective. The result is that since 1999 we have seen more and more usability professionals and a year-on-year improvement in the usability of interactive products. 1 Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Designing Large-Scale Web Sites, Louis Rosenfeld, Peter Morville, O’Reilly 2 The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman, Basic Books
  2. 2. That is not to say that everyone’s been converted or that everything in the garden is rosy. Although the battle to justify the need and budget for usability is by no means over for all of us, many HCI professionals are now thinking beyond interface design issues. For those left behind there is a rich seam of guidelines, patterns and best practice to make interface design as quick and painless as possible. The dawning of user experience As the usability of products continues to improve, companies are realising that having a usable product isn’t enough. Companies are already thinking beyond usability and on to the overall “user experience”. But what is user experience and what do HCI professionals have to offer it? What is user experience? Many usability thought-leaders have already begun to walk this path, so rather than recreate another interpretation of user experience we’ll reference a few that have already been created: The Nielsen Norman Group define user experience as: ‘…all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products. The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company's offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design. ‘ 3 IBM define user experience as: ‘User Experience Design fully encompasses traditional Hu man-Computer Interaction (HCI) design and extends it by addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users. HCI design addresses the interaction between a human and a computer. In addition, User Experience Design addresses the user's initial awareness, discovery, ordering, fulfilment, installation, service, support, upgrades, and end-of-life activities.’4 What is clear from both of these definitions is that user experience is a broadening of the traditional usability role performed by many HCI professionals. Peter Morville, one of the authors of the aforementioned book with the polar bear on the cover, has created an information diagram to capture the facets of user experience. He calls it the User Experience Honeycomb. 3 From the Nielsen Norman Group website. http://www.nngroup.com/about/userexperience.html 4 From the IBM website. http://www-306.ibm.com/ibm/easy/eou_ext.nsf/publish/10
  3. 3. Figure 1: Peter Morville’s User Experience Honeycomb As is to be expected from people within our profession, there has been much heated discussion around the semantics of the terms and descriptions used. Rather than getting bogged down in the semantics of the discussion we would like to focus on two clear messages coming out of all these attempts to define user experience. 1. Usability is merely one of a number of facets, that combined, form the user experience. 2. Although most experienced HCI professionals are likely to be familiar with many of the terms used in these definitions, desirability is likely to be alien or new to many of us. Understanding desirability According to Morville to understand desirability we must ‘appreciate the power and value of image, identity, brand, and other elements of emotional design’. Previously this has been the domain of visual designers and marketeers. The first step towards understanding desirability for many HCI professionals will be to turn to ‘the father of usability’ Don Norman’s new book Emotional Design 5 . Don Norman’s book provides an excellent introduction to the power and influence of desirability, but what he fails to do is provide concrete examples relating to interactive products. Norman himself declares that he wants to move into product design. But where does this leave us? Does desirability actually have a role to play in interactive products such as websites? Personally we believe that desirability will have an increasingly significant effect on the work we do. This will happen in two ways. As interactive products become ever more pervasive there will be an increased blurring between the traditional roles of interface design and product design. Bespoke handheld devices will force us to consider not only the computer interface but the product’s interaction methods. So like Don Norman, many of us are likely to naturally gravitate towards product design and thus become exposed to desirability issues. Also as companies focus more and more on the holistic customer experience they offer, it will no longer be acceptable for project teams to create interactive products in a 5 Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things, Donald Norman, Basic Books, 2004
  4. 4. vacuum. Companies are already starting to demand that each product is considered in the context of how it affects customers’ perception of the parent brand. As this happens we will find that an increasingly senior and diverse range of individuals are interested in the insights we can provide. We will increasingly find ourselves influencing business strategy rather than advising on interface design. To meet this challenge we need to evolve our research, analytical and communication skills so that we are able to capture, understand and communicate to a far wider audience about a broader range of subjects. For example, we will need to be sensitive to issues such as desirability, cross-channel strategies and be able to advise companies on their complete end-to-end customer experience. Many of the same research techniques will still apply, but we need to attune our radars to be sensitive to a whole new range of user comments and concerns. But what impact will these changes have on the roles and responsibilities of those around us? Re-defining roles in the age of user experience design Amidst the era of mud slinging Before the concept of “Experience Design” began doing the rounds, we all sat comfortably in our discrete, specialist roles (usability engineers, information architects, visual designers, web developers, brand strategists, etc) focusing on delivering an optimal interface design. Even then there were debates as to which discipline was more critical to the success of a product. Usability engineers could argue that usability is the foundation of design, while designers believed in a symbiotic relationship where design was required for usability to exist. There was also tension between marketing teams who focused on encouraging potential customers to buy products they didn’t know they needed, with usability specialists and information architects whose focus was on navigating people more efficiently to products they purposely searched for. However, with a maturing industry and the realisation that interactive media needs not only to be functional but to provide a good experience, new lines are being drawn. Many of you will have no doubted noticed the thread of discussions in numerous newsgroups forums trying to wrestle with the idea of what is user experience and how does it relates to user centred design. Does this represent a significant shift, and if so, should we be redefining their work practices and roles, and on what basis? Who is responsible for ensuring a good experience? The key question to ask is whether user experience design is as IBM would suggest something which encompasses and extends traditional Human-Computer Interaction. If it is, should the usability specialist take responsibility in defining the experience? As mentioned in the previous article, Morville indicates that usability is only one of a number of honeycombs that define user experience. Norman in his book “Emotional Design” perceives “desirability” as something entirely distinct from behavioural, usability design where "Appearance really doesn't matter: performance does." Consequently it could be argued just as easily that designing for desirability is a traditional stronghold of brand strategists and the visual design discipline, so they can stake their claim to play as critical a role in experience design. Content strategists may similarly claim that content style is as important to the brand and to the experience as the visual design.
