May 5, 2003: UX Bumpage
User experience (UX) is too young to be clearly defined as a field, a
movement, a community, a methodology, or a goal. But whatever it is, there
is definitely a there there.
For example, Dennis Schleicher, with a background in ethnography, just sent
an email to me, with a background in librarianship, about a presentation on
UX made by Lee Anne Kowalski, who I'm guessing has a background in technical
writing. In turn I forwarded Dennis' email to Jess McMullin, whose
background is in psychology.
Meanwhile, many of us are gearing up for the first DUX conference (DUX =
Designing User Experiences), which is co-sponsored by SIGCHI, SIGGRAPH, and
the AIGA. Those are very strange bedfellows indeed; oh, to have been a fly
on the wall at their program committee meetings...
I'm sure you've come across such weird interdisciplinary agglomerations in
your own work, whether or not the term UX came up. And I'm guessing there
are many folks in some fields not (yet) typically considered as part of
UX--like content management, knowledge management, programming, data
modeling--that are suddenly bumping into the term.
With all this bumpage going on, it'd be nice to be able to say exactly what
UX is--a field, for example--even if we can't agree to the scope of our
definition. (The AIGA has made a noble effort to define the term
"experience design," which I suggest is synonymous with UX.) But maybe it's
even premature to attempt agreement over what UX is. Instead, I suggest we
consider some more basic goals to help solidify UX:
* The best starting point is growing awareness of UX. As pointed out above,
more and more people are naturally becoming aware of the existence of UX
through grass-roots efforts, and it's heartening to see concerted top-down
efforts on the part of professional associations. What else can we do to
make the light bulbs appear over our colleagues' heads any faster? Simple:
we can do a better job of explaining *why* we need UX. Here's what works
for me: today's information environments are simply too complex and too
strategic to be well-designed by a single disciplinary perspective, using
that discipline's conventional methods. How might you explain the need for
something called UX?
* With so many disciplines at the table, we need a common UX language. Or
at least we need to remember to translate for each other. For example, when
I presented at the Content Management Strategies conference last week, I had
to be careful to use the term "end users" rather than "users". For content
managers, "users" refers to authors and editors who will interact with a
content management system. If I hadn't done that little bit of translating,
many of those attending my talk would have been lost. Small acts like this,
whether at conference presentations or in day-to-day conversations with
colleagues, ultimately go a long way.
* Assuming our mutual communications improve, we can begin to develop a
common UX methodology or, better put, toolkit to help us research, develop
and test our designs. This is already happening; indeed, newer fields like
interaction design, information architecture, and knowledge management have
arisen in large part to provide integrated sets of methods from existing
fields. But we still have a long way to go, as there many existing fields
still rely a bit too exclusively on their old standbys (e.g., marketing
folks relying on focus groups).
These goals are ambitious, but they're also already underway, at least
organically. They're probably more realistic than trying to develop a
single definition of UX, or creating a UX community, much less a UX
discipline. These are even loftier goals, and will all require both broader
awareness and some common vocabulary, so let's start by getting the word out
and being ready to do a little translating.
BLOUG PERMALINK & COMMENTS
Lee Anne Kowalski's STC presentation ::
STC :: http://www.stc.org/
DUX conference :: http://www.dux2003.org/
SIGCHI :: http://www.acm.org/sigchi/
SIGGRAPH :: http://www.siggraph.org/
AIGA :: http://www.aiga.org/
AIGA's definition of experience design ::
Content Management Strategies conference :: http://www.cm-strategies.com/