Why User Experience Cannot Be Designed

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A lot of designers seem to be talking about user experience (UX) these days. We’re supposed to delight our users, even provide them with magic, so that they love our websites, apps and start-ups. User experience is a very blurry concept. Consequently, many people use the term incorrectly. Furthermore, many designers seem to have a firm (and often unrealistic) belief in how they can craft the user experience of their product. However, UX depends not only on how something is designed, but also other aspects. In this article, I will try to clarify why UX cannot be designed.

Heterogeneous Interpretations of UX

I recently visited the elegant website of a design agency. The website looked great, and the agency has been showcased several times. I am sure it delivers high-quality products. But when it presents its UX work, the agency talks about UX as if it were equal to information architecture (IA): site maps, wireframes and all that. This may not be fundamentally wrong, but it narrows UX to something less than what it really is.

The perception might not be representative of our industry, but it illustrates that UX is perceived in different ways and that it is sometimes used as a buzzword for usability (for more, see Hans-Christian Jetter and Jens Gerken’s article “A simplified model of user experience for practical application1”). But UX is not only about human-computer interaction (HCI), usability or IA, albeit usability probably is the most important factor that shapes UX.

Some research indicates that perceptions of UX are different. Still, everyone tends to agree that UX takes a broader approach to communication between computer and human than traditional HCI (see Effie Lai-Chong Law et al’s article “Understanding, scoping and defining user experience: a survey approach2”). Whereas HCI is concerned with task solution, final goals and achievements, UX goes beyond these. UX takes other aspects into consideration as well, such as emotional, hedonic, aesthetic, affective and experiential variables. Usability in general can be measured, but many of the other variables integral to UX are not as easy to measure.

Hassenzahl’s Model Of UX

Hassenzahl’s "Model of User Experience"
Hassenzahl’s “Model of User Experience”.

Several models of UX have been suggested, some of which are based on Hassenzahl’s model193. This model assumes that each user assigns some attributes to a product or service when using it. As we will see, these attributes are different for each individual user. UX is the consequences of these attributes plus the situation in which the product is used.

The attributes can all be grouped into four main categories: manipulation, identification, stimulation and evocation. These categories can, on a higher level, be grouped into pragmatic and hedonic attributes. Whereas the pragmatic attributes relate to the practical usage and functions of the product, the hedonic attributes relate to the user’s psychological well-being. Understanding the divide can help us to understand how to design products with respect to UX, and the split also clarifies why UX itself cannot be designed.

Manipulation

Hammers4
Hassenzahl explains the hedonic and pragmatic qualities with a hammer metaphor. The pragmatic qualities are the function and a way for us to use that function. However, a hammer can also have hedonic qualities; for instance, if it is used to communicate professionalism or to elicit memories. (Image: Velo Steve5)

In this model, the pragmatic attributes relate to manipulation of the software. Essentially, manipulation is about the core functionalities of a product and the ways to use those functions. Typically, we relate these attributes to usability. A consequence of pragmatic qualities is satisfaction. Satisfaction emerges if a user uses a product or service to achieve certain goals and the product or service fulfills those goals.

Examples of attributes that are typically assigned to websites (and software in general) are “supporting,” “useful,” “clear” and “controllable.” The purpose of a product should be clear, and the user should understand how to use it. To this end, manipulation is often considered the most important attribute that contributes to the UX.

Identification

Although manipulation is important, a product can have other functions as well. The first of these is called identification. Think about it: many of the items connected to you right now could probably be used to get an idea of who you are and what you care about, even though some of them would be more important or descriptive than others. The secondary function of an object is to communicate your identity to others. Therefore, to fulfill this function, objects need to enable users to express themselves.

The growth of social media can be explained by this identification function. Previously, we used personal websites to tell the world about our hobbies and pets. Now, we use social media.

Facebook, blogs and many other online services help us to communicate who we are and what we do; the products are designed to support this identification need. MySpace, for example, takes advantage of this identification function; it allows users to customize their profiles in order to express themselves. WordPress and other platforms let bloggers select themes and express themselves through content, just as users do through status updates on Facebook, Twitter and all the other social platforms out there.

Stimulation


Gmail notifies users when they forget to attach a file to an email.

The Pareto principle6, also known as the 80-20 rule, states that 80% of the available resources are typically used by 20% of the operations7. It has been suggested, therefore, that in traditional usability engineering, features should have to fight to be included8, because the vast majority of them are rarely used anyway.

This is necessarily not the case with UX, because rarely used functions can fill a hedonic function called stimulation. Rarely used functions can stimulate the user and satisfy the human urge for personal development and more skills. Certain objects could help us in doing so by providing insights and surprises.

From this perspective, unused functions should not be dropped from software merely because they are used once in a blue moon. If they are kept, they could one day be discovered by a user and give them a surprise and positive user experience. As a result, the user might think “What a brilliant application this is!” and love it even more.

In fact, this is exactly what I thought (and found myself tweeting9) when Gmail notified me that I had forgotten to attach the file I’d mentioned in an email. If you do a Twitter search for “gmail attachment10,” you’ll probably find many others11 who12 feel13 the14 same15.

Furthermore, I think “Pretty cool!” when YouTube enhances its presence by modifying its logo on Super Bowl Sunday (or Valentine’s Day). I also discovered something new when MailChimp’s monkey whispered, “Psst, Helge, I heard a rumor…” and linked me to a Bananarama song16 on YouTube. There are many examples, but the best “stimulating” functions are probably those that are unexpected but still welcome (like the Gmail notification).

Evocation

Souvenirs17
Souvenirs tend to have weak manipulative qualities, but they can be evocative when they elicit memories. (Image: meddygarnet18)

The fourth function that a product can have, according to Hassenzahl’s model193, is evocation, which is about recalling the past through memory. We enjoy talking and thinking about the good old days (even yesterday), and we want objects to help us with this. Even weird, dusty and practically useless souvenirs (with weak manipulative qualities) have evocative function because they help us to recall the past.

In design, we can certainly give a website a vintage look and feel to remind us of our childhood, high school or the ’60s… or the ’30s. But even websites with a modern and minimalist design can have evocative attributes. For instance, don’t Facebook and Flickr (by way of their users and your friends) provide you with a huge number of pictures from the past, some of which are highly evocative?

Thus, UX Cannot Be Designed


The MailChimp monkey’s words will probably appeal to some users more than others.

Having said all this, why is it argued that UX cannot be designed? It’s because UX depends not only on the product itself, but on the user and the situation in which they use the product.

You Cannot Design the User

Users are different. Some are able to easily use a website to perform their task. Other simply are not. The stimulation that a product provides depends on the individual user’s experience with similar products. Users compare websites and have different expectations. Furthermore, they have different goals, and so they use what you have made in different modes.

Think about it: when judging the food and service at a restaurant, you will always compare what you experience to other restaurants you have been to. They have shaped your experience. Your companions compare it to their previous experiences, which are certainly different from yours. The same goes for software, websites and apps. Evocative qualities vary even more, simply because all users have a unique history and unique memories.

You Cannot Design the Situation

UX also depends on the context in which the product is used. A situation goes beyond what can be designed. It can determine why a product is being used, and it can shape a user’s expectations.

On some occasions, you may want to explore and take advantage of the wealth of features in WordPress. In other situations, the same functions may make things too complex for you. On some occasions, you may find it totally cool that the MailChimp monkey tells you randomly that, “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” but in other cases it would feel entirely weird and annoying, because you are using the application in a different mode.

