User Experience Design
- User Experience Design (June 21, 2004)
I've been practicing information architecture since 1994, and from
Gopher to Google have seen dramatic changes in the landscape of
organization, search and retrieval.
Through these ten tempestuous years, I've found the infamous three
circle diagram to be a great tool for explaining how and why we must
strike a unique balance on each project between business goals and
context, user needs and behavior, and the available mix of content.
Figure 1. The Three Circles of Information Architecture
While this diagram was conceived with IA in mind, it's equally
useful for explaining UX. In conjunction with Jesse's masterpiece, I
use the three circles to illustrate the distinction between user
experience and user-centered design. I'm still not convinced UCD
exists outside the realm of theory, but I practice user experience
design every day.
Facets of the User Experience
When I broadened my interest from IA to UX, I found the need for a
new diagram to illustrate the facets of user experience - especially
to help clients understand why they must move beyond usability - and
so with a little help from my friends developed the user experience
Figure 2. The User Experience Honeycomb
Naturally, the jump from three circles to seven hexagons gave me an
instant buzz, but after several months of road testing, I can safely
say this diagram has survived the honeymoon.
Here's how I explain each facet or quality of the user experience:
Useful. As practitioners, we can't be content to paint within the
lines drawn by managers. We must have the courage and creativity to
ask whether our products and systems are useful, and to apply our
deep knowledge of craft and medium to define innovative solutions
that are more useful.
Usable. Ease of use remains vital, and yet the interface-centered
methods and perspectives of human-computer interaction do not
address all dimensions of web design. In short, usability is
necessary but not sufficient.
Desirable. Our quest for efficiency must be tempered by an
appreciation for the power and value of image, identity, brand, and
other elements of emotional design.
Findable. We must strive to design navigable web sites and locatable
objects, so users can find what they need.
Accessible. Just as our buildings have elevators and ramps, our web
sites should be accessible to people with disabilities (more than
10% of the population). Today, it's good business and the ethical
thing to do. Eventually, it will become the law.
Credible. Thanks to the Web Credibility Project, we're beginning to
understand the design elements that influence whether users trust
and believe what we tell them.
Valuable. Our sites must deliver value to our sponsors. For non-
profits, the user experience must advance the mission. With for-
profits, it must contribute to the bottom line and improve customer
The honeycomb hits the sweet spot by serving several purposes at
once. First, it's a great tool for advancing the conversation beyond
usability and for helping people understand the need to define
priorities. Is it more important for your web site to be desirable
or accessible? How about usable or credible? The truth is, it
depends on your unique balance of context, content and users, and
the required tradeoffs are better made explicitly than unconsciously.
Second, this model supports a modular approach to web design. Let's
say you want to improve your site but lack the budget, time, or
stomach for a complete overhaul. Why not try a targeted redesign,
perhaps starting with Stanford's ten guidelines as a resource for
evaluating and enhancing the credibility of your web site?
Third, each facet of the user experience honeycomb can serve as a
singular looking glass, transforming how we see what we do, and
enabling us to explore beyond conventional boundaries.
A Different Way of Seeing
For example, I realized some time ago that while "information
architect" describes my profession, findability defines my passion.
Since then, I've found my focus on findability has opened my eyes,
leading me beyond IA while simultaneously making me a better
Last Summer, while redesigning the Q web site, we identified
findability as a top priority. Our quest to make this small site
more findable took me beyond the discipline of information
architecture and deep into the realm of search engine optimization.
That experience proved useful last Fall, during a redesign project
for the National Cancer Institute, in which we used findability
concepts and SEO statistics to alleviate an unhealthy fixation on
the home page, raising awareness of the need to design findable
documents for direct access via the Google, MSN, and Yahoo! search
And this Spring, I was hired to perform my first findability audit
for a major international nonprofit. Feeling a bit concerned about
dedicating four weeks exclusively to findability, I asked whether I
should also consider usability factors. "No thanks," my client
replied. "We already had Jakob in last year to focus on usability."
A Big Hive
Though the findability audit was a success, it did feel ironic to
once again be ensnared inside a box (or hexagon) of my own making.
But I'm sticking with findability for now. Between my new seminar,
my new book, and findability.org, I'm busy as a bee.
And anytime I feel trapped, I can explore other facets of the user
experience honeycomb, or perhaps even create a new diagram.
For me, user experience design is a big hive: a dynamic, multi-
dimensional space where there's still plenty of room to build new
boxes and draw new arrows, at least for the next ten years.