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.


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