The designers, Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman, two good friends who never dated conducted a 40-day dating experiment. What started out as a self-exploration experiment turned into an experiment on user experience. They documented their experiences by writing a journal about their relationship at the end of each day, which they posted side-by-side on their website, fortydaysofdating.com. Reading each of their journals reveals how although both experienced the same events, both interpreted them completely differently (4). Knowing this, how do you design a user experience?
The term user experience in reference to designing one can be an ambiguous term because it is applied to everything. Its usage is so broad that it is turning into a meaningless term. It is true that everything has an experience, but what does it truly mean to design a user’s experience?
First the deconstruction of the usage of the term user experience: there is user experience [UX] and there is user experience design [UXD]. User experience is the designing of systems [brand strategies and product strategies] (1)(3). It is the implementation of a consistent brand archetype and cultural values across the system, all user touch points. User experience design is the designing of things [interfaces, products, and graphics] (1)(3). It is ensuring that the user’s experience with that one particular thing is a pleasant, clear, and memorable one.
This article focuses on user experience but it extends to user experience design.
But, can you design a user’s experience? The Walsh and Goodman experiment is a reminder that when talking about designing any experience, it is critical to be aware that the feasibility of designing another’s experience might not be possible. Albert Cooper, Robert Reimann, and David Cronin also question, “…whether it is actually possible to design an experience,” in the interaction design book About Face 3 (1). It is important to recognize this reality because everybody’s experience of a design will vary depending on each individual’s knowledge, culture, and past experiences.
Although the Walsh and Goodman experiment was a he said, she said example, it isn’t a gender issue. It could have easily been two males or two females. Everyone just experiences things differently. So, what does this mean for those designing user experiences, especially novel user experiences?
It means that no matter how much research you do or how strategic you are, you will never be able to fully predict how a user you are targeting will experience your design. It is good to be aware of best usability practices and functional needs. But ultimately, you must connect to their emotional and irrational self, to their subconscious, by building into the design, universally understood archetypes that speak to their subconscious. The book The Hero and the Outlaw describes it best:
“Archetypes link the deepest human motivations with product meaning…Archetypal images signal the fulfillment of basic human desires and motivations and release deep emotions and yearnings. Why do you suppose our hearts leap up, our throats choke, or we begin to cry at certain moments?” (2)
An archetype developed into a character that is built in throughout your entire brand will project meaning to users who connect or align with your character, especially if the messaging is consistent. But what is most important due to high demands for transparency, is not only just to have an archetype consistently projected across all user touch points, but the way you operate the company must also follow suit. Similar to the art of acting, a brand must wholeheartedly embody their archetype character, including how and with what materials the product is made.
When designing a user experience, a brand needs to have a clear archetype and consistently express that point of view. Although there will always be the Walsh and Goodman issue, where people interpret an experience in opposing ways, you will get the desired emotional reaction from the group of user’s that need or are motivated by your archetype.
Written by Christine Nakashiba
References (1) Cooper, Albert, Reimann, Robert, and Cronin, David. About Face, The Essentials of Interaction Design 3. Indianapolis: Wiley, 2007. eBook.
(2) Mark, Margaret and Pearson, Carol S. The Hero and the Outlaw. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001. eBook.
(3) “The Definition of User Experience.” Nielsen Norman Group. Web. March 2014.
(4) Walsh, Jessica and Goodman, Timothy. 40 Days of Dating. 2013. Web. March 2014.