A few weeks ago while setting up for Kids Crawl, a local event in conjunction with Supercrawl, I had a bit of a revelation that I want to share with you.
Vitek Wincza, a local Creative Director for The Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts and lead Creative Director for the Kids Crawl project, was setting up these very large metal Caribou (created by local artist David Hynes) statues along the street. The whole volunteer team was busy helping him place Caribou all over the empty road. Vitek had a vision of where he wanted the statues situated. He would move one a few inches, stand back to take in the overall scene and then eagerly move another Caribou a few more inches. This went on for about 20 minutes.
With my marketing cap on I voiced my concern to Vitek. I felt that the statues should be set up back to back, allowing people to walk up and down the street admiring each one. In my mind, this was the best solution and would aid in overall user experience. Before I could finish Vitek walked me through his rational. He had positioned the Caribou in a way that made it look like they were traveling down the street in a herd. He strategically placed each of the 15 statues to create an overall feeling of movement. As he explained this to me I stepped back and looked at the statues as a whole and not as individual. I could almost see them moving down the street even though they were stationary sculptures. Brilliant!
Then it hit me. My idea of "User Experience" as a marketing guy was completely different than his as an artist. When someone walked onto the street, Vitek wanted them experience the art as a whole. As a living thing. I was merely concerned with getting people in, enjoying the pieces one by one, and then out.
The term "User Experience" or UX is thrown around a lot when it comes to the tech world. You hear that phrase and you instantly think "online". But what does UX mean to different industries? I asked 11 industry leaders that exact question. Here are their thoughts:
The Scientist - Kevin Browne, Computer Science PhD Candidate (McMaster University)
In a world where we now live, work and play with software-based products, user experience has become increasingly important to human happiness and productivity. It's also becoming important to Canada's economic competitiveness; if users around the world have a bad experience with our products, they can and will buy from elsewhere. User experience is a fascinating topic because it involves graphic design, computer science, marketing, branding, customer service and psychology, amongst other disciplines. As a result creating a great user experience is often as much an art as it is a science. It's also rare that any single person can excel at all these disciplines, a software engineer may not be skilled at graphic design or branding, so it often requires team work and the balancing of different perspectives too. As a computer scientist that researches the usability of tablet educational software, my focus is on using the empirical results of usability studies to turn the art of creating great user experiences into a science where possible. How much of what makes a great user experience can be turned into a rule or a guideline based on evidence that others can follow? That's what user experience is about to me.
The Web Designer - Martin Kuplens-Ewart, Product Designer, Brave New Code
I tend to take a fairly broad view of User Experience work: simply designing a website or application that works efficiently and enjoyably is not enough – your organization has to match from head to toe.
Just as the best branding and marketing pitches in the world can be perceived as lies if your product/website's UX is poor, your organization risks being seen as untrustworthy or dishonest if the tone and quality of your communications around the product and customer experience are in conflict.
Similarly, 'bad' UX can actually be a positive thing if positioned correctly. Rummaging in a bin for clothes is no-one's idea of efficient shopping, but presented in the right context, perhaps as a way of discovering hidden treasures in a trunk of deals, can be highly profitable, incredibly engaging, and perhaps even fun!
The Social Guy - Jeff MacArthur, Konnekt Digital Engagement, KonnektNow.com
User experience is a concept that is typically applied to a very specific context. In the context of web development, we aim to create an exceptional user experience by making our site or app useful, intuitive, and attractive. In our video productions, we try to present interesting content shared at an appropriate level and pace for the audience in order to foster a great user experience from a viewer perspective.
Marketing (in the sense of reaching out to new or potential “customers” of whatever sort) often finds itself at odds with the user experience. Part of this is because the modus operandi is generally distracting the user for the marketing’s own ends, rather than engaging the user for mutual benefit. It’s very different when a user decides to navigate to your website or decides to hit play on your video. Even at this stage of its development, marketing is something that too often interferes with what the user is doing, as opposed to accentuating it.
