User Experience is Emotion


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Transcript of User experience overview for General Services Administration Mobile UX Workshop, November 29, 2012. David Hale, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

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User Experience is Emotion

  1. 1. User Experienceis EmotionDavid Hale, Project Manager, PillboxNational Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Servicesdavid.hale@nih.govTranscript of presentation made at General Services Administration, Mobile User Experience workshop,November 29, 2012 ( edits made to account for lost visual and situational context)I was asked to give a 5-minute overview of User Experience (UX), highlighting different concepts andgiving a few examples from my own work. I will do those things. But honestly I only have one point tomake.User experience is emotion.This is the only thing I want you to remember from this talk. Ill spendthe next 5 minutes, using different strategies to try to create an emotional connection in each of you to thisone concept. UX is emotion.Yes,UX does focus on ease-of-use, perceived value, and efficiency. In thisway UX is a lot like User-Centered Design.Figure 1 - Differences in how an agency and a citizen perceive the role and use of a government mobile applicationNow we’re evaluating these factors in the context of the user’s life… their story… before, during, andafter they use our app or site. In the time of Geocities (~15 years ago), we were accustomed to someuninspired experiences online. Websites were difficult to use and some didn’t seem to serve muchpurpose. We didn’t really notice, because we were excited to be using the World Wide Web. Now wehave iOS, Amazon, Club Penguin, and Kindles; rich, intuitive experiences that are emotionally satisfyingas well as helpful. Even if citizens don’t expect government sites and apps to be at that same level, they’restill disappointed when they don’t get it.Our agencies have different missions, but we share certain goals:improve the lives of citizens and help the country grow.
  2. 2. Behavior change is key to making that happen. We want people to do something new or different.BJFogg, the founder of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, sums up behavior in three words:motivation, ability, and triggers ( When someone uses a government app,they’re motivated and triggered. The question is: will we support their ability to complete whatever taskthey’ve set out to do?And in a satisfying way?Usability isn’t always directly correlated to user experience. Look at eBay in 2003. It was a bit of amess. But users saw so much value in the site that it didn’t matter. We loved the experience.UX is more than usability though. It’s the backend systems as well. If your app drains a device’s batteryorhogs the user’s bandwidth, it doesn’t matter what your app does or how it does it. They’ll cringe everytime the launch it.UX and design share a lot of similar methodologies: wire-framing, A/B testing, and workflow. One areawhere they differ is in how they approach user requirements. Good User Experience means connectingwith your users and their stories. That’s where digital ethnography comes in.Following in the spirit of Prof. Michael Wesch (, a digitalethnographer at Kansas State University (, this means learning howindividuals and communities use technology to create meaning and value in their lives. It’s not “whattask do they need to perform?”. It’s “why is that task important to them?”. And also what technologieshave they and their communities already integrated into their lives.The way you do this is to get out of your office. Surveys and focus groups are fine, but that data isgenerated outside of the user’s context. You need to spend time with your users to understand theirstories.Traditional web metrics don’t work with UX. In the government space, the number of hits cansaymore about the necessity of the task the user is trying to accomplish. Users might like the look and feelour drug identification system, but that’s not why they came.For Pillbox, the National Library of Medicine’s drug identification system (,weused methods like shadowing hospital pharmacists, following the med cart at VA hospitals, hanging out atrescue squads, and most importantly, listening to patients and caregivers tell their stories.We then createdPillbox’s user scenario document, which encapsulated their stories and challenges. It was developedbased on experiences with individuals and groups who are facing challenges related to drug identification.This was our connection to our users when we were back in the office.What’s most important is that we didn’t just listen to the data and write down their pain points. Welooked at the emotions they were feeling and tried to create a system that would address those feelingsand needs, with the technology and use-patterns they already had. Working with a design house that hasexpertise in user experience, as opposed to Health IT, more was budgeted for design than forprogramming. The designers used interaction design and information architecture to design for the userand then work their way back to our data and functionality.When there was a conflict between our dataorthe way our search was organized and what the designers wanted to create, we modified our system tomeet the user’s needs.Pillbox is a little unique in that I did a lot of this while on travel for other official duties. However, wealso used a variety of social media platforms during development. Broadcasting and receiving are great,but conversation connects you to the emotion.And this brings us back to emotion. My challenge to you forthe rest of the morning,through all of the discussions that will happen,is to ask yourself, “Is what we’redoing creating a more emotionally satisfying experience for our users?”