Getting At What UX Is And Isn’t

Since November of 2008 I’ve done a few presentations in which user experience (UX) was featured in some way. I hope that some of those who attended them are now following this blog. In addition, I was pleased that Blake Carver included DBL in his “List of Blogs to Read in 2009” (thanks Blake!). The only downside to the potential for new readers is that I haven’t been posting much. Between other blogs, finishing up a scholarly-type article, starting my LIS course (online – and grading 26 assignments a week – now in week 5) and heading off to ALA midwinter, writing time has been at a premium.

Over the last few weeks while I haven’t been posting much here I did manage to catch up with a few articles/posts that I’ve been wanting to share or comment on. For those newer to DBL, we occasionally offer links to readings that can help all of us better understand design thinking and user experience – and how we can apply these ideas and practices in our libraries.

A good starting point is always a definition. In his post over at FatDUX, Eric Reiss offers a post titled “A Definition of “User Experience””. Reiss summarizes it as UX = the sum of a series of interactions. A more commonly found definition of UX is “the quality of experience a person has while interacting with a specific design”. I appreciate how Reiss expands on this with three types of interactions and three types of activities that add sophistication to the simple definition. People interact with either other people, devices or events, but the interactions can be “active” (taking some action like asking a reference question), “passive” (scanning the library building for signage) or “secondary” (the user finds it easy to get to the right database because of good design but it’s secondary to the ultimate experience). Designing a user experience requires the act of combining the three types of activities. The first type are controllable and the must be “coordinated” (deciding who works at reference and making sure they have the right skills and training), the second type are the thing beyond our control so we acknowledge the interactions (inclement weather brings so many extra students into the library that finding a computer is difficult) and reducing negative interactions (having backup laptops to loan when desktops are all taken). According to Reiss a good UX designer takes into account both the interaction and activities in creating a user experience that works.

A post that got a good amount of attention focuses more on UX design, but helps us better understand what it is by telling us what it isn’t. In her post at Whitney Hess writes about the “10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design”. For example, user experience design isn’t user interface design. Interface design is important, but it just one piece of a larger user experience. UX design is doesn’t end when a product rolls out; it an evolving process shaped by learning more about users. User experience isn’t about technology either. It can be about any part of a user’s interaction with a product, process or service. No computer technology is needed. User experience design isn’t easy. It is even harder in a library environment. The experience just doesn’t happen; it has to be designed. And good design doesn’t come easy. User experience isn’t the role of one person or department. This is especially true in libraries when there is often an expectation that one person will create change. Shifting to a UX culture will require an idea champion, but every staff member must help design and implement a successful experience. Hess has other “what it’s not” points to make, and each one includes good insights from industry experts.

The final reading I commend to you is by an author you probably recognize, Peter Morvill. In his post about “User Experience Deliverables” he covers 20 different deliverables that can be used to build good user experiences. This one resonated with me because Morville states that he is influenced by two books, Made to Stick and Back of the Napkin. I have also been influenced by both of these books, and have been working to incorporate their messages into my communication (for example, see my latest presentation). This is an easy post to read, and it is perhaps more valuable for the links to good resources than the actual content. For example, Morvill includes in his list such items as storyboards, prototypes, concept maps, analytics and stories. For each he provides links to top sites. Does it all hold together? Not every deliverable will be of value to each reader, but it offers a good starting point for exploring different types of ways in which a user experience could be delivered.

That seems to be enough for now. I hope new readers will also read some earlier posts and a few in between then and this one. I still have an interesting set of articles to share about fidelity. What does it have to do with UX? More on that later.

3 thoughts on “Getting At What UX Is And Isn’t”

  1. “user experience design isn’t user interface design”

    User interface design can be UX design if you utilize an iterative user-centered design approach, because that is very much an evolving approach that specifically targets the user. It’s a process that’s intended to take into account the user experience/usability, and directed at helping the user achieve their desired goals of the software. There’s user research involved to create and reach the end product. I just don’t think you can make a blanket statement that UX design isn’t UI design.

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