  5. 5. What is clear therefore is that deriving an optimal user experience is not the task of a single discipline, but is the consequence of forming effective teams of people from a wide variety of disciplines and getting them focussing on common goals. Understanding the goals But how do we know what these goals are? As practitioners of user-centred design techniques, we all know that by having greater insight in to true user requirements we are more likely to create something that meets target user needs, and wants, and possibly also desires. Therefore it would make sense that a multi-disciplinary team can create a more satisfying user experience if they involve the target-users in the design process. What is clear is that the user-centred design techniques traditionally used, need to be modified to be able to capture feedback on all aspects of the product or service, as perceived by users. But by widening the scope of research to capture more reflective requirements are we then treading on the toes of more traditional market research agencies? Market research specialists and brand strategists have had the longest experience in methods to collate user wants and needs and translate these in to successfully emotive designs or “lovemarks” - a term recently applied by Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts to describe a brand that “has a deep, constant, emotional connection with people” and that is “owned” by its loyal customers. If this is the case, then in the developing area of experience design, is the role of the user- centred design specialists to be restricted to someone who simply does user research to determine the functional requirements of a product, while the marketeer is responsible for gathering requirements to ensure that a great experience is fulfilled? Understanding the virtues of a user-centred design specialist As specialists of user-centred design, we would argue no. At Different we offer ‘user experience design’ services incorporating user research techniques that capture requirements across all touch points the audience may have with the product or service. We work with large corporate clients, and work with the marketing teams to develop their understanding of what a great user experience for a product or service should be. Why do they employ our services, when obviously they have the skill to conduct research themselves? When asked this question the feedback was relatively straight forward. They have the ability to collect the data, but the issue is in knowing how the data should be interpreted. They lack the ability to translate what end users tell them in to design features. Visual designers, information architects and content strategists do have portions of the skill to translate these requirements. The role the user-centred design specialist plays is that we have the specialist skills to gather the right data and interpret it in to meaningful ways for designers to utilise. An important lesson we have found in providing such as service is that to deliver a successful experience the multi-disciplinary team structure does need to be redefined. While the various design disciplines work together to create the detailed design it is advantageous for the person gathering user requirements to keep a big picture view, and that’s only achievable by playing more of an overarching role. This role may overlap greatly with that of someone from within the marketing, branding, or the business team and indeed communication between these roles is critical. The key differentiator being that this person retains the independent “voice of the user” keeping in mind the target users’ wants needs and desires.
  6. 6. This requirement may propose that the user-centred design specialist cannot play the traditional role of researcher AND designer. Logic suggests that you cannot spend the time and focus on the detail of the product while retaining the unbiased perspective of the big picture. Conventionally the person responsible for the ‘final vision’ in large interactive agencies has been the Creative Director. This person typically comes from the visual design discipline, but in the age of user experience, perhaps this role can be more effectively held by someone who has first hand knowledge of how the target audience actually ticks. Is there then a role for an “Experience Director”? Without such a role, can teams work together effectively to derive a final vision, and will they know with any confidence as to whether they are successful in designing a good experience? We would argue that it is critical that user-centred activities do more than just gather usability requirements and the person who gathers these requirements, becoming the “voice of the user”, should be the mesh that binds the each of the specialist design disciplines together, enhancing the likelihood of delivering a successful, great user experience. Iain Barker and Jackie Moyes are Experience Architects at Different. Email iain.barker@different.com.au & Jackie.moyes@different.com.au.

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