Furthermore, UX evolves over time. The first time a user tries an application, they may be confused by it and have a slightly negative experience. Later, when they get used to it and discover its wealth of features and potential and learn how to handle it, they might get emotionally attached to it, and the UX would become more positive.

We Can Design For UX

Rollercoaster20
Are roller coasters fun, thrilling and exciting or just breathtakingly scary? It’s hard to tell. (Image: foilman21)

Many designers label themselves “UX designers.” This implies great confidence in the capabilities of the designer; it suggests that the user experience can be designed. But as explained, we cannot do this. Instead, we can design for UX. We can design the product or service, and we can have a certain kind of user experience in mind when we design it. However, there is no guarantee that our product will be appreciated the way we want it to be (again, see Hassenzahl). We can shape neither our users’ expectations nor the situation in which they use what we have designed.

It is certainly possible to have a fairly good idea of the potential ways a user will judge what we make, as Oliver Reichenstein points out22. Movies, rhetoric and branding demonstrate as much: they predict certain experiences, and they often achieve their goals, too.

However, a thrilling movie is probably more thrilling in the theater than at home, because the physical environment (i.e. the situation that shapes the UX) is different. In the same way, the effectiveness of an advertisement will always depend on the context in which it is consumed and the critical sense and knowledge of the consumer (i.e. the user’s prior experience). The commercials are designed to elicit certain experiences, but their level of success does not depend solely on the commercials themselves.

The difference between designing UX and designing for UX is subtle but important. It can help us understand and remind us of our limitations. It can help us think of how we want the UX to be.

It has been suggested, for instance, that UX is the sum of certain factors, such as fun, emotion, usability, motivation, co-experience, user involvement and user engagement (for more, see Marianna Obrist et al’s article “Evaluating user-generated content creation across contexts and cultures”). In turn, we must address some of these factors when we design for UX, depending on how we want our product to be perceived. If we want an application to be fun, then we need to add some features that will entertain; a joke, a challenging quiz, a funny video, a competitive aspect or something else. We should keep in mind, however, that, as designers, we can never really predict that the application will be perceived as fun by the user. Users have different standards, and sometimes they aren’t even willing to be entertained.

Extra Credit: How To Design For UX


Peter Morville’s “Facets of User Experience.” (Image: Semantic Studios23)

Understand UX

If we want to design for UX, then we need to understand what UX is all about. For example, knowing which variables make users judge a product might be advantageous, and Hassenzahl’s UX model is one such model for this.

Other models have been suggested as well, such as Peter Morville’s “seven facets of user experience24.” Here, UX is split into useful, usable, desirable, findable, accessible, credible and valuable. As you may have noticed, these facets fit Hassenzahl’s model pretty well: useful, usable, findable, credible  and accessible could all be considered as pragmatic (i.e. utilitarian and usability-related) qualities, while desirable and valuable would qualify as hedonic (well-being-related) qualities.

As mentioned, UX has also been viewed as the sum of particular factors. Other models have been suggested as well, some of which are linked to at the bottom of this article.

Understand Users

Following this, we need to understand our users. Traditional methods are certainly applicable, such as user research with surveys, interviews and observation. Also, personas have been suggested as a means of designing for UX, as have UX patterns. Smashing Magazine has already presented a round-up of methods25.

Exceed Expectations

Finally, give users what they want — and a little more. In addition to enabling users to use your service effectively and efficiently, make them also think, “Wow, this application is genius.” Exceed their expectations desirably. If you do so, they will use your website or app not because they have to but because they want to.

Other Resources

To learn more about UX, you may want to read the following:

(al)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.inf.uni-konstanz.de/gk/people/member/abstract.html?JeGe06
  2. 2 http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1518813
  3. 3 http://books.google.com/books?id=QKYPdcI-av8C&lpg=PA31&ots=fhpyp6-jRi&dq=Hassenzahls%20model&hl=no&pg=PA31#v=onepage&q&f=false
  4. 4 http://www.flickr.com/photos/juniorvelo/4490511204/
  5. 5 http://www.flickr.com/photos/juniorvelo/4490511204/
  6. 6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle
  7. 7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optimization_(computer_science)#Bottlenecks
  8. 8 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/10/07/minimizing-complexity-in-user-interfaces/
  9. 9 http://twitter.com/#!/helgefredheim/status/11469201860460544
  10. 10 http://twitter.com/#!/search/gmail%20attachment
  11. 11 http://twitter.com/#!/JavaSTL/status/35398659679985664
  12. 12 http://twitter.com/#!/TwittyTracie/status/35252557043474432
  13. 13 http://twitter.com/#!/c_wolf/status/35210659595558912
  14. 14 http://twitter.com/#!/meifern_c/status/35210362295029760
  15. 15 http://twitter.com/#!/tweetneal/status/35013688117174274
  16. 16 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IddaRTuYRW4
  17. 17 http://www.flickr.com/photos/meddygarnet/4418221737/
  18. 18 http://www.flickr.com/photos/meddygarnet/4418221737/
  19. 19 http://books.google.com/books?id=QKYPdcI-av8C&lpg=PA31&ots=fhpyp6-jRi&dq=Hassenzahls%20model&hl=no&pg=PA31#v=onepage&q&f=false
  20. 20 http://www.flickr.com/photos/foilman/2762577980/
  21. 21 http://www.flickr.com/photos/foilman/2762577980/
  22. 22 http://www.informationarchitects.jp/en/can-experience-be-designed/
  23. 23 http://semanticstudios.com/publications/semantics/000029.php
  24. 24 http://semanticstudios.com/publications/semantics/000029.php
  25. 25 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/10/05/what-is-user-experience-design-overview-tools-and-resources/
  26. 26 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/10/05/what-is-user-experience-design-overview-tools-and-resources/
  27. 27 http://www.uxbooth.com/blog/8-must-see-ux-diagrams/
  28. 28 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/10/07/retro-and-vintage-in-modern-web-design/
  29. 29 http://uxmyths.com/
  30. 30 http://books.google.com/books?id=QKYPdcI-av8C&lpg=PA31&ots=fhpyp6-jRi&dq=Hassenzahls%20model&hl=no&pg=PA31#v=onepage&q&f=false

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Helge Fredheim is a front-end developer at Bekk Consulting and a MSc student at the University of Oslo, Norway. His thesis on UX patterns was written in Baltimore MD, USA.

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  1. 1

    Tusen Takk!
    Brings back memories of the product design days.
    Very well put article.

    -4
    • 2

      Vær så god! ;-)

      1
    • 3

      Very good article. Somehow, i always feel the same regarding the User experience.
      I always debated to prove this point that User experience can never be designed because it is an experience and experience can not be designed, it can be created. For instance:
      In India, a long time back, fiat launches its car with the gear control on the steering of the car. Now, we can say that users were used to that ting.

      But as time passes away, new car companies launches and they created gear control near the feet of the driver. Everybody adapts that. So, User experience can be created not designed as we can create a situation not design it.

      A bit theoretical one, but true…

      2
  2. 4

    Hmmmm

    It’s like saying cars cannot be designed for the drivers experience.
    Films cannot be designed for viewers experience
    Advertises design a billboard to aid conversion
    website are no different when thinking about user experience.

    This is a classic example of over thinking a simple concept
    when all you need is a splash of Occam’s razor

    26
    • 5

      Not exactly! Cars can certainly be designed for the driver’s experience, and films can be designed for the viewer’s experience.

