Provoked by Jon Kolko’s excellent book Thoughts on Interaction Design and following on from my blog post last year How fast is fast enough? I’ve been contemplating what it means to design a “good” user experience and how failure to do so results in a “poor” user experience.
I’ve noticed that many professional user experience designers and related disciplines steer away from reducing UX to such terms but the rise of UX in web, software development and ICT has led to other people outside the field assessing experiences as “bad” or “good”. I often have people come up to me and engage me in conversation about “Hey check out the bad UX in this app” or “This has a really cool UX”.
I don’t want to get hung up on the semantics – although in some ways this blog post is an exploration seeking to properly define the adjectives associated with user experience – but I’m not going to be a snob. Oftentimes these people who describe the “UX” of a thing are onto something; it’s just that I wouldn’t use that language or boil it down to a single word. It’s not like UX is a tick box on a QA form and it’s not like software can have “the UX” or not.
As I’ve previously discussed, sometimes a “negative” user experience is exactly what you want. You want to scare the shit out of people and you intentionally design that in. Or you want something to feel abrupt and aggressive. That is appropriate.
So does it help to think of the user experience of a thing as lying on a continuum of inappropriate through to appropriate?
I also thought of experience as story, the idea that people should be able to talk about (hopefully in a positive light) the experience they had with a product or service.
Does that mean an ideal or optimal user experience should be remarkable? No.
There are some encounters that should be invisible, unremarkable, that just work without striving reach the lofty heights of gamification or persuasion or desirability. These products or interfaces know what they are and don’t try to be more than that. People use them then walk away without a second thought – and those experiences were designed to provide exactly that level of minimalist intrusion and awareness, like an invisible door. You can’t talk about something you never saw even though you used it.
I think a lot of business productivity applications fall into this category. Software that people use day in day out and stare at for 6+ hours a day. It’s not a game, it’s not selling something and the best thing it can do is empower someone to do their job and become an extension of their mind and hands so they can immerse themselves in their job without feeling like they’re wrangling their bloody computer all day.
In this case, software that fades into the background and just works provides the ideal user experience.
So back to our continuum where we have inappropriate user experience at the low end, and, what, appropriate user experience at the other? That sounds a bit lame. I think appropriate user experience lies somewhere in the middle. In some cases something can afford an appropriate user experience – but still be as boring as bat shit? Or does that then push it down into the “inappropriate” range?
Perhaps the upper end of our continuum should be more aspirational for those experiences we can push to be more and more exciting and fun and colourful and entertaining and all that. Up there you can have your gamification and persuade the shit out of people. That’s where your ludic design comes in. Sometimes that’s appropriate. The sort of experience where people share it on Twitter, Facebook … Pinterest.
Museums should be interesting, boutique art & craft shops should be beautiful, games should be exciting. Would you ever describe Microsoft Office as interesting, beautiful and exciting?
So what the hell is this continuum then? Budget? Effort invested? Do nothing and you get an inappropriate user experience, put some effort in and you get an average but entirely appropriate user experience, then go hell for leather and go for the “WOW OMG FIREWORKS AND BUNNIES!” user experience?
Am I less of a UX designer because I’m middle of the field with the work I do in business productivity applications, that I don’t seek to gamify my work or leave users with their jaw on the floor looking like they’ve just had a glimpse of God?
I think I’m just going to give up on this train of thought. Doesn’t help me do my job any better – but was interesting to explore.
What are your thoughts on UX as a singular metric, placed on a continuum and what sort of words do you use to describe those experiences that lie down the lower end and should all appropriate user experiences be considered peers?
PS: I did have another thread of thought that followed the idea of frictionless experiences and when they are appropriate, but not always. How would you enjoy sex without friction? Anyway, I failed to weave that thread into this blog post – but think about it.
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