The Essential Characteristics of User Experience (a language of critique)

2 Jul 2009 - 7:57pm
4 years ago
14 replies
1624 reads
Richard Dalton
2008

Theres been some discussion in the past few months about establishing
a “language of critique” for user experience design. JJG may have
started it with his closing plenary at the Summit and several people
have blogged about it.

Here is my contribution, yes its a diagram. Its the first half of a
two part diagram called “The Characteristics of User Experience”,
this first part being the essential characteristics – the second
part, coming soon, will be the secondary (or auxiliary, or periphery,
I haven’t decided yet) characteristics.

Useful, Usable and Desirable have been touted for a long time as the
hallmarks of a “good” user experience but they’re too generic and
abstract. I think the five characteristics in this diagram are
essential to any user experience being “good”. I’d love comments to
stress test this!

http://mauvyrusset.com/2009/07/02/the-essential-characteristics-of-user-experience/

Richard

Comments

2 Jul 2009 - 8:05pm
Alan James Salmoni
2008

Thanks Richard. Just one trivial suggestion: could you put the graphic
up as a link to a larger graphic instead of a pdf - I cannot access
your pdf at work and a graphic would be a quicker way to examine it.

Thanks again.

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2 Jul 2009 - 8:39pm
Phillip Hunter
2006

Richard,

Are the layers supposed to indicate a hierarchy within the Essential
characteristics? They do to me, which makes it seem like there are
essentialer characteristics, or a flow you imply but don't describe.

Furthermore, though Controllability, Understandability, and Relevance
all dance around this, I think Predictability bears mention as a
necessary element. Very few experiences are enjoyable that are not
predictable, and those tend to be highly specialized, and, in some
way, their lack of predictability is predictable, so...

Phillip

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2 Jul 2009 - 9:30pm
Richard Dalton
2008

Hi Philip,

Yes - I did intend the 3 layers to imply a hierarchy, my reasoning
was that you can't leverage connections if you can't control
something, you can't control something that you can't understand
and you wouldn't want to engage with something that isn't relevant
to you or that doesn't emotionally appeal to you.

Predictability is an interesting one, i'd say that predictable as it
pertains to behavior of an experience would be covered under
"controllable", but perhaps you were thinking of other reasons why
we try to make experiences predictable?

Great discussion, thanks!

- Richard

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3 Jul 2009 - 12:16am
Uday Gajendar
2007

Laura Lee Alben defined many of these core criteria back in May 1996.
Search for her article "Quality of Experience" in the ACM Digital
Library (it was published for Interactions magazine). Dan Boyarksi
also wrote an article "What is Interactivity", Vol. 8, No. 3,
Summer 1997 of DMI Journal, describing some elemental qualities.

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3 Jul 2009 - 4:04pm
Richard Dalton
2008

Thanks Uday, Laura's article in particular is interesting - there are
certainly some shared characteristics between our models. I'd
probably make a case for saying that some of hers are more process
focused than the end experience and some of them are going to be in
my 'secondary' set of things that an experience doesn't have to be
(e.g. learnable).

- Richard

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4 Jul 2009 - 7:36pm
Denise
2008

Thanks for that articulation, Richard. It seems to me that you're on
the right track. One thing you may be missing, though, is context.

A good user experience is optimized for the context in which it will
be used. Like building a mobile app that takes advantage of the
user's roving physical location, designing security features for an
ATM in a public space, or even making lightweight web pages for users
in developing countries. What we design is not used in a vacuum, and
an otherwise great product will fail if context isn't considered.

Hope that helps.

Cheers,
-d

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5 Jul 2009 - 7:53pm
Richard Dalton
2008

Thanks Denise, the funny thing about ''context" is that without any
qualifier its actually an oxymoron ;-)

I don't think we can simply say that "context" by itself is
important - we have to say that within the "relevance"
characteristic (for example) its important to put the experience into
the context of the user (and situation/time/place/etc). Within the
"control" characteristic its important to put control elements
within the context of the aspects of the experience that they control
... and so on with the other characteristics.

So for me, "context" is a technique (a very important one) to make
each of the 5 characteristics more effective.

- Richard

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5 Jul 2009 - 8:24pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jul 5, 2009, at 5:53 PM, Richard Dalton wrote:

> So for me, "context" is a technique (a very important one) to make
> each of the 5 characteristics more effective.

This was the ah-hah I needed to figure out why this is not working for
me.

One of the things that makes design different from other creative
endeavors is that it needs to match the context tightly.

We don't have a language to describe context, which means we can't
direct the critique to talking about match, which means we'll
inevitably fail.

To say that context is a technique makes it second-order in the
critique language and I think that's wrong. I think it's higher order
than your five characteristics. (In other words, its more important
that the design matches the context than it is that it matches the
characteristics. Or, in other other words, if the design matches the
characteristics perfectly, but doesn't match the context, you're
screwed.)

So, I'm thinking the critique language has to include a way of
describing the context directly.

Jared

5 Jul 2009 - 9:05pm
Richard Dalton
2008

Jared, I chose the word "technique" poorly. I think we're on the
same page. I meant that "context" is so pervasive that it can't be
contained in just one characteristic. I actually think the 5
characteristics are a way of describing context (amongst other
things).

You said: "In other words, its more important that the design
matches the context than it is that it matches the characteristics.
Or, in other other words, if the design matches the characteristics
perfectly, but doesn't match the context, you're screwed.