      But it’s probably hard to design the driver experience. No matter how well designed a car is, the experience will be negative if the the driver is unskilled (the user) or if an accident occurs (the context). These are factors that go beyond what can be designed.

      15
    • 6

      I think you’re actually agreeing. The argument in this article is that you can design for the UX, just like films are designed for the viewer experience and cars for the driver experience. But car designers don’t say they’re designing the driver experience. Filmmakers don’t say they’re designing the viewer experience. That’s why web designers shouldn’t claim to design the user experience. They can only design for it. This is because they can’t design the user, no more than the car designer can design the driver. We design for users.

      38
    • 7

      I agree. You have some great information in here that gets lost amongst a “shocker article” shell. It boils down to semantics and i doubt most UX designers think they literally design every users exact experience.

      9
      • 8

        Richard Williams

        March 17, 2011 8:41 am

        I agree designers don’t think they literally design every users exact experience.

        This article is really about English. You are correct (in a way) that is wrong to say “I am a UX Designer”, but people don’t mean that they are literally a UX designer. They simply mean that they’ve practiced/think about designing for UX in particular.

        10
      • 9

        The title of this article should be, “How to write headlines that get people’s attention but then immediately loses you all credibility because it’s obvious you chose a sensationalist headline that doesn’t address the real meat of the article and this reader will now block you in my Google results because I hate stupid headlines.”

        But that’s probably too long.

        4
  3. 10

    I couldn’t agree more. I have never professed to being a designer but interaction and enviornmentals have always been my interest.

    This is why I am UX Professional rather than a web designer or developer.

    Understanding the scenarios of a situation and an items function is far removed from its look.

    command line users will be testament to that.

    You cannot design an experience you can create one.

    2
  4. 11

    although it contains good bits of info, ux of this very-hard-to-read article is poor.

    -33
  5. 12

    Excellent post!

    Knowing your user is definitely key. So long as you don’t take their word as gospel if you ever speak directly to them. The voice of one or even many ain’t necessarily the voice of the majority. Or as Jobs says, sometimes they don’t know what they want until you show it to them! But you’ve covered that in “Exceed Expectations.” Amen sir.

    3
  6. 13

    Great article. At first I was like, “What do you mean User Experience cannot be designed?!”, but your article makes a lot of sense. In fact, reading through your article, a lot of your points seem like common sense when you read them, but are nonetheless not all things I’ve thought of before.

    I think I’m going to print out that Peter Morville “Facets of User Experience” thing… A useful thing to keep on hand to constantly remind oneself what your goals are when designing.

    0
  7. 15

    While the thrust of your article makes sense … this piece misses the reality of business.

    “I recently visited the elegant website of a design agency. The website looked great, and the agency has been showcased several times. I am sure it delivers high-quality products. But when it presents its UX work, the agency talks about UX as if it were equal to information architecture (IA): site maps, wireframes and all that. This may not be fundamentally wrong, but it narrows UX to something less than what it really is.”

    If an agency is referring to their UX capabilities, there is the very likely potential they’re speaking to various aspects of a business. . There’s no debate that IA and wireframes support UX. As an agency they may only be asked to work with a certain phase of the development. They may have been brought in very late in the process. The database struckture may not be able to be changed so that cannot be part of the review. There are literally dozens of reasons why an agency would share these as examples of their UX capabilities. That may be all they can show or that may be what most clients are looking for

    No offense intended but this statement and perspective works in an academic setting.. When you are dealing with practical situations there are plenty of moments where you are required to choose where you “apply” your focus. In most cases it’s where a company has chosen to apply their budget.

    In a perfect world UX is a holistic approach throughtout the org. In the real world that is rarely the case.

    -1
    • 16

      @UX Reality – I think you’ve missed the nuance of the article. Sure, you can control for demographic and context to a certain degree, however, even in practicality, one isn’t necessarily able to account for each individual’s specific context and experience.

      An example would be designing your freelance or agency’s website. You can determine that you choose to work with small enterprise in a particular niche, however you can’t control if people outside that niche access your site from Google, referring sites, etc. Their experience and perspective is derived from the sites they’ve seen before, the computer they’re on and their understanding of technology – pure relativism.

      What we can do is “satisfice” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisfice) – take into account the various situations and apply the limited amount of information we have to design for a particular type of experience, not the experience itself.

      Great article!

      2
    • 17

      The issue with an agency, or any other type of UX consultant, is that they make money off of their deliverables. It’s difficult to charge a client and justify the (usually rather high) expense of hiring a UX agency or consultant, and the best way they can justify the expense is to provide documentation and deliverables, and the best way they can demonstrate their capabilities visually is through those deliverables. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t “get” UX, or that they don’t provide the deeper value that the article talks about. However, they ARE in the business of making money, and their focus will be on those things they can charge for, which almost always turns out to be the more tangible deliverables.

      0
  8. 18

    While this article is well written and carries some very valuable information I can’t help but disagree with the primary point.

    I think saying that we cannot design UX because we can’t control the user or their situation is like saying that we cannot build roads because we have no guarantee that people will drive on them and not the sidewalk.

    Clearly not every user will have the same experience with a given design but that certainly does not create the idea that design does not control/create the UX. I think the only way we could come to this conclusion would be that if the distribution of a sample group of users showed that every user had a totally random experience on a web site. This sample group would be just as likely to complete the task that has been designed as they are to never leave the site or bounce off the home page with no action at all.

    To me, the points in this article serve to promote the power of designing a user experience.

    11
    • 19

      Would be interesting to see! Furthermore, it will be challenging, as UX is not very easy to measure or evaluate, but that’s a different issue.

      I guess the UX will neither be totally random nor totally equal across subjects. The lack of randomness supports your point of view. However, the differences will probably support the assumption that UX cannot be designed.

      -3
    • 20

      Penelope Singer

      March 16, 2011 6:25 am

      I believe the point is that you can design the environment the user encounters, but not the experience that they have in that environment. Experience is ultimately a personal emotional response, something even the user themselves can’t control. Believing that you can completely control or create the specific experience a user has is naïve; you can only influence or guide it. This article is an excellent explanation of the complexities of UX and merely uses semantics to generate controversy and discussion. It’s a very thought provoking, meaty, and well-written article which does exactly that.

      6
    • 21

      How would you design the control group for such an experiment? I think that there’s a lot of value of figuring how significant “professional design” is vs. the less experienced – hard numbers do make for an easier sale, especially vs. rhetoric.

      0
  9. 22

    UX absolutely takes into consideration aesthetic, interaction, and above else the audience that’s using a site. True user experience designers are not only concentrating on their target end users but a load of other things. We take into consideration where the user might be coming from (other sites, banner ads, emails) what time of day it is, geographical location and sometimes even the weather. We look at creative and what they are used to seeing, what excites and entices. We look at copy, what is empowering. We design an experience for our users and then we test it. We test it to make sure that not only does the user find our product simple to use but what are the feelings that the user is left with after they are done. It IS designing an experience.

    3
    • 23

      Are you sure you don’t design products and services, for an intended experience?

      1
      • 24

        Yes. I’m sure. Again, these are semantics. Good UX’ers will design the experience.

        3
        • 25

          Say your design had some water visuals, going for a calm zen like feel. That might be cool with most of your target users but what if one of those users had a loved one that drowned or almost drowned themselves. The sight of water would give these users a very negative experience. The point is that you can try to mold the experience till the cows come home, but you will never know the full history of your user. There’s just some things we can’t control.

