39. User Experience - UX

by Dirk Knemeyer and Eric Svoboda

"User Experience", often abbreviated "UX", is the quality of experience a person has when interacting with a specific design.

Originally used in reference to human-computer interactions - and still largely associated with those disciplines - the term is now used to refer to any specific human-design interaction, ranging from a digital device, to a sales process, to an entire conference. Perhaps due to its organic development and lack of formalization, "User Experience" may be defined by, and the responsibility of, very different departments from organization to organization: in some organizations, it is owned by marketing; in others, it falls under information technology (IT). Then, from a solutions perspective, some organizations base their "User Experiences" around the research and academic-based approaches of human-computer interaction (HCI); others treat interface and/or product design as the source for "User Experience," while still others let marketing or IT drive it.

An early example of the use of the word "User Experience" is E.C. Edwards and D.J. Kasik's "User Experience With the CYBER Graphics Terminal". Subsequently, there are numerous other examples of "User Experience" in use through the late 1970's and early 1980's, largely restricted to the human-computer interaction communities and particularly in the context of user-centered design (UCD).

"User Experience" was popularized by Don Norman's self-selected title of User Experience Architect at Apple Computer, Inc. in 1993. Because of Norman 's status as a thought leader in the HCI community, this unconventional title raised awareness of the term. By the mid-1990s, many technology companies used the term to represent a commitment to and focus on higher quality human-computer interactions as a key product differentiator. As the dot.com technology boom reached its apex in 2000, a variety of books that included "User Experience" in the title - almost exclusively focused on elements of web design - were published.

During its growth in the 1990's "User Experience" suffered from confusion due to the popularity of two other, similar terms, "User-Centered Design" (UCD) and "Experience Design." Over time, UCD has been further clarified as a specific process and approach to product design, while Experience Design has largely shifted to describe a hybrid design discipline that focuses on environmental and multi-sensorial design, particularly in the context of digital displays and installations.

In recent years, "User Experience" has transcended simple interactions within computing environments and is used as a qualifier for various on- and offline experiences, ranging from person-to-person interactions, such as customer service, as well as analogue products such as the automobile. Many companies today have "User Experience" teams and departments, and the term has assumed a broader meaning. An industry association, the User Experience Network (UXnet), is dedicated to furthering this emergent discipline. User experience has thus evolved from HCI to broader issues of customer satisfaction and competitive differentiation, suggesting that it will remain a pertinent issue for design and business in the future.

Want to learn more about User Experience?

Being an emergent discipline, User Experience does not yet have a strong, formal body of knowledge. Formal books that include the term in their title often cover only subgroups of user experience. Here are some online resources to get you started:

www.uxnet.org - local and cross-disciplinary resources on UX

www.informationdesign.org - despite its label, the pre-eminent daily UX resource

www.functioningform.com - a consistently strong resource on the UX design process

www.nathan.com/resources/index.html - an enormous collection of UX- related resources.

3 References