At Konnekt, we’re focused on engaging the audience and finding ways that marketing can be delivered as something of intrinsic value to that audience – something that enhances the experience instead of detracting from it. We work with a lot of event organizers, and it’s one of my favourite “theatres” for user experience because it’s so multi-dimensional. Depending on the event, you may be tasked with creating an experience in the confines of a theatre (like our TEDxHalifax 2011 project), a hotel and nearby venues (check out HPX Digital), or throughout an entire city (like the Nocturne: Art at Night festival we work with). And the larger these confines become (and this applies over time as well as space – which includes virtual spaces like social media platforms), the more you need to focus not only on creating a good user experience for each participant, but also a coherent experience that allows participants to share and relate to how others are enjoying their own experiences. So at the end of the day, the experience needs to be both great and coherent for participants and organizers, customers and companies, to enjoy maximum benefit – and that’s a goal that requires a very particular set of abilities to realize.
The Visual Artist - Steph Seagram, Educator, Visual Arts, Appleby College
When I think of the term UX, I think of that place where interaction occurs between the user and the experience. When it comes to visual arts, there are 3 components - the work, the audience, and finally,the reaction or response to that art.
Is THIS the UX? While much of art exists in a more passive state, some art - say more participatory or interactive art, definitely has a UX as part of its existence. This art requires input from the audience in order to propel forward. It relies on the UX as part of its existence.
The passive appearance of most art leads to a more reflective UX. The art sits there and you experience it. The UX is emotional and affective; it's subjective and based on personal feelings, concepts, and contemporary thinking.
For a UX in art, you need to give yourself to it. Art needs time to look at. To consider: Who is the artist, what is the trajectory of their work, what writing exists around that work? It's also about listening to that trigger point inside of you - that instinctual feeling that tells you something has happened. The work in front of you has created a catalyst of emotional responses and reactions to what you are looking at.
The Interior Designer - Christine Da Costa, Owner at Decor by Christine
When I create a design plan for a client I like to look at 3 things: 1) the personality of the client 2) The mood of the room 3) The function of the room
Ultimately, when the client walks into the room I want the room to be a reflection of themselves. And this will be created through colour, movement of the eye, different textures of fabrics, and ligting. The sum of these components will create the mood of the room which will result in the client using the room to its full potential.
The App Guy - Nick Tomkin, Director of Web Development at Orbital Studios
For me, great user experience comes from an understanding of a user's expectations and needs. When designing an interface for an app or mobile version of a web site, I want to see that the user interface designer has put themselves in my shoes by trying to imagine what I might be looking for at that moment. For example, my motives may be different when I use an app on my tablet versus my smartphone. If I am trying to find contact information or directions to a business, great user experience means this information will be front and centre. Of course, the best interfaces are the ones that you don't have to explain, which is why companies like Apple succeed at appealing to a wider audience.
The Culturist - Jeremy Freiburger, Chief Connector & Cultural Strategist at CoBALT CONNECTS
"User Experience” for me ranges from the planned perspective a set designer and director craft for an audience member of a theatrical production, to the logistical flow a major event producer embeds in an event.
The first is about setting a tone or mood in a space – it’s a sensory experience that places the “user” in the desired frame of mind to openly accept the world that the artists are creating for the remainder of the experience.
The more logistical version is about signage and way-finding, the flow of people and objects, timing of up and down periods. It’s about understanding how a random user might interact with a space and making it efficient for them to discover, understand and engage in their journey through your event.
The Musician - Kari Hueber, Associate Director, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony
For me, someone who works in the orchestra business, user experience begins before a patron even enters the concert hall. Classical music and particularly orchestra concerts can be mysterious and intimidating events for someone who has never attended. What to wear? When to clap? What to listen for? Why does that one violinist come out on stage after everyone else but before the conductor?
The experience begins the moment someone picks up the phone or goes online to buy a ticket - the ticket purchasing process should simple and clear for someone who has never done it before. The person they speak to on the phone should be friendly and open to answering their questions. If the purchasing process goes well, their experience is already off to a good start. Follow this up with a “Know Before You Go” email that answers many of the above questions and provides additional information on arrival time, parking, etc. This is also a great time to provide content like podcasts/videos from the conductor about the music, videos from the dress rehearsal and/or additional reading about the concert they will attend. With this information, their arrival and initial experience of the concert hall/orchestra will probably be a positive one.