          -1
          • 26

            The products I design never end up having a bunch of silly water visuals going for a calm zen like feel. No fiery flames, no earthquakes or hurricanes. I don’t do that type of design, in which I could understand your point.

            -17
          • 27

            What if?

            I think in reality you have to design for the majority and not worry about the 1 in 100,000 who has a water phobia.

            11
  10. 28

    Although I agree you cannot design “A” Users Experience, to a great extent we must design “THE” User Experience. Yes, each user has a different level of savvy and expectation, but we’ve all been to sites that just plain suck to navigate and where key elements clearly weren’t planned for basic usability.

    Despite the vast variation in site user savvy and internet experience, there are many things we can do as designers and developers to aid even the simplest user in having a more positive experience when they visit our sites.

    2
  11. 29

    I really think we’re splitting hairs here. That’s not to say semantics aren’t important, but this article seems to be making a big deal out of terminology like “UX Designer” when anyone with common sense understands that an individual user’s experience is wholly unique and subjective.

    It really depends on macro you want to get with the whole thing. For example, fool-proofing isn’t about making sure that nobody can mess it up. It’s about making sure that as many people as possible can’t mess it up.

    So yes, we can design experiences for humans, because we can often evaluate how the majority of humans will engage. Sure, there will always be exceptions. But as Ulrich said: it’s not about designing a user experience, it’s about designing the user experience.

    14
    • 30

      Amen, brother. “You can’t design for EVERY POSSIBLE user, thus the UX can’t be designed”, which is bit like writing 8000 word article how you can’t design a perfect car. True, but tad pointless.

      It all sounds a bit academical. In the end you design the UX for your target audience. Or design their UX. Doesn’t really matter as it’s all about majority.

      11
  12. 31

    The end result of UX is not about making users feel good on the site, but rather successfully getting them to where they need to get. There are a lot of crappy looking, but very successful websites out there, and that is because they produce results for the visitors. I think thel UX focus should be results oriented, because that is the only true measure of success.

    0
    • 32

      Interesting point! UX is also about these things, and utility and usability is probably the most important factor that shapes the UX. Good looks and cute mascots (as an example) will probably not help the user if the site isn’t usable, but good looks (again: as an example) can certainly contribute to the UX as well. It is however a blurry thing which is not as easy to measure as for instance “time to task completion”.

      1
    • 33

      @Wonderfultime.biz I agree with your points but I disagree with you about not making the users feel comfortable. If the user is relaxed, they stay focused. If the content is readily available to them, it builds trust. You do not want to make the users think and being comfortable as I said will make them more relaxed and willing to navigate through your site.

      If the user is tech savvy chances are they need the comfort aspect addressed more so than techies.

      Just look at Facebook. It’s a GUI/UX nightmare and I don’t feel comfortable at all trying to navigate and do things. How the heck it’s so popular is beyond me. :)

      0
      • 34

        It was a much better than myspace!
        Better being the key word here.

        0
      • 35

        @Chris
        While making users comfortable can help them keep focus, it is only a part of the pattern. Research in education gives us a clue: they found that some amount of stress of a certain kind helps students focus and remember information better than if the student is totally relaxed. Think of how it is easier to remember something that upsets you than something that doesn’t affect you at all. Likewise, group behavior and other social psychological aspects influence the use of a site like FaceBook, so that their poor IA has less impact than it normally would. But I believe that is part of the author’s point. That so many variables contribute to the experience there is no way to account for them all. Some unaccounted for variables can counter what you planned for. Sometimes that is positive for the interface ala FaceBook and sometimes it is a negative contribution.
        I believe where the author falls short is in calling this a random event. It is deterministic based on attributes of the interface ( design decisions) and events in the users immediate environment ( like just having an argument or being ill etc) so that the variables are only partially controllable.

        3
    • 36

      Michiel Ebberink

      March 18, 2011 6:43 am

      I do agree with you. but sounds more like usability to me.

      0
  13. 37

    Reminiscent of this article: “Can Experience be Designed?” http://www.informationarchitects.jp/en/can-experience-be-designed-2/

    And Adaptive Path’s response: http://www.adaptivepath.com/blog/2010/09/30/can-experience-be-designed/

    Not the most unique idea.

    0
    • 38

      Thank you, Jordan, I hadn’t seen Adaptive Path’s article before. The author and I seem to agree very much. (And no – the design for UX idea is certainly not unique!) Recommended reading anyway!

      0
  14. 39

    I am a firm believer in using most of these techniques for all of my development projects.
    You can design sites all day long with pretty layout and design techniques, but failing to understand proper placement of content, providing a user experience that DOESN’T make your visitors think and implementing effective engagement techniques will not make your website as successful as it could be.

    Building trust, providing a comfortable browsing experience along with the items I mentioned above should be the starting points and foundation of any web project.

    Thankfully my competition doesn’t realize how important these techniques are.

    Shhh, don’t share this with too many people. haha

    Anyway great article and some new things that I wasn’t aware of.

    Thanks

    -4
  15. 40

    You can design for a specific user experience, but you can’t design the actual user experience.

    4
  16. 41

    As someone who has been in the web design business for a decade, my feeling is that the whole “UX” thing is just bullsh!t created soley for the purpose of snagging customers. It’s just another buzzword which will find its way to a bulleted list of “features you’ll get with your website!”. Making a website user friendly is part of the game. Of course its important to spend time and resources figuring out the best way to design a site. But lately “UX” is being thrown around like some sort of pretentious hipster lingo. I feel like it’s the kind of thing some entry-level college kid would put on their resume, but no veteran designer with any integrity would bother with. Plus, good luck finding companies that will put an ephasis in UX, unless you’re working at some silicon valley startup. Most companies in the real world just want you to finish the god damn website and not spend weeks drawing flowcharts and meditating on top of mountains to figure out how your websites visitors are going to think before they do.

    -1
    • 42

      This comment is almost the comment I wanted to make!

      I smell something on the breeze: designers are having a more difficult time of it in this economy, and becoming a celebrity designer is that much harder. So let’s make a new niche!

      It seems to me that “UX” maps fairly consistently with the “Branding” template. I’ve concluded that if you cannot design for User Experience, then you cannot design a Brand either. But there are plenty of designers serving up huge platters of both, God Bless ‘em.

      In both cases, however–branding & user experience–you can only really measure success after the fact. Just be careful of becoming a lemming, and do some serious soul-searching if you discover you’re one.

      1
  17. 43

    The article was okay. I don’t agree with everything.

    Have you seen Helge’s website? Please stop preaching what you don’t practice.

    -3
  18. 44

    Semantics. Blah.

    From this article: http://www.adaptivepath.com/ideas/can-experience-be-designed

    “I invented the term [user experience] because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow: I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.

    Since then, the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose its meaning.”

    Don Norman, 1998

    2
  19. 45

    I enjoyed this article… and the philosophy of a design approach can be as fascinating as design itself sometimes. I think an interesting point here is when so many designers and devs look at how can we design for each of 1,000,000 possible scenarios, devices or user audiences and start making finite changes to 1,000,000 versions… it may be more important many times to choose a clear goal and give the user many paths to that goal to let them define their experience depending on their own conditions. Its an important thing to remember next time you are sitting in a room with a committee trying to “decide” how your user “should be using” what you designed or are their multiple ways for them to use it if they decide.

