“So your title is ‘User Experience Director’, right?” He asked with a twinkle in his eye and a small smirk sneaking up in one corner –I knew this was somehow a loaded question.
“Yes,” I said with a knowing smile. “Why?”
“Well, according to Helge Fredheim’s article the other day, no one designs user experiences. They produce user interfaces – like Graphical User Interfaces or GUIs…NOT user experiences. Therefore, that either makes you a fake or an ignoramus.”
There it was. He went surfing and found a juicy nugget with which to get a little dig into me. Maybe in my younger days I would’ve gone on offense. But I’ve matured (slightly), so I calmly retorted, “Oh contraire, mon frère. You speak of which you know not.”
His Cheshire-Cat-grin only got wider. “Wait. Are you saying Helge, an obviously studied expert, is wrong?” His inquisitor’s voice now was intentionally exaggerated with flamboyance.
“Not entirely,” said I. “In fact, I agree with most of his discourse. People do confuse the terms ‘user interface’ and ‘user experience’. The former is a subset of the whole, and most of the time you cannot control UX. I could design a truly spectacular graphical user interface (GUI), but the guy using it could be caught in scalding, 120-degree heat and suffer through usage simply because of the weather. Or I could design a mediocre GUI and that same guy might enjoy a fantastic experience because someone brought him a tall, cool glass of lemonade.”
“Lemonade? That’s the difference?” He was toying with me.
“No, no. That’s not my point. I’m saying Fredheim correctly has identified that most often Human Factors engineers test participants’ user satisfaction of a product within a sterile environment with repeatable test conditions as to isolate independent variables, maximize task completion and refine the user interface. Once they sprinkle it with holy water, they deem ‘the experience’ superior from THAT perspective. However, the true experience is all about a non-sterile environment. Chaos, entropy, and uncontrolled situations are the day-to-day in which we live. By definition, nearly all products will be used within the ever-changing hustle-and-bustle.” I continued, “But here’s where I disagree with Fredheim: the iconic companies of the world account for a range of situations, consider how they need to react within those possibilities and design the user interfaces with that in mind.”
“Whaaaaaaat?” he cagily replied. “You’re making this up.”
“Not at all. Here are three companies who, by no coincidence, lead in unaided brand awareness within their respective industries.”
“Unaided brand awareness. Imagine I asked you ‘Who makes carbonated soft drinks?’ and you listed off the companies that came to your mind, despite your thick skull. Coca-Cola, Pepsi. You might even think to add smaller companies like Faygo or Canada Dry. Yes, some of that has to do with marketing budgets, strong regional presences, and other business factors. Word-of-mouth, though, is typically founded upon great user experiences, and that definitely assists unaided brand awareness. So,” I paused, “here are the three companies that are great examples of designing for user experience.”
Stay tuned to the Altia blog for “Interfacing about User Experiences, Part Two: Disney” — coming tomorrow!