User experience and usability are two different things. And usability does not always imply a system or interface that does not require any learning, or any enquiry, or any challenge on the part of the user.
I constantly find myself trying to walk a balance between using ‘convention’ where it is most appropriate, but also looking for ways that we can look to use new forms of interaction to solve user experience problems. I can’t understand how people who do IA and UxD can find their work fulfilling if they are constantly wheeling out the same old solutions to problems that they face on their projects.
I don’t understand how we expect our profession to develop, how we are going to create *better* user experiences if we are not always testing new approaches, giving new solutions the opportunity to prove that they are feasable, efficient, ergonomic and pleasurable, rather than ruling them out wholesale because there’s nothing in a textbook to say that the approach is ok.
‘ooh, that’s innovation for innovation’s sake’, I hear from these people who are overly besotted with convention. Well no. It’s innovation so that I can continue to do *better* work, and so I don’t become an automaton. ‘show me the research that says your approach works’. Well, there is none.. yet. Let’s do some! ‘Tags, schmags. That’s fine for Flickr, but we’re not Flickr’. It’s difficult to argue with someone as obtuse and uninterested as that.
If you’re any good at your work and if you’ve been doing this UxD stuff for a while now, then you *can* almost do it in your sleep… if you’re content with taking an uninspired and boring approach to your work. Is that very respectful of your users?
Afterall, users don’t care about convention and heuristics and all of that. Users just want to have a good experience achieving the outcomes they set out to achieve in your site/system/product.
Surely we, as experience designers, can not only design a non-problematic experience. Surely we can actually create a pleasurable experience through the way that people interact with our content or functionality.
Kathy Sierra, not for the first time, inspired me with her recent post on Cognitive Seduction. [If you’ve not read the Creating Passionate Users blog, you must get over there just as soon as you’re done with me here.]
By Cognitive Seduction, Kathy refers to:
… “experiential pleasure” that comes from solving a puzzle, overcoming a challenge, exploring new territory, becoming swept up in a narrative, interacting with others in a social framework, and discovering something new about yourself.
The premise here is that people can take pleasure from using their brains, and by having to ‘work something out’, or to engage cognitively with a challenge.
From an interface design perspective, designing game play is an obvious but excellent example of this. I’ve done quite a bit of work designing for younger audiences over the last few years and I’ve learned that in some situations (and not only pure game situations) younger users actually *enjoy* having to figure out how an interaction works, and finding something cool that was relatively (but deliberately) hidden.
Kathy’s sketched out a ‘typology of Cognitive Pleasures’, these include:
1. Discovery – User experience as exploration of new territory
2. Challenge – User experience as obstacles to overcome, goals lying just beyond current skill and knowledge levels
3. Narrative – User experience as story arc (user on hero’s journey) and character identification
4. Self-expression – User experience as self-discovery and creativity
5. Social framework – User experience as an opportunity for interaction/fellowship with others
6. Cognitive Arousal – User experience as brain teaser
7. Thrill – User experience as risk-taking with a safety net
8. Sensation – User experience as sensory stimulation
9. Triumph – User experience as opportunity to kick ass
10. Flow – User experience as opportunity for complete concentration, extreme focus, lack of self-awareness
11. Accomplishment – User experience as opportunity for productivity and success
12. Fantasy – User experience as alternate reality
13. Learning – User experience as opportunity for growth and improvement
Now, don’t get me wrong. Not *every* interface is appropriate for Cognitive Pleasures. I’m not interested in cognitive pleasure when I’m trying to pay my credit card online. At the same time, this Cognitive Pleasure is not solely the domain of ‘games’. I want to work in such a way that I can be *looking* for opportunities to include cognitive pleasures such as the ones that Kathy has listed above
As a bit of a segue, Jeff Veen posted a little story today that I’ve heard a few times and I think is kind of relevant to what we’ve been talking about here.
He quotes Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia:
Your new dining establishment intends to sell steaks, so therefore you’ll need to provide sharp knives to your customers. Knives are also weapons and people could stab one another with them, so rather than booths and tables, you’d better lock your customers in individual cells to prevent that behavior.
I want to give my users a little credit. I want to challenge them a little and reward them with cognitive pleasures. I want to at least give them the opportunity to surprise us. Otherwise, it could all get very boring very fast.
What do you think. Am I kidding myself and convention is the only way? Or are you having similar challenges in your work? Talk to me :)
Image Credit: Marie-II @ Flickr