UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 557 September 17, 2010

Can Experience Be Designed?

Oliver Reichenstein (@ia) posted an article on informationarchitects.jp that's so apt that I'm both grateful to be able to share it, but also jealous that I couldn't have written something like this nearly as well. The opening paragraph:

Do experience designers shape how users feel or do they shape with respect to how users feel? A small but important nuance. Did you catch it? No? Then let me ask you this way: Do architects design houses or do they design “inhabitant experiences?” The bullshit answer is “They design inhabitant experiences.” The pragmatic answer is: “They design houses.” The cautious answer is: Architects design houses that lead to a spectrum of experiences, some foreseen, some not. But they do not design all possible experiences one can have in a house.

This feels very timely considering some very silly things that have recently been said about UX very publicly (Ryan Carson, I'm looking at you), and some recent strange but interesting discussions we've had about what UX design is (e.g., this one with @helgefredheim).

We don't often post articles about other people's articles, but this one is worth checking out.

http://www.informationarchitects.jp/en/can-experience-be-designed-2/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Jonathan (@first_day) is a tech-focused jack of all trades and the editor-in-chief of UX Magazine. He is also the author of Effective UI: The Art of Building Great User Experience in Software, published by O'Reilly Media. Through its partnership with UX Magazine, Jonathan is also a senior advisor to Didus, a recruiting and career development company focused on user-centered professionals. As well, Jonathan is Managing Director, Product Strategy & Design for Dapperly, a fashion-oriented software product startup, and he is the Principal of First Day, a small private equity and consulting company. From 2005 to 2009, Jonathan helped found EffectiveUI, a leading UX strategy, design, and development agency focused on web, desktop, and mobile systems.

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Comments

26
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Ironically, I planned to discuss the question "Can information be architected" aut EuroIA next week. Will be looking for men in tights in the audience.

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LOL, "Robin Hood," you win a gold star for best comment of the week ;-)

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Tall claim in any regard. Designers usually just set the tone with their manifestation, the rest of the adaptation, evolution and change happens by the user/customer, which you know, matures and becomes better design as iterated over years.

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Aside for the problematic issue of the title UXD being used for upselling, and the problematic issue that clients get confused by it ("What do you mean by user experience designer? do you do websites or do I need to go elsewhere?"), and a few other small issues that aren't really that important, the bigger part of the fuss is pure semantics. I understand how frustrating it is to see competitors upsell themselves using language that you think they don't understand or don't deserve to use. I hate it too, but I think Oliver's use of rhetoric is not much more noble.

I may be wrong, but I doubt most people who call themselves user experience designers actually believe or suggest they can shape how users feel. Oliver is making a big leap there between the glorified job title and an imagined sense of ability that no-one really pertains to possess. In doing so, he makes readers ridicule the unjust use of the term UXD from the first paragraph onwards.
It's more likely that people who call themselves user experience designers believe they have the capacity, through their design, to make choices about a range of parameters that influence an experience to a varying degree.

The comparison to architecture is a bit weak. Architecture has a much longer history and tradition and the profession is highly regarded, whereas the term web-design has been bastardised to the point that web-designers seek more unique titles and say "We are user experience designers" or as Oliver's company's profile page indicate "We architect information".
The number of variables and parameters in a house environment are far greater than in a website and therefore much less controllable. A website is a synthetic environment with a single interface which can typically be used by a single person only, whereas a house has many interfaces and many concurrent interactions by potentially many people. So user experience on a website is a lot simpler to control than a house.

The Rhetoric section in Oliver's article further slams the use of the term altogether, but the article concludes with revalidation. Oliver, can you make up your mind? Tautology, or not?

CAN INFORMATION BE ARCHITECTED

Does Oliver's company shape information or do they shape with respect to information? A small but important nuance. did you catch it? No? Then let me ask you this way: Is it the role of the web designer/user experience designer/whatever to develop content or develop an environment to house the content? The bullshit answer is “We architect information.” The pragmatic answer is: “We design websites.” The cautious answer is: "We design websites that lead to a spectrum of readings of the information, some foreseen, some not. But we do not architect all possible readings one can have in a website."

In summary, it's all polemics. The post starts by proposing that it's ridiculous to think that experiences can be designed, and concludes by saying that Oliver's company has the professional know-how to work as user experience designers.

(Did you notice how I used oliver's trick here? :)

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Thanks for posting this link!

The user experience is highly complex, and does not only depend on your design. In my (and others') opinion it is therefore not possible to design a user experience.

It is however certainly possible to design a product with an intended user experience in mind, but you have no guarantee that the user will perceive it as intended.

First, the experience depends on the context in which the user uses your product. This context will often vary. I may use a software at home, and I may use it at work - with a different experience.

Second, it depends on the user's expectations to your product, which also vary. These experiences are based on the user's previous experiences with similar products, and are consequently subjective.

Third, it may also depend on the user's previous experiences with YOUR product. An example from the literature is vintage games. The design of these products may not live up to today's standards, but are popular in certain groups of people because the games make these people recall some good memories.

The list of factors is not exhaustive.

Hence, a user experience cannot be designed, albeit it is possible to design FOR a user experience.

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Good article. The best part of the conclusion (from the said article):
"User experience design is not a magic method that allows you to foresee how people will feel about your design, but a design approach that involves user feedback in different phases of the project."