But what do you mean "matches the context"? that it meets the user
need and business goals? - thats "relevant". A design *can't*
match the characteristics without context.

Examples:
When I see a button miles away from the chart it effects I see a
failure of "control" because the button is out of context.

Tufte's "small multiples" are a great example of designing for
good "understanding" by providing other data points as context.

A mutual fund site with which I am intimately acquainted doesn't do
a very good job of "helping you find replacement funds" because the
activity of "looking at your funds performance and fit for your
portfolio" and "looking at (and filtering) the list of possible
funds" are not "connected".

I could go on and on ...

I suppose I could show "context" as a things that surrounds
everything else. a little bit like midichlorians ;-)

- Richard

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5 Jul 2009 - 11:03pm
Dave Malouf
2005

I think there is an element here that is missing. This still feels
like analytical analysis to me and not like design criticism.

Here's what I mean. a design critique has a part of it that says
this is "good or bad", but there is also a language of description.
I like for example how Verplank talk about hot vs. cold feelings in
the feedback. But I think a UX experience should also be described in
terms of masculine vs. feminine, or rugged vs. fragile, etc.

if we are talking about "critique" and not about "evaluation" we
need more than just thinking about "good vs. bad".

While using these characteristics as guideposts, they are not a
language of critique, but more of a framework or worse a laundry list
not all that different from durable, fit and desirable, but just
slightly more specific.

It is not important that there is control in a critique system, but
how does the method of giving control communicate aesthetically. The
assumption in this structure is that "lacking" in one of the
elements is an implicit negative and that each is a linear continuum
of more vs. less of that item where more is almost always positive.

the context of aesthetics would have some of these actually be quite
multi-facetted and non-linear.

-- dave

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6 Jul 2009 - 1:52pm
David B. Rondeau
2003

It seems to me that if we are going to have a true critique of the
user experience, we actually have to step back and consider that
there are 2 parts to the actual experience.

First is the design%u2014the system, product, service, or whatever,
that we create. Ostensibly, if we are user experience designers, then
we have designed some kind of user experience into the design. In
other words, we are expecting users to have a specific "kind" of
experience when they interact with a design, whatever that design
might be.

The other part is the real experience users have when they actually
use any or all of the things that were designed. This is very much
driven by forces that are external to the design
itself%u2014different contexts as Jared mentioned, changing intents,
and evolving perceptions can result in very different experiences.

I think both parts are important when critiquing a user experience
design. We need to understand the forms, structures, and styles of
the experience design itself and critique how they affected the
actual experience of our users.

This should result in a more holistic critique. Was the intended
experience appropriate or misguided? Did the Design (the larger
design, not the little details) provide the intended experience or
did it go beyond expectations? What theories can we provide about how
and why the forms, structure, and style impacted the experience? How
do changing tastes and attitudes affect perceptions of an experience
design? How do we build a theory that can be "proven" and
discussed, much like the disciplines of drama, philosophy, or ethics?

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6 Jul 2009 - 6:30pm
Richard Dalton
2008

Dave (Malouf), I agree that these 5 essentials are very one
dimensional, more = better. Their "essential" nature defines that.
The characteristics defined in the second part of the diagram (coming
as soon as I can find a few hours) are actually each double ended
scales where neither end implies good or bad.

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6 Jul 2009 - 11:25pm
Dave Malouf
2005

I look forward to your additions.

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7 Jul 2009 - 1:13am
Shrikant Ekbote
2008

David (Rondeau),
That's precisely the difference between "Design 'for' user experience"
against "Designing User experience". There is stream of thought which says
as a designer you can only design 'for' an intended experience as you have
no control over the 'actual experience' the user might have interacting with
the product due the various factors beyond control.

One can certainly critique the first part ( the intended experience) but it
would be interesting to see how the second part (actual user experience) can
be critiqued unless there is a certain level of generalization ( personas?)
otherwise it's a matter of great subjectivity for individual users.

Regards,
Shrikant Ekbote
http://shrikant123.wordpress.com

On Mon, Jul 6, 2009 at 5:22 PM, David Rondeau <
david.rondeau at incontextdesign.com> wrote:

> It seems to me that if we are going to have a true critique of the
> user experience, we actually have to step back and consider that
> there are 2 parts to the actual experience.
>
> First is the design%u2014the system, product, service, or whatever,
> that we create. Ostensibly, if we are user experience designers, then
> we have designed some kind of user experience into the design. In
> other words, we are expecting users to have a specific "kind" of
> experience when they interact with a design, whatever that design
> might be.
>
> The other part is the real experience users have when they actually
> use any or all of the things that were designed. This is very much
> driven by forces that are external to the design
> itself%u2014different contexts as Jared mentioned, changing intents,
> and evolving perceptions can result in very different experiences.
>
> I think both parts are important when critiquing a user experience
> design. We need to understand the forms, structures, and styles of
> the experience design itself and critique how they affected the
> actual experience of our users.
>
> This should result in a more holistic critique. Was the intended
> experience appropriate or misguided? Did the Design (the larger
> design, not the little details) provide the intended experience or
> did it go beyond expectations? What theories can we provide about how
> and why the forms, structure, and style impacted the experience? How
> do changing tastes and attitudes affect perceptions of an experience
> design? How do we build a theory that can be "proven" and
> discussed, much like the disciplines of drama, philosophy, or ethics?
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=43338
>
>
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