Monthly Archives: April 2008

User Experience what?

My flat is made for parties: a big open space with terrace, and the possibility to invite tons of people around. Being my flatmates in the Financial Services area of expertise, I often have to explain why on earth I do what I do. It always happen with clients, and with colleagues.
A few months ago, one of these cyclical started on my company mailing list, and I hate doing precise definitions, so I was a bit concerned: why should I start now?
Actually, for a long time I’ve been fighting with the problem of defining what an user experience architect is, and what does (s)he look like. It started with a lunch chat with some colleagues, and the World Usability Day ignited a sparkle and made me think of different things. All that complexity had to be simplified in my head.

User Experience architect vs Architect

Essentially, the label of my/our role is one of the things that convinced me to do what I do now.

User” is the first word. User is what is most important in our 40 hours a week (not to consider that the rest of my life I see users everywhere…). Researching their behaviors and preferences is the necessary first step for everything we do; unveiling their needs is the force to get innovation in services and design; putting the user (I prefer “people”) first is a way of exhibiting our intention to follow a UCD process when designing.

Experience. I always think experiences are something emergent from the interaction of many different variables: there are physical, cognitive, emotional, social, historical variables that all contribute to the way a bunch of people enjoy the relationship with someone/ something else.
Obviously, we cannot control all of these variables. We can barely control a small part of it. I think we can’t design the experience. But, we can design for experience. IMHO, it means we are considering as many ways an individual / collective interacts with the environment, and we model these interactions consequently. It’s a really general definition, and it involves designing physical spaces, devices, digital spaces, communication strategies and so many other things I can’t even think of. This is a dream, probably. This what I hope the perfect User Experience Architect (UEA) would do. Better: this is what I hope a team of perfect UEAs would do, together with other competences, which integrate knowledge and expertise.

The term that initially puzzled me the most was “architect“. I always connect “architects” to the concrete design of buildings. Actually the etymology simply means something like “supreme maker” (sorry for the awful translation from Greek), but in daily usage it’s the dude with a yellow safety cap who overviews the construction site of the building he has designed in blueprint and plaster. Architect is not the carpenter, of course. It‚s not even the engineer.
If we think that we are architects of user experiences, we have to define our blueprints (sketches?) and our plaster (scenarios? prototypes?). If our bricks are interactions, then it’s not about lining up bricks, but the representation of them

What I think is missing from the term “architect” is the strategic part. I feel really comfortable with the Adaptive Path composition of User Experience, as blending of 4 different disciplines (at least): Interaction design, Design research, Design strategy and Information architecture. Unfortunately, the term architect doesn’t convey the richness of this. Designer doesn’t help as well. Consultant and researcher only capture part of this mix. Maker is too practical, God is too abstract (and maybe a bit profane). For now, I’d stick with architect, which is a good metaphor of the fact that we don’t build or fill with furniture, but I’m not completely satisfied.

public phones – transformations

Every day I walk in front of one of the new public phone boxes (well, open booth). The place is here.


Something that comes to my mind:

  • Jan Chipcase observed public phones in different occasions (1, 2, 3, …), highlighting – for example – “The richness and cost to produce the advertising; the degree to which it can be (re)moved by potential customers and/or cleaners; the position of the advertising within the phone booth itself; […]”. As you can see, the phone booth doesn’t have a phone. It’s a work in progress, I reckon, but it’s been in this situation for months.
    Is the value of this artifact is now more on the Adv billboard (on the back) than in the phone itself? Is the “advertising space” passing from being an emergent use to the main function?
  • When / if the phone will be installed, the booth is not a closed environment, but it’s open. Interesting, because initially “silence cabinets” were built to allow hearing faint voices from distant places and shouting across a country without disturbing neighbors (wikipedia: telephone booth).
    Consequences on quality and types of conversation would be wonderful to study.
  • Finally, one main thought about the usefulness of a public phone in these days. What is the purpose of an open phone booth today? It’s really an open question, and I’d be happy if in the future I could understand a bit more about it, especially in such a crowded and vital area (Whitechapel Road in London).
  • meaningful & tiny URLs

    the TinyURL service is a good idea indeed. As they say:

    “Are you sick of posting URLs in emails only to have it break when sent causing the recipient to have to cut and paste it back together? Then you’ve come to the right place. By entering in a URL in the text field below, we will create a tiny URL that will not break in email postings and never expires.”

    I found it useful in emails and other digital communications, so many times I can’t count them. 5 minutes ago, however, I was on the sofa, reading “Mental Models” by Indi Young; the book is full of links to online resources, and the links adopt the TinyURL style: tinyurl.com/xxxxxx, where the Xs are either letters or numbers.

    Here’s the problem: I can’t remember the URL. It’s difficult to learn and keep active such a random information. In my boring lectures about working memory and Long term memory I always mention experiments where people need to learn some random chunk of letters. And it’s obvious how these chunks are much more difficult to learn, if compared to words / acronyms that actually mean something. and it’s what I keep saying when I need to give advices on URL strategies: keep it short and meaningful. But meaningful above all.

    The solution? I don’t know, or maybe I do: what about if I could personalize this 6-letters code? Or the code could be an existing word, generated automatically. I know, I’m going completely random and I’m not considering all the possible difficulties: there would be the need for MORE than 6 letters, in order to increase the number of meaningful choices; there would be cases when all the possibilities are taken. Moreover, the keyword I select is meaningful for me and just for me: it could mean NOTHING to my buddies.

    Hold on… now that I consider the problem at a broader level, there is the massive topic of how it’s possible to integrate digital and “physical” sources of knowledge. It’s something we faced last year, during a project for a Publishing firm. Without relying on futuristic, cutting-edge technology (e.g. one eBook reader per person,…), I think the challenge is actually to design the book in a way that URLs are easily markable, retrievable, readable, typeable, ….

    Any other idea / comment on it?

    problem #1

    Ok, I’m not an eagle, a fox or what other animal you use to mean “smart / clever”. But at the moment I can’t change the title of this brown paper roll. I found the way to edit the title, and I don’t get why the function is hidden. Ok, I wanted to have the possibility to edit the page title in the page (as done by Flickr comments, for example) and that is too much probably, but a contextual EDIT could have been a good compromise.

    I know nobody is going to read it, and it’s OK. This post will be used against me in the near future, I think, and it’s OK.

    welcome to the church of noise

    this is my scrap book. my brown paper roll. I’ll use it as part of my daily life, when I need to get up to speed on unknown topics. I’ll also use it as a way to collect my raw thinking, before it becomes old and stinky.

    And…. if I find something in the real world that capture my interest, here is the place where you’ll find it.

    Boring, eh…