    This is the reason I have always had a little chuckle to myself when an exec has responded about a product, software or website by saying “it wasn’t designed to be used that way”… but if its the natural approach your users have taken when they start using what you designed… then perhaps it was designed EXACTLY that way even though you guessed with your committee and with testing that they would use it differently.

    2
  20. 46

    Landscape Architects incorporate in their conceptual site / land development designs a ‘user / use analysis’ prior to kicking out a conceptual plan. It’s a very defined checklist system based on years of historical data recorded from actual observation of the site users and interviews during the site’s post construction analysis.

    It’s pretty cool how it’s performed, taking into consideration the tangible and intangible effects / experiences of the site users. Although there is no guarantee that every user will perceive that their final design is ‘perfect’ the system seems to works well in that it does tend minimize bad user experiences (unless you get mugged in the park).

    In that the objective of both disciplines (site designers / website designers) is the design of ‘Open Space’ in such a manner that will meet the intended needs of the final user (be it physical and / or sensory) perhaps a cursory look as to how their ‘user analysis’ is programmed and performed will be of benefit.

    Hey, it’s just a thought!

    3
    • 47

      Good point. Landscape architects are the forgotten pioneers of user experience. Yet their methods, expressed in the terrain, in flora and fauna, and in broad strokes are far more reliable than those of people condemned to work only in pixels.

      0
  21. 48

    I think this is a well premised and well executed article, and I too marvel at / get annoyed by the overly-simplistic blurring of so many of the component disciplines that comprise that amalgam of user experience — equating IA to UX, and so forth…. I also feel that it’s really important that these distinctions get made — and get made competently and clearly as they have been here.

    And at the same time, I’m beginning to feel, with this general topic area (that of distinguishing UX from UY from UZ) as though I have reached a saturation point much like — please bear with the horrible analogy — I’m reliving press conference after press conference with GWB and Chief Vice Architect Cheney constantly telling us there are WMDs when all data says there are no WMDs and then Fox News runs another in 1000 specials “Are there any WMDs?”

    I’m kind of wondering who these articles get written for? On the one hand there is a tremendous backlog of disinformation, misinformation, and goofball people masquerading as though they understand the barrage of disciplines that come together under the relatively-newly adopted collective term “User Experience”. On LinkedIn alone, I subscribe to maybe 8 UX type groups — just because…. and then I signed up for their counterparts on twitter, again, just because …. I just want to keep informed, etc.

    But now, practically every week, either on a Linked in UX group, or one of the various twitter UX channels, there is, to be honest, a variation on the theme of this article. And I truly don’t say that with any disrespect. It’s more out of this question of “who are these for?”. It seems to me that quite a number of them are motivated by annoyance of the pollution of the term and the discipline, and the devaluing of its overarching functions with its rampant misuse. Another group seem to spring up from those who really don’t know what it is and are throwing it out as a question: “What the difference between blah blah blah and lah lah lah?”…. And then a gang of experts swoop in to offer that perfect definition.

    My view: So what. I don’t care about that perfect definition. What I do care about is people polluting the profession. So, maybe what this saturation point is telling me is that somehow, in some way — and i don’t even begin to propose how, or even that it’s a good idea — some form of accreditation is needed, that flushes out the pretenders and those who are really mucking up the CLIENTS’ understanding of what these disciplines are all about.

    That’s just my from the hip reaction to this. Hope i haven’t offended — because I agree with the article!

    4
  22. 50

    Form follows function. Good form, good UX. You can only pave the road for a positive experience, the user has to find your product easy to use.

    1
  23. 51

    This article summarizes UX theories in a really easy to digest way, thanks.

    The idea of designing an experience has always made me a little uncomfortable because it seems pretentious and well, impossible. I like the idea of designing for an experience much better.

    6
  24. 52

    Thank you, Jessica!

    0
  25. 53

    I thought this was self explanatory. just as in art, you don’t really know what the viewer or user is going to get out of it or how they will use it or how it affects them, you can only attempt to guide them there. But there are factors that you can control and being a user experience designer and a designer for user experience are the same dang thing, this is just semantics. I think we were all on the same page before this article was written.

    1
    • 54

      +1 semantics.

      we’re designing something so that our users can have a better chance of having a good experience in ALL situations.
      So in essence, it’s more like designing so they won’t have bad experiences.

      1
      • 55

        +1 on semantics. Great article with great sources of info and specially good evidence of the current confusion on UX – but the main point is just semantics IMO. I’ve never seen UX design as predicting exactly what each user will do – that certainly is impossible. UX design means defining the rules of the game – the rules of the experience – the bounds. But players have options within that environment you define. You design a system of “possibilities”. That is UX and designing UX is what you do. UX design is not binary: “Yes do this here, no you don’t do that there”. Instead it is: “you have from here to here to do x, y or z”.

        Saying “Design for UX” is not wrong but it puts the emphasis on the “Design Object” and not on UX. For me UX leads everything else. I design a car for driving user experience – sure you can do that – you are a “car” designer. I design the experience of driving. You can do that too. You are a driving experience designer (and probably better paid)… and even these examples are also just semantics too :)

        0
  26. 56

    Nice article, but I can’t totally agree with idea that you can NOT design user experience. The understanding of the people about the fashion is always changing. Who changes that? Designers change that. All the fashion and taste of the people are designed now and it is always changing. And in my opinion the strongest public spots designing the user experience. Ant those who left have to analyze present people taste and then design FOR already created user taste (experience).

    4
  27. 57

    Totally agree with you mate, if you try and flog a dead horse people will eventually know it is dead. i.e if you gave bad product and market the hell out of it, people will not come back.

    The idea behind Web Courses Bangkok was not about the amount of students but to give really good quality courses and we found that people were hungry for more. So even with our service we thought about User Experience.

    -3
  28. 58

    Hi Helge,

    I think it really depends how you define things. As far as I know, the term “usability” as it is used in ISO 9241 is defined as the interaction between man and machine beeing effective, efficient and “enjoy-able”. Effective meant as the user being able to reach a certain goal, efficient as reaching a goal within a reasonable amount of time, and “enjoy-able” simply meant as a posibitve emotional reaction/attitude/state during interaction (which of course is very very subjective). Enjoy-able can certainly mean that many different dimensions are being affected, on a general and on an individual level. However, I would not consider the affective part of UX as something separate from the rest. Since it is often the consequence of a good or bad IA, visual design or any other aspect of the artefact during interaction. I think this sort of dualism might get in the way of good design if not understood well.

    -1
    • 59

      Hello Andreas, I think you are right that it is hard to separate the affective parts from the rest. For instance, an efficient website is probably more likely to elicit positive emotions than an inefficient website.

      This being said, we, as web designers, cannot design emotions.

      -2
  29. 60

    I think this needs a title change to ease the ambiguity:

    “Why user experience cannot be dictated”

    The user experience is always designed it’s the impact of that design that is being argued here.

    -1
  30. 61

    … by the way, a good approach to “… give the users what they want to – and a little more …” is to use the Kano model which is a basic element of Agile Procut development.

    -1
  31. 62

    100% disagree. You CAN design a user’s physical experience. Case in point Game Design. Games are designed to increase users dopamine levels in their brains. Causing games to become physically addictive. That is designing the user’s experience.

    Researchers at Hammersmith Hospital in London conducted a study in 2005 which found that dopamine levels in players’ brains doubled while they were playing. Dopamine is a mood-regulating hormone associated with feelings of pleasure. The findings of this study indicate that gaming could actually be chemically addictive.

    http://www.video-game-addiction.org/what-makes-games-addictive.html

    -2
    • 63

      Thanks for your input, William! User experience is quite a bit more than the physical experience.

