experiencing interface

from the introduction of “Making the Web Work” “User interface versus user experience: The sudden and dramatic influx […]

from the introduction of “Making the Web Work

“User interface versus user experience: The sudden and dramatic influx of graphic designers into the interactive design area has been accompanied by a host of new terms and job titles. One of the most popular is “user experience.” As I understand it, user experience encompasses every aspect of a person’s interaction with an organization– everything from the company Web site, to customer support, to shipping labels, to how the receptionist answers the phone. In other words, everything.

Unfortunately, user experience has become entangled, confused, and synonymous with the more specific term “user interface” a term that has been used in the software industry for decades. Despite its techno-babble overtone, user interface is the correct term for describing the specific layer of an interactive product where the technology and the user come together. Makign the Web Work is about user interface, not user experience.”

I find this passage interesting for a number of reasons, not the least being that often in the valley interaction designers are responsible and expected to be good at interface design. And interface designers good at interaction. And graphic designers are sometimes relegated to colorists, if they are engaged at all.

I personally do not like the term “user interface”, as it seems to me that it relegates the design to surface considerations… but I’d love to hear from others on this.


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  1. 1
    Bob Baxley

    As the author of the passage in question it’s hard to pass up an opportunity like this. The first thing to remember is that when I wrote the quoted paragraphs I was trying to set some boundaries for the topic of my book. Although number of books had recently used the term “experience design” I found their subject matter to be considerably more narrow than the term might suggest and hence I sought some clarification and limits.

    To take one step back, Jesse James Garrett’s model of user experience is not a bad place to start. JJG’s model has five planes, the first two of which are strategy and scope. It was important to me to state that I was NOT going to deal with either one of those issues — not because I didn’t think they were important but because they weren’t the subject of my book.

    Interface design — aka Structure, Behavior, Presentation — assumes at the beginning that the product and it’s features have already been defined. In other words, when the interface design comes to play, the script has already been settled. That is an important topic, one often overlooked, and the subject of my book.

    Now when it comes to the larger question of fitting design into the overall product design process, I use a different metaphor: product design as something like an orchestra performing a symphony. There are many sections involved: the woodwinds, the brass, the strings, and the percussion — all of which are following a common score and conductor.

    You might think of each section as engineering, product marketing, and design. Within each section it’s common for a given individual to play multiple instruments and on rare occasion, a truly gifted individual might even move between sections — Mozart comes to mind. But in general, it takes all sections working together under a common leader and a common score to create something that is beautiful for the audience. We can talk about who creates the score but the bottom line is that composers come from a lot of different places and are not necessarily present during the performance.

    A lot of design literature of late has been advocating design as the composer, conductor, and soloist. To me the issue is one of fitting in with the team. While I certainly don’t believe designer’s should be relegated to the role of stylist but neither do I believe that they should be placed in the role of dictator.

  2. 2

    An effective way to rid ourselves of discussions involving the breakdown of tasks is to remember that we work as teams, not alone. We are forced to work in silos, for example: on a ten week project, an IA will be used for two weeks then moved to another project.

    Working in teams where everyone works together from day one takes care of deciding where things fit in. The team works together stabbing it from all directions at the same time. This comes up with great discussions like “Can we make widgetA do this-that-then-this?” to which the tech guy can answer “yes… and we can add this-that to widgetB to accomodate widgetB!”.

    This gets rid of the “telephone game” effect of projects. At each phase there must be a time where one person tries to explain EVERYTHING to the next team member. This makes the client uneasy because they have to repeat everything, and that will change. I also feel like I lose the sense of ownership in my work and not care in the end if it comes out wrong. I can’t expect a programmer to explain my choices made a month ago.

    The team also needs to get rid of their egos. A designer can make amazing contributions to the programmer. The programmer can make suggestions to improve the design. As an IA I can’t keep up with everything, and I hope people don’t expect it either.

  3. 3
    Randolph Fritz

    “Architecture,” wrote Robert Venturi, “begins at the wall.” Architectural design, of course, covers what is within, behind, and outside of the wall, but the medium of architectural design is solids and surfaces, which are experienced in a multitude of ways. In this light I think it is fair to say that “user experience” encompasses matters both behind and in front of the screen (or printer or whatever), but that the medium of that type of design is the user interface.

    Have I mentioned, by the way, that I think your cover page is a fine piece of computer art?

  4. 4
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