Week 6

I’m so in love with words and type and typography that this week has been alternately lots of fun and a bit odd – due mainly to the fact that I’ve never attempted to harness an entire font system before, and my creative experience with typefaces has been offline.

I really enjoyed reading about the histories of font production and the various vagaries and missteps in early printing.  Thinking about what I generally like about typefaces and comparing it with the work we’ve been doing this week, I realize that my experiences are almost 100% aesthetic.  I like what looks good.  This, obviously, is a very shallow position.  The number of things that a font can do for User Experience seems limitless!

Week 5 – Guiding Users

This week I’ve been thinking about the role of designers in constructing pathways for a user to follow and what that means for ethical design behavior, among other things.  Discussing rhythm and pacing and places for the eye to rest led me to wonder about user fatigue and whether there is a lot of not only ineffectual design, but painful design. I’m certain there are instances where bad design has caused someone to die, although I haven’t researched the topic myself, and there are instances where good design has helped someone improve their life greatly.  And, while these extremes might be good for reality television, most discomforts and setbacks are had on ordinary days in banal circumstances.

I’m thinking about design that that grates on a  low level over a long period of time and what that might do to someone who must work with it day in and day out. Especially if the user is someone who might be prone to thinking that they are the cause of the irritation – their usage of the bad design caused the failure of satisfaction.  That just adds another layer of discomfort.

Week 4 – Personas

I like the idea of constructing personas as a way to create empathy with a particular group of users, especially a group of users that might not share a background or community interests with the design team.

I was listening to a podcast about the influences of a team’s diversity (or lack thereof) on the development of an experience that may not be part its background.  The hosts were claiming that there was no way for designers who are not of a certain background – be it ethnicity, gender, culture, socio-economic level, etc. – to design effectively for those who are.  While I agree that one person may never fully understand another person’s perspective, being that they didn’t grow up with the same set of restrictions, expectations, and values, I do not believe it is an impossible task to meet users in a way-station between their worldview and the product the designer intends for them.

Personas seem to be a way for designers to step outside of their comfort zone, and conducting user research will help them create a plateau onto which the average person in the demographic can step to explore their product.  The product will, no doubt, be colored and shaped by the design team’s personal influences, but the things that are important to a user will need to be addressed in order for the product to be successful.

As an example, if a woman were interested in an app to track her period, a design team composed only of men would seem to be a bad idea for development.  If, however, the team had previously successful calendar/journalling apps, or something of the kind, and they thought this would be a valuable service to a lesser-considered portion of their demographic, the team could make a concerted effort to provide the things that a woman might desire in such an app, regardless of their gender.  I think high amounts of user research and the personas constructed from this research might be a way to reach that goal.

//* side note:
Oddly, I don’t remember them mentioning age as a metric by which to measure the diversity of the group.  I’m sure there are a great number of UX designers creating personas for a demographic that is well outside of their age-range (in one direction or another).  This is a gap that should be almost as difficult to bridge as a gender (for example) gap.
*//

Week 3

I’m a little disappointed to discover so much business crossover in the UX world.  I understand that business needs drive the designers to get a better edge, but I’d rather steer clear of the middle management and bottom lines while trying to discover the most intuitive things for people to do with machines.  Kind of selfish, perhaps, but I’m more MS Publisher than MS Excel. (pardon the clunky analogy)

My concern about the influence of business on design is that the wrong elements might be taken into account when thinking about how people interact with things.  Meaning that someone who is interested in producing something as cheaply as possible in order to grab a portion of a market share isn’t likely to take a step back to look at the individual human using the product, but rather watch the larger trends of people’s mass behavior.

However, if the design is brought into the business realm first, it can drive a business model that could be very productive for the designer, business, and user alike.  I suppose it’s just the “human centered” portion of “human-centered design”.

TL;DR: Keep people first, and the money will follow

Week Two – Feedback and Friction

Feedback is critical to managing expectations, and good design provides this. Feedback—knowledge of results—is how expectations are resolved and is critical to learning and the development of skilled behavior.
                                                                                                   – Don Norman

This week I started to learn how to listen for good design.  I began to pay closer attention to how I was reacting to the banal things around me, and what that meant for my emotional state. How did something make me feel?  What was it about the thing that created such an emotional sensation? Why did I choose to interact with it in the way that I did? With this increase in conscious observation, the principles of feedback and friction became particularly apparent to me.

I already knew, without understanding, that I had expectations from each of the things that I interacted with on a daily basis.  Putting each of these expectations under a microscope revealed the effects of feedback — knowledge gained from results, and friction — obstacles and slowdowns in a dictated path (Norman, 2013).  I didn’t realize how much weight I placed upon the physical feedback of my actions when considering the enjoyment of an item. I had been placing digital items in a realm separate from the physical world, but now realize that their presence needs to be represented physically (and will, necessarily) in order to interact with the humans they were intended for.

Additionally, being a new person to the world of UX design, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the amount of friction I was encountering in learning new materials and taking on a graduate level amount of reading. Friction that, while slowing my progress forward, was improving the process — so much so that perhaps it could be considered valuable positive feedback rather than friction.

An apt story comes to mind when comparing physical feedback with feedback from digital technologies.  When a fuel delivery control technology started trickling down from aerospace engineering to professional motorcycle racing, there was an improved throttle developed for MotoGP race motorcycles utilizing “fly-by-wire” technology.  It was better, technically, in almost every way – it was lighter, faster, allowed for finer adjustment, was electronic, and could be integrated into the existing tech seamlessly.  The only trouble that was encountered was the rider.  When the old style throttle controls — a twist-grip connected to a cable and spring — were removed, the rider lost his feedback mechanism and had no idea how far to turn the grip to achieve a throttle position that he could translate to a specific speed.  It was completely disconcerting, which is unacceptable in such a dangerous sport. So designers had to reengineer the twist-grip to maintain some type of positive feedback for the rider, essentially going “backward” to lower-tech springs to create the necessary user experience for functional behavior.  I can only wonder how the rider must have felt when they were out on the track with a machine that responded unpredictably beneath them.

The experience needs to be customizable for each user based on their comfort level of friction and their feedback requirements.  I’m willing to explore my own needs — something I’m not accustomed to doing — so that I can better see what other’s needs may be.

Week One in UXD class – storytelling and intention

All artificial things are designed.      – Don Norman

After reading about User Experience this week for the first time and perusing the extreme bounty of information and opinion available on the subject, I’m struck by the importance of the intention of a designer, and the pure ubiquity of design.  If a thing is meant to serve some purpose, then someone is designing its path.

I like what this means for the storytelling nature of a designed experience. It is a compelling thought that building a UX pattern is like constructing a narrative for users to follow, and how users can be bashed along the rocks with poor design flow, or treated to a beautiful garden walk where information can be picked like so many well-placed flowers along the trail.

How the designer sees themselves in this process, and their good intentions for the user’s experience — empathy with the emotional stranger on the other end — will ultimately guide aspects of a project to more beautiful and functional result.

This is going to be fun!