      -1
    • 64

      Not all games are pleasurable. Most game designers do se eknew ways for pleasurable response though. Back to the main topic, as a game creator I’ve read many game design papers and they fall in line with this article’s thinking. In my terms, the game is not the experience but a means to it. Thanks for the read!

      -2
  32. 65

    Nice article. Read in context, this all makes perfect sense to me. Stimulating. Thank you.

    -3
  33. 66

    Helge,

    I gave a talk on this exact topic, that user experience cannot be designed, and is a multidimensional by-product of an organization, one month ago, at BayCHI:

    http://chi.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail4799.html

    click “view slideshow” to watch synchronized slides/audio.

    Not linkdropping at all. I’m glad to see others picking up on the “user experience cannot be designed” meme.

    -1
  34. 68

    Yeah, everyone is jumping in the meaningless UX boat trying to provide some prestige to the underestimated “Designer” role….
    I know also bureaucrats, and loads of non-designers and ppt doers pseudo researchers, self-entitled as experience +”something” that has reinvented their position and role just to fill opportunistically the gap as its fashionable…no need to know what this umbrella term actually means..as far includes the term “experience” it sounds cool-smart-important.Other thing is what you actually they do: ppts.
    Ive been 13 years in the industry, designing UIs, websites, and solutions, interactions,…..long before the term exists… and I will survive the term…
    We design for:
    “Providing beautiful and solutions to problems in determinated contexts” .”Copy and tone are interface too.”Thats it. Nothing else. We have no control on all those contexts, right?
    Anything else is self-comtemplative bullshit and a bunch of unneeded deliverables to justify salaries, that finally doesnt have an impact in the fianl design and the experience..Anyone (including any mammal) can add a feature to something, the difficult thing is to decide which one/s shulb be removed from your sight, and have a reason to do it.
    Regards

    1
    • 69

      There are actual experience designers whether you know them or not. Their methods are systematic as much as any other designers and frankly, they take bigger chances, not smaller ones as you imply. The “gravy train” of experience design, btw, dates back about a century at least, millennia more if you include theater and architecture. It’s a little late to be hopping on with less than a commitment to further our understanding of the meaning of “experience” and its exemplification.

      Right now, I am working on two very large “experience centers” in Sweden. They do not in any way resemble museums in purpose, appearance, or action. Yet they are environments intended to produce learning at a visceral level. What shall we call them, since they are not Powerpoints or computer terminal imagery?

      We are designing experience. Stop being dismissive and learn more about the field.

      0
  35. 70

    Let’s expand the meaning of experience beyond the computer screen and see if the claim, that one cannot design user experience, holds up. It doesn’t. One composes music with the intent of creating an experience, and usually does. One paints a portrait with the intent of creating another type of experience, and usually does. The same is true in architecture and even in more abstract environments like change agentry in organizations.

    The claim is misstated. What Helge means is that the designer cannot design precisely the same experience for each person. True. But this is a difference that makes no difference. One cannot even render a sentence, make a gesture, express a thought and not have this situation pertain. We do it anyway because we expect to create some experience within the person, enough to communicate our meaning and intent. The better writer, designer, architect, manager, etc. that we are, the more the experience created in the person produces the behavioral or cognitive outcome that we, the creator, desires.

    This is profound, but nothing new. We all know it from the time we wail for the first time to get our way or utter our first words, draw our first pictures, and so on. We spend our lives trying to reduce the dissonance between our meanings and expected results, and what meanings our communications actually convey and results they produce. We hope to get better with age.

    4
    • 71

      Bob Jacobson said: What Helge means is that the designer cannot design precisely the same experience for each person. True.

      This is true. However, I – and a bunch of others – mean we cannot design an experience for anyone. You refer to music, and I think the example is interesting, but it doesn’t really challenge the assumption that UX cannot be designed.

      A song can for instance have evocative attributes. It can elicit memories, either good or bad ones. The exact same song may (and will usually) elicit more or less different memories across individuals, and for a lot of individuals it won’t elicit any memories at all, as they haven’t heard the song before. Then again, these people have different preferences and expectations, which in turn will make their experiences different.

      Memories and expectations are beyond what can be designed by a composer. The same goes for the listeners’ moods, which also will affect their experience.

      -3
      • 72

        Helge, lets take this to its logical conclusion…

        Any reasonable person can agree that design affects user-experience (not just online but anywhere). Therefore user-experience can be designed… to what extent depends upon many factors. Design is one of them.

        You’re over-intellectualising a simple subject.

        2
        • 73

          Helge, lets take this to its logical conclusion…

          Yes, let’s be logical. I assume you by “design” mean the design of the product or service.

          As mentioned previously, simply put: UX = Design + User + Context

          We, as designers, can design the design. We can neither design the user nor the context.

          How come you think “UX can be designed” is a logical conclusion, when you also state we cannot control all the factors that shape UX? To me, it sounds illogical.

          0
  36. 74

    Johann Sarmiento

    March 18, 2011 7:28 am

    I had not seen Hassenzahl’s model of UX before but it seems very odd that the model has no real information about a user: “Appeal,” “Pleasure,” and “Satisfaction” don’t seem to capture it for me… specially as static constructs. I wonder whether tese things (and all the other ones that one could argue that are missing in the list) are things we need to investigate within specific activities as opposed to at the product level… this is something that field of Usability got right: usability is defined within a specific context of use.

    I personally feel that you are mis-representing a bit what you call “traditional HCI’ and HCI intself by ignoring how concepts and frameworks about people (aka users) coming from Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology, Anthropology and other fields have been integrated into HCI. The main driver of HCI has always been to “understand people/users” so that you could design things based on that understanding and in many cases to design things so that you could better understand users, because new interactions couldn’t just be extrapolated.

    0
  37. 75

    I cannot say I agree that one cannot design user experience. The misconception here is a narrow interpretation of the word “design” but it has a more encapsulating meaning “to plan the form and structure” of the experience, the conceptualisation. As user experience “encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products…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.” NNgroup’s definition. All of which, structured correctly and by implication one can design user experience.

    The problem is the misconceived, narrow approach both to design as well as the meaning of user experience.

    0
  38. 76

    Damn Straight! – you hit it out of the park. I think that eventually UX teams will be assimilated into analytics or removed completely and the bottom line will be how fast you can get somebody into the shopping cart or the sign-up page.

    -1
  39. 77

    Artasena Satyaresi

    March 18, 2011 10:30 am

    Nice Article :)

    -1
  40. 78

    Agree with Bryan in the comments. The author has written himself in circles, over-intellectualising the subject. Sorry to be blunt, but there’s little substance given the quantity of words in this article.

    “The length of this document defends it well against the risk of its being read.” – Winston Churchill

    4
    • 79

      I agree with you Bill. I’m not specifically picking on this author at all, but, really talk is cheap and the waffle-to-useable-information ratio is off the scale on the subject.

      I’d like to see less people talking about UX, more actually building something and then talking about what issues they came across and about the choices they ended up making during the designing and building of said thing. That is useful information that can be absorbed and applied in another context.

      Endless navel-gazing, however, isn’t doing anything to influence people who do actually build and make things and is usually perceived as irrelevant pseudo-intelectual fluff.