The post-concert experience can be enhanced with opportunities to meet and ask questions of the musicians or the conductor, and then followed up with an opportunity to provide feedback on their concert experience as a whole. Though the actual music is experienced differently by everyone, just a few simple things can really make a difference to the accessibility of an orchestra concert for a first-time attendee.
The Print Designer - Julie Van Huizen, #HamOnt designer and blogger
“User experience” – the whole phrase sounds just a little mechanical, doesn’t it? It sounds like something to be recorded, analyzed, tested and measured. It sounds, well, a little cold. The funny thing is, that’s precisely the opposite of what user experience really is – user experience is, in the simplest terms, the human element. How do users interact with design: How do they feel about it? What do they takeaway from it? What do they do with it? For web designers, one could determine user experience by tracking the weekly hits or average time a user spends on a site, theplaces they click or the articles they share. But for print designers like me, we can’t measure our work that way: we design beautiful work, and then we set it free.
We release it onto billboards, coffee tables, and mailboxes. It isn’t clicked, shared, or “pinned”; Rather, our work is carried around, flipped through, and driven by. It breaks out of the computer it’s designed on and nestles into the nook and cranniesof every day life: coffee tables, billboards, and blank walls. With something so unconfined, how do we even think about measuring user experience? We go right back to the basics.
We go back to the real people on the receiving end of our flyers, magazines and mailers, and we find out just what’s going on in their brains as they encounter our product. What do they think of the paper texture as it moves between their fingers?Are they getting the information they need to from the poster that they only have three seconds to look at? What does that new store front sign tell them about what’s inside? It all comes back to the golden rule: Do their reactions correspond with our intentions? When we set out to design something for print, we must always have a specific user reaction in mind. Our work isn’t done until we know for certain that reaction has been achieved: that the user has received our message, loud and clear.We can’t rely on stat summaries or “estimated viral reach” to measure our effectives, but we get to rely on something much better: People.
The Architect - Kyle D. Slote, M.Arch Intern Architect, TCA | Thier + Curran Architects Inc.
In architecture, user experience is tactile. However, it can also be visceral, and even transformative. The spaces a person inhabits have the potential to inspire, to heal, and to motivate. They can allow a person to be the very best version of his or herself; unleashing latent talents and creativity.
Skeptics may question whether a space can really do all that. Do such ideas simply feed into the narcissistic tendencies of architects, inflating their already inflated egos? Perhaps, but consider working in a windowless cubicle within a banal concrete box. Compare this to a light-filled space surrounded by a palette of colourful textural materials. Would you work better in one versus the other? Would one make you more creative? Even happier? Sure, there are other factors at play, but our physical environment is often where we can enact the most control.
At its most basic form, the user’s experience must be functional, allowing him or her to perform their required tasks readily and easily. But more than that, a successful architectural user experience is something that is elevated beyond the mundane requirements of ticking the boxes on an excel spreadsheet. It incorporates beauty while engendering visual and experiential richness. When it’s done right, it elicits within a user limitless benefits.
The Merchaindiser - Hollie Pocsai, Owner of White Elephant, local retailer
Our little shop is one that focuses on handmade goods - pieces that are not mass-produced, that were designed and executed by one person in limited quantities. We stand behind these products because we feel they hold an authenticity that we are at risk of losing in our big box society.
And so, our definition of user experience doesn't stop at visual merchandising; we strive to create an environment where people will be inspired and be educated on why it is important to make things by hand, to shop at small businesses, and to support one's local economy. We try to engage our customers in events, promotions, social media strategies and just plain old good customer service to make sure that they take home more than just a pretty new necklace from our shop. Hopefully they take some food for thought about shopping consciously and sustainably.
At the same time, visual merchandising is also a big part of our user experience. We try to create displays that evoke a sense of nostalgia and wonder. Competing against the convenience of the mall is fierce work. We have to stick out in people's minds as a somewhat magical place, and that's basically what we try to do.
As you can see from the responses,the definition of UX can vary depending on the industry. In the end though it comes down to how people respond.
What is your definition of "User Experience"? Let us know in the comments below!