Design for experience

Posted on September 22, 2008 | Tagged as: , | 1 comment

Digital New Media products offer a range of asthetic, ethic and functional qualities that need to be considered while creating those systems. Qualities such as enjoyment, fulfilment and fun are not properties of the used technology. They are better thought of as outcomes of certain kinds of experience with or through this technologies. In order to design those experience factors, you first must understand and analyse the experience of use, to understand what might make a product more pleasing or enjoyable to use.

Wright, McCarthy and Meekison have created a kind of framework that pulls together a set of concepts that can be used as tools to analyse user experience. It’s about understanding experience well enough to understand how internet shopping designers and brand managers deploy technical knowledge to help their users/consumers to create a fulfilling interactive experience.

Four threads of experience

The first part of the framework is concerned with describing experience from four points of view, which the authors call threads.

The compositional thread of an experience is that aspect, that coveres the part-whole structure. In an interaction, this could be actions and resulting consequences or plausability, possibility and explanations. It describes a kind of narrative structure and deals with questions like “what will happen next?”, “does this make sense?” or “what is it about?”.

The look and feel of the webpage is part of the sensual thread. It is concerned with the sensory engagement. Mostly the sensual defies description but affects our attitude or willingness to become involved or interact. E.g. the look and feel of a webpage and it’s functions (or how the functions are represented) may be as important as the functional possibilities it offers.

The emotional thread includes experiences like anger, joy, disappointment, frustration or desperation. These are very strong examples but the thread also includes more subtle ones like fulfillment, satisfaction and fun. It’s important to notice that emotions are not just passive responses to a situation. Our interaction and understanding may be motivated by emotional aspects just as they are influenced by rational factors. Users act through compassion or morality just as surely as through a rational assessment of actions.

The spatio-temporal thread states that all actions and events unfold in a particular time and place. Emotional engagement can make the users sense of time change and hours can fly by in minutes. On the other hand, if he is rushed, he may feel frustrated an percieve space as confined. Such experiences affect the willingness to linger or to re-visit a webpage or the acceptance to exchange information or services.

Making sense of experience

Users do not simply engage in prepared experiences, they actively construct them through several processes of sense making which influence all four threads.

Anticipation: When experiencing something online the user might already have an offline experience and so does not come unprejudiced. He has all sort of expectations and anticipation. He expects the experience to offer certain possibilities for action or outcome and may have questions to be resolved. The user comes with a desire for fulfilling certain needs or he may be looking for inpiration.

Connecting: When users are confronted with a new situation for the first time, the material components generate some responses right before his senses are giving a meaning to it. The first immediate impression of a website for example influences the experience that arises after closer examination.

Interpreting: The user gives the unfolding experience a meaning and relates it to previous ones and his hopes and desires. On the basis of his interpretation falling short of his anticipation he reflects on his expectations to alter them to be more in line with the new situation. This process may make him stay on the site or leave frustrated.

Reflecting: At the same time he interprets the experience, he also makes some judgements about and makes some value on it. Reflecting happens in an experience. But users also reflect on an experience afterwards (e.g. recommendations or in social networks).

Appropriating: A key part in making sense is relating an experience to previous and upcoming experiences. In appropriating an experience the user makes it his own and reflects himself on it. The degree of the experience influences the extend the user identifies with and wants to experience again.

Recounting: Through a process of recounting users share the experience and reflect and appropriate on it again. In this way they savour it again, find new possibilities and new meanings in it. Experiences often take on different meanings when recounted in a different place and time. Users might also get evaluative responses from others which might change his own positive or negative valuation of it.

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