      In many ways UX has turned out to be the new SEO (I’m very sure I’m not the first person to draw that unfortunate parallel) which is a shame, as getting the user experience right is something I am very passionate about (and so many developers and development teams have historically struggled with on their own – although I’m happy to see that changing in the industry).

      2
  41. 80

    Very nice debate, I totally agree with Helge’s statement, it reminds me Roland Barthe’s statement about the source of meaning in text; ‘reader is the author’… In other words a designer can only design a shell in which user can express, interperete, and find million ways of interacting with components, people etc. Thats way every user experience is unique and personal I think…

    1
  42. 81

    Great article, this teases out an important, albeit subtle, divide. I would go on to say that this difference is not just a pragmatic one, but an ethical one as well. If the designer actually were to create an experience then it could easily fall into the categories of propaganda or brainwashing. Alternately, a complete disregard for the experience of the intended audience can result in unintended consequences or a lack of audience.

    I agree with Ozgur Ceylan’s interpretation of Barthes and Foucalt’s idea of the “Death of the Author”: the key to designing for an experience is to shift the focus from just the intent of the designer to how the design will allow its audience to reveal their own intentions. This can only be done through a rigorous process of deeply understanding a sufficiently narrow audience. However, if the focus is on the audience, it can raises issues about what the designer actually does, which is an entirely different can of worms.

    -”You have to use a light touch, like a safe-cracker or a pickpocket.”
    -”Or a guy who burns down a bar for the insurance money.”
    -”Yes, if he makes it look like an electrical thing. If you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

    0
  43. 82

    The term User Experience Design sells better because it sounds more important than, say, User Interface Design. It is used to impress clients. In the end, I doubt many of them know what it means.

    0
  44. 83

    Well…that was kind of a long winded recap of the contemporary media theory, but clearly a lot of thought went into it. There’s nothing here to disagree with, but for all intents and purposes, designers design experiences (or “for” them if you must). Why over think that?

    One key point missing is how user experience design in real-world practice is influenced by marketing. While users are unique, if good market segmentation was done (which admittedly, often isn’t) then a designer should have better insight regarding the condition, goals and values of the target user.

    Secondly, the concept of designing an experience has long been understood in storytelling. Go tell a director, cinematographer or production designer that they aren’t designing an experience and take note of the response. Good UX people are just another form of storyteller, working in the software medium.

    0
  45. 84

    Marc Hassenzahl

    March 20, 2011 4:02 am

    It is so interesting.

    While one half is dismissing it as purely a play of words, others seem to insist on the subtle distinctions, one can create with words. While I am more leaning towards the latter camp – by for example insisting on the difference between solving a problem and creating a possibility in design (see http://issuu.com/hassenzahl/docs/happiness_desmethassenzahl_chapter_rev1) – the ultimate test are the products we throw out. Only if UX Theory has impact on products it is worth the hassle. So while I appreciate the examples given, there could be more to it …

    http://interaction-design.org/encyclopedia/user_experience_and_experience_design.html

    0
  46. 85

    The only thing I took away from biology class was FORM FITS FUNCTION! I still refer this principal when designing applications. Excellent article.

    0
  47. 86

    My feeling is that highly experienced designers are often significantly better at UX than many UX people regardless of whether UX can be designed or not, or how you want to define it.

    So it goes…

    -dp

    1
  48. 87

    Good article – but I think that in a way, we can design for UX – we know that we have a product that serves a certain consumer; through traditional consumer modeling, we can identify that consumer – his wants, needs, actions, desires, etc. etc. This approach could be construed as to think that maybe if we dialed in the true identity of the user – we could also determine his UX attractions, needs, interests – and design accordingly. However, I would certainly concede that this is theoretical – and a great deal of gray area exists. And then, there are services such as MailChimp in which a broad constituency is served, with little to no common characteristics. So I said all of that to say this: maybe you’re right – maybe UX cannot be designed after all; except in specific cases.

    0
  49. 88

    Jonathan Hirsch

    March 22, 2011 8:14 am

    Completely agree with the article.

    I can’t help feeling that ‘user experience’ (in the web / interactive media context) is essentially a buzzword that has caught on because the industry has tended to take too narrow a view of what ‘design’ is. User experience should surely be implicit within (good) design – it shouldn’t need to be explicitly mentioned.

    If we are designing something to be used, then we are implicitly facilitating a user experience. So ‘user experience design’ is a tautology. We don’t design user experiences – we design things, be they web sites, applications, cars, gardens, furniture etc. etc. And we have design disciplines accordingly – car design, product design, garden design etc. So why do we have user experience design? Is it some sort of land-grab where we’re tying to take ownership of the entire design sphere, of anything that can be used and experienced? No. I can’t help feeling it’s because ‘web design’ has become so cheapened (and perhaps too rooted in visual design?) that everyone who would otherwise happily call themselves a ‘web designer’ is desperately trying to find a term that makes them (and the profession) sound more professional… ;-)

    In a sense, by emphasising UX, what we’re really saying is that, as an industry, we used to quite happily ignore ‘the user’, and we used to be able to get away with calling what we did ‘design’, but now that we’ve woken up to the fact that the user might actually be quite important and that design is actually a little bit more complicated than getting a ‘creative’ to sketch out some ideas and colour them in, let’s give the whole shebang a new name so we can charge more money for it… ;-) Design is design. Good design is good design. And bad design… gets called all sorts of buzzwordy names ;-)

    I think perhaps the problem is also with the combining of the words ‘user’ and ‘experience’. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree that experiences can be designed – theatre, events, theme parks, movies are some examples that come to mind – although I would probably argue that these would have other names than ‘experience design’ (i.e. theatre production, event design, theme park design – all pretty obvious really!). The key point though is that experiencing something is not the same as using it – the latter is a sub-set of the former. You can experience a movie, but you do not use a movie; conversely, in using a can-opener, you are also having an experience (but probably not one that was explicitly designed – I say that having just opened a tin of tuna and spilt smelly brine over my shirt… ;-)

    Since the web industry seems to be stuck with UX as a term (for now), though, I think the insertion of ‘for’ to rephrase it as ‘design for user experience’ makes a lot of sense and is helpful.

    2
  50. 89

    Srinivas Buddha

    March 23, 2011 6:37 am

    The article here is simply good for the tyros. Helge Fredheim has explained in an easiest possible way “Why UX can’t be designed?” Though the subject “User Experience” is not a finely drafted one. People from the industry are trying their level best to explain in their own way with their expertise.

    As commented by Herp Derp that “UX thing is just bullsh!t, it’s just another buzzword” he is true in his own way because before 5 years there is no User Experience or Usability and the websites and products that were developed were very much usable and successful too. This is because knowingly or unknowingly they adapted the techniques of UCD. This is like, we name a boy child – John and by the name anybody in the world knows that he is a boy but before naming him itself he is a BOY.

    UX is simple if we think simple and complex if we make it so but ultimately the goal is to make a product/software/anything as easy as possible atleast to some specific users.

    0
  51. 90

    Wow, comments are exciting! I do love Smashing not only for its great content but for people out here.

    Close to the article. “As mentioned previously, simply put: UX = Design + User + Context. We, as designers, can design the design. We can neither design the user nor the context.” by Helge Fredheim

    I have a question – what about educating a user? We as designers (fashion designers, architectures, web-designers, landscape designers , UI/UX designers , etc – the whole bunch ) just work for users , or it’s a two-way conversion?

