Posted by: bbannan | February 3, 2009

Experience Design


I recently read an interesting article that talked about misconceptions about user experience design. The author, Whitney Hess, talks about the top 10 reasons she feels user experience design is not.  I found this to be a great perspective as everything we’ve been talking about and reading has been what user experience design or user centered research is or tends to be.  All of her points are concise, yet comes across as easily understood.  The article cleared up some of my questions about user experience design, especially since I am used to design from a web development standpoint.  One aspect that hit home the most with me was “But the primary objective is to help people, not to make great technology.”  With my web development background I have to keep telling myself, it is not about how cool or how flashy the technology is, it is about getting across the content to the user in an effective manner. 


Out of the ten “User experience design is NOT…” areas, which area do you find most intriguing or which area relates to your thoughts or background the most?



  1. Thanks Scott for posting this article. I found it very helpful and insightful and all the misconceptions really resonated with me. I also agree with you that her comment that the objective is to help people and not create technology really hits home (Misconception #3). Although it is a common lesson learned that user requirements should drive the solution not technology, I continue to see where the technology takes over the solution and user needs become lost in the process. It is so easy for stakeholders and the design team to get so excited about a new technology that the technology ends up driving the solution and the user requirements are then forced fit into how the technology work. Talk about really losing focus on the User Experience. As a result I also really liked Misconception #2, that discussed how the user experience is not a step but a process and that “we need to keep listening and iterating.” Unfortunately, I have been involved in projects where the design team viewed the user experience as a checklist and once they conducted an evaluation of the user interface (typically early on in the development process) they thought they were done. Not too surprising that when they rolled out the final solution it did not go over that well with the users as they lost site of the user and really didn’t take into consideration the full user experience.

    I also, found insights within Misconception #6 very helpful in their point that “People cling to things like personas, user research, drawing comics, etc., …“In reality the best designers have a toolbox of options, picking and choosing methods for each project what makes sense for that particular project.” I think this is really good to remember. I think I have been guilty of using the same approach that worked on one project to every project. This was a good reminder to step back and look at what works best for specific project and possibly think out of the box to come up with a new or modified process or methodology that will work best for the project.

  2. Well I have to say first that I really enjoyed this succinct, yet informative, article. It’s a great reference for any future user experience design that I am a part of.

    Having said that, its hard to pinpoint one thing that “user experience design is not” in the article that I find most intriguing. However, I can seriously relate to points #1 and #3 mentioned in the article (“user interface design” and “technology”).

    Let me give you some background into my job before I fully explain why I can relate to those two points. I work for an online educational company. We develop curriculum (pretty much e-textbooks) for middle and high school students. The company started off quite small, with very limited technological resources, and an even worse set of curricula (that was nearly 100% text). However, the system and interface worked fairly well, although it too was not flashy.

    Now, back to points #1 and #3. My company realized that in order to survive in the market place, they had to invest heavily in revamping the actual course content before working on the flashy interface. And when I say interface I mean both the general system and how it looks, as well as the “extra” (or non-text) content within the e-textbooks. As a result, they drastically increased the curriculum department (which gave me a job) to better the actual student experience with the text. They realized that while having a flashy site would be nice, it doesn’t mean much if the clients (our students) aren’t getting what they need from the experience (learning).

    I tend to agree that this was the correct strategy. By investing in the actual content of the site, and getting to the core of what our company is about, we are now able to invest in the technological aspects of what we do because we have the profits to back it up. And even though we are now investing into technology, it still does not stray from our core values of enhancing the curriculum. Every animation, graphic, or other tool that we develop only exists to enhance the learning process. There is nothing there just for the sake of being “flashy”. In other words, its all to enhance the user’s experience.

  3. When I was reading Susanne’s comments regarding technology driven solutions, it made me think about all the movies that came out using all the new computer graphic technology. After seeing a couple, I realized that the movies were all flash and special effects with no substance or plot. It was like the entire budget went into CGI and not into storyline or acting. After a seeing a few movies, they started looking all the same and I lost interest. Things have improved and it seems that Hollywood has rebalanced. My point is I can see the same thing happening in design and development of instruction. At first it’s cool and fun, but in the end its all the same with no substance and I don’t learn anything. The technology my get them there and get the use engaged, initially, but what will keep them there and will the user learn?

    Since my experience in the ID field is limited to the GMU program, I think #7, “UX is not easy” resonates most with me. Since we do not have access to the SMEs or actual users for the AGORA project, I am making a lot of assumptions about the users. Some are based on the needs and task analysis from last semester, but that is a bit limited. I will be very interested to see the results of our formative evaluations to see how good I am at making assumptions based on the data and not a lot of direct feedback.

  4. I must join the rest of the respondents in saying I enjoyed the article. It particularly comes home as I move through a current project. The ten “Nots!” that Whitney presented, with support, certainly ring true. I could take any of them and comment on it. Since you asked for only one, I will choose number Nine (although Ten tempts me).

    One of the early lessons I learned in my path through instructional design was that I did not have all the answers. As I moved through the years from 1982 up to the present, this became more and more the rule. What, in the early days, seemed to be the job for the design specialist has moved into a collaborative effort that takes into account many diverse talents melding to form a solution that has depth and flexibility.

    As Whitney stated, it is not possible to search out help by title. Titles are like medals, presented based on someone’s interpretation (or misinterpretation) of the situation, the contribution, the result of a particular talent. I do worry about her statement concerning ‘fact’ that “Different people specialize in different parts of the process.” In working with such people, I have sometimes found them to be rigid in their input, believing that their contribution should be the driver around which other contributors mingle.

    At the same time, I agree completely with her warning not to expect the miracle cure from a specialist. There is no “prototype for design”; rather there are examples that may provide ideas. A project – any project – is a unique experiment in meeting the needs of both the participant and of the client. Given the diversity of both task and user profiles, no ‘solution’ exists that can be applied as a catalyst for learning.

    Over the years, I have striven to develop a network of people I know to possess talent in various areas. I call on these ‘talents’ when I need perspective, direction, bridges, that will help me combine a mixture of design that will result in the best fix for a particular project. I reciprocate by providing my own ‘talent’ when needed by others.

  5. First, I was delighted to see you quoting Whitney’s article. I’ve been following her for about a year, have corresponeded w/ her … and even Linked(In) w/ her! You know, she just joined the IXDA board of directors.

    Anyway, I like these type of AOL articles … top 10 list of obvious things you need to see occasionally to remind and reinforce your Pillars of Design.

    I like the item that says, this is not about Technology. It never is. Online communication is simply communication online. Communication, design and education all need to follow solid fundamentals to be effective, regardless of the delivery method. Technology is simply another delivery vehicle, albeit eminently scalable, usable and more available.

  6. Thank you all so much for discussing my article and providing your valuable perspectives here. This is exactly what I hoped the article would do — spur conversation and help evangelize the critical role of a user experience designer throughout the larger tech community. Huge thanks for being a part of it!

    • Ms. Hess, thanks for your participation here! We are thrilled that you would take the time to acknowledge and contribute! These instructional design students admire your efforts. Let us know if you have any future work we can follow! Best,
      – Dr. Brenda Bannan, Associate Professor, Instructional Technology, George Mason University

  7. […] Experience Design « Design+ResearchA class in Instructional Technology at George Mason University is discussing my Mashable article on their class blog […]

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