    First iPhone, FaceBook interface changes, Gmail at its very start, Instant search, Google Wave – these things educate users , not the User , but all of them. They were so destructive, so strange, Users did not believe in them , but now users are afraid to loose them. User experience is dynamic, it changes over time as the circumstances change. But there are reasons for these changes … If we are after users , we’ll fail. Someone need to have strength to lead the way.

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  52. 91

    “It boils down to semantics and i doubt most UX designers think they literally design every users exact experience.”

    Couldn’t have put it better myself!

    -1
  53. 92

    Thanks Helge, for such a great and very informative article. The comments are also great filled with information to review. Look forward to more.

    Sincerely,

    Carmella English

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  54. 93

    Ever notice how buzz words in this industry are fuzzy and unclear, and a bunch of people claim to be experts at it when nobody really knows what it means?

    But then after a while a real, tangible definition starts to emerge and the industry eventually agrees on a standard..

    Remember “usability”, “web standards” “web 2.0″? These were all buzz words at first, and they too lacked a real definition – and many claimed to be experts.
    Now we all accept these these as well defined professional terminology.

    This is the natural process of defining new ways of thinking as the industry changes. Soon UX will solidify and we’ll all be talking about the next buzz word. Until then, there’s not really a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ method..the only measure is effectiveness. Designing the experience or “for” the experience.. either way it doesn’t really matter at this stage.

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  55. 94

    This was a really interesting article! Thanks for sharing your insight.

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  56. 95

    Christian Saylor

    May 24, 2011 6:43 am

    The entire discipline around UX is like telling a great story. All great stories have four key elements: 1. Lead Character 2. Ambition 3. Conflict 4. Resolution. These are the basic building blocks of great UX. We have to have some working knowledge of the people we’re designing for; the lead characters in the story we’re trying to tell. What are the key motivators (ambition) that drive them to use a certain product over another. What kinds of tension exists that prevent them from moving forward (financial, technical, strategic…). When we fully research and understand the end user the resolution designs itself. It is and will always be, first and foremost, about understanding the audience and their expectations of the brand. When brand is aligned with user expectations then answers begin to reveal themselves.

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  57. 96

    :)

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  58. 97

    Thanks for sharing :-)

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  59. 98

    Community for UX (User experience) Design – UX Next Conference in Chennai,India on 16th July 2011 organised by Society for Rich Internet Application – Rich User Interface http://www.facebook.com/uxnext.in

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  60. 99

    Great article. It makes the term ‘UX’ more clearer.

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  61. 100

    Thanks Helge for sharing this article.
    This is really a good help.

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  62. 101

    Great article, thanks!

    I define “experience” as a quality we can explore by research, plan for as an idealisation, and influence with what we produce – but not design. The results of a design project will in any case be just a small part of what people experience.

    One misconception with the term “UX Design” is that it would imply designing experiences. We do not design experiences any more than industrial designers designing industries.

    I noticed you’re a developer by trade – that’s great, we need more Hybrid Thinkers!

    milan

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  63. 102

    i agree. We do not design user experiences. The term UX Designer is a misnomer of sorts. Unfortunately it’s become an industry standard.

    Simply put. We design digital products with the aim to have a positive impact on the user experience. It’s up to the user to define whether or not that is going to be successful or satisfying.

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    • 103

      So this article reminds me of the work of Uta Brandes about Non Intentional Design. This is a collection of artefacts that are used in an unexpected way. As designers we should not overestimate our possibilities. The everyday use of the product is determined by the user. But the carefully study of this use or misuse tells us a lot about wishes and desires of the users.

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  64. 104

    So you can *create* a user experience, you can design FOR a user experience, you can even *model* a user experience, you just can’t *design* one directly?

    You’re kidding, right?

    Ferocious quibbling over a comma, when the rest of War & Peace or Hamlet awaits.

    An experience is designed, but a user may interpret the experience differently. A roller coaster is a start-to-finish series of sensations and g-forces that does not vary from one person to the next if he/she is sitting in the same seat. You experience that ride. One person may be thrilled, another sick, yet another terrified.

    So goes subjective reality.

    Most of us draw the line at creating an objective experience for the users to …well, experience, and you choose to say there is no line, because users are all subjective?

    I say potato, you say, OMFG! Not everyone likes potatoes!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  65. 105

    You can conduct a scientific study. The study can be generalizable to various degrees. There are variables in usability and even more if talking about the entire user experience. At our school the program was in the applied experimental psychology department and I think thats a good place for it. Learning measurement and how to conduct an experiment along with its limitations is important foundation for those getting into the field. No one can account for all users and all aspects of how they will use your product. But you can improve. I think it completely worth mentioning that you can’t completely control how the person experiences your product but you can influence it to greater degrees. I felt like this is a semantic argument at the beginning of the article but now kind of agree with what it is trying to accomplish. There are a lot of buzzwords that come along and become overused by people in the industry. I hate that because then the art and science that make up things like user experience often gets ignored and projects are just supposed to end up awesome (whatever that means in whatever context). So I did enjoy the article. I do think there can be ways to measure improvements however even if they are often qualitative.

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  66. 106

    Thanks for this clear article, I enjoyed reading it, also the comments. I do not (at least for now) believe in such arguments in the field, but find such an article useful to give insight.
    I’d also like to suggest 2 more (academic) models on UX:
    - Beyond Usability–Measuring Aspects of User Experience
    P.G. Zimmermann (PhD thesis-2008)
    http://e-collection.library.ethz.ch/eserv.php?pid=eth:41599&dsID=eth-41599-02.pdf
    - User experience of interaction with technical systems
    Sascha Mahlke (PhD thesis- 2008)
    http://opus.kobv.de/tuberlin/volltexte/2008/1783/

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  67. 107

    I agree and disagree with this statement above, that User Experience Cannot Be Designed.

    If “User Experience” is the process, we can design it :) Design is planning and drawing something and we can plan and draw the process. If “User Experience” is an subjective event, it’s just the result of process preceded to it.

    Do we design user experience? Yes, we do.
    Do we design specific subjective emotional state of user? Not, as this is sum of multiple variables. But we can design for specific emotional state.

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  68. 108

    While an interesting perspective, my view is the title reflects an earnest attempt to improve the experience of using [fill in the blank]. I see nothing wrong with it.

    However, since one of “our” primary objectives is to help employers and clients understand what we do and we continue to collectively fail miserably at that critical task, debating the finer points and/or semantics about what the term UX Design means or doesn’t mean, can or can’t be seems a bit pointless to me. Sorry.

    I’ve spent a significant portion of my 15year+ professional career explaining what it is I do, why it is of benefit, the processes, etc. to employers, managers, recruiters. They don’t particularly care about the title as long as the title d’jour gets them the skill set they think they want.

    I think a more fruitful discussion would be how to identify simple, coherent functional titles that speak to our audience instead of us. Isn’t that part of our charter?

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  69. 109

    Great article. User experience applies to the science of architecting product and service experiences. Wireframes and sitemaps are simply deliverables. It is like saying Photoshop is design!

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  70. 110

    What designers are missing is this — UX’s foundation is research. Web designers aren’t researching what is efficient, what is best practice, what has highest conversion, what the best contextual user experience is, what the interaction is, and so on. Web designers tend to over-simplify (or over-complicate) an experience to make a design work for them.

    Wireframes, architecture, content organization, competitive analysis, etc is based on using research that’s available, conducting research, and deriving recommendations and strategy from the research. That strategy is applied to non-designed wireframes – designers should then base their compositions off research-driven UX.

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