Designing for User eXperience
By John Latta, WAVE
San Francisco , CA
November 4 – 5, 2005
It sold out over a month ago. There are 500 professionals
here from all over the world. The sessions are well attended and the
event is well managed and many of the presentations and keynotes are
both interesting and entertaining. Considerable effort has gone into
this conference. The venue at Fort Mason at the Presidio in San Francisco
is one of the best.
The professionals here are experienced in the design for
users of technology. This forum provides a common ground to meet and
discuss technologies and tools for doing better designs which create
a user experience.
The WAVE spoke with Brian Blau, conference organizer. He
provided further perspective on the event.
This event is focused on the practicing human interface
designer. The structure of the conference is in a case study format.
It is not research oriented, such as CHI. The intent was that professionals
in the field could use what they learned here in their day to day life.
We sought to make the information timely and useful.
The event was organized to provide wide diversity of
user interface issues but the individual session chair had considerable
latitude. All the papers were peer reviewed and we received many more
than could be accommodated.
We also wanted for this conference to be different. This
was the case in the plenary talks which both informed and entertained.
This conference is intended to be held every 2 years
and it will be assessed after this one.
15 countries were represented here.
Is it possible to Optimize the User Experience?
Most of the presentations were about the desktop experience
and specifically designing for the web with the objective of improving
Bank of America spoke of the issues of balancing the
user experience with business realities when integrating web sites
after a merger. Only anecdotal data was presented on the user response.
Howard Tiersky, Capgemini, described an extensive evaluation
of GM’s web sites worldwide. This created a large data base of
how GM’s web sites compared to competition against many evaluation
factors. Missing was any discussion of the impact of this work on web
site redesign and how this impacted usability and the end benefits,
including buying automobiles.
Amazon described an interesting project to make the purchase
of loose diamonds for an engagement ring as easy as possible. Excellent
piece of retail research into buying for this special product. The
techniques used and user feedback was interesting but no quantitative
assessment was presented.
Behr Paint has a kiosk deployed in 1,700 retail locations,
mostly Home Depot, to make the selection of paint for home easier.
This combines a kiosk and a web based tool to do color selection for
the home. The design of the kiosk and user interaction was well done.
But the assessment of its value was left as:
High user satisfaction in the online version
Lift in intent to purchase Behr paint.
David Cronin, of Cooper, described the complexities of
working with clients to create web pages. His bottom line is that collaboration
with the client improves the process. Yet, there was a consistent theme
in this and other talks by the consultants doing design – cost
constraints frequently limit what can be done and how effective the
design is. Design effectiveness appeared to be largely an artistic
and An execution issue in the context of budgets.
Verisign discussed how it improved the online SSL Certification
enrollment process. A question from the audience – was “What
is new here? These are standard techniques.”
Fred Dust of IDEO gave one of the more interesting talks.
He stated that one of the problems in the design of end use products
is knowing who the user is. His premise is that it is important to
find out customer behavior and this crosses many demographic groups.
The examples he gave were more ethnographic research based where IDEO
actually observed in the homes. When behavior is understood this provides
a much better understanding of who is buying products and why. Frequently
this is a surprise because the target audience is not the one buying
a product. Fred’s talk reinforced the current notion that ethnographic
research has become valuable in determining how consumers actually
use products and the practical issues in the home.
User Experience beyond the Desktop
The presentations covered a broader range of devices and
user experiences. Here are highlights of a number of the talks.
Frog Design was given a project to design a product with
a simple premise – ease stress. It must be portable and that
was the extent of the product definition. The name was Stresseraser.
What resulted was a hand held product which runs off standard batteries.
It allows for the monitoring of heart rate and helps the individual
adjust breathing to reduce stress – a la yoga. The device also
monitors long term performance in reducing stress. The user response
was interesting – “The device has become a true friend.”
Carnegie Mellon University HCII and School of Design
developed the concept of a “Sense Chair” for elderly individuals.
The intent is that such a device could allow an individual to remain
in their home and be more self sufficient. The chair is a monitor of
the state of the individual who occupies it. It has pressure sensors,
lights and vibrators. The chair has a range of notifications from what
it senses. The design is continuing. It was another example of responding
to the needs of the aging population with ambient intelligence.
Microsoft Research Asia presented the results of work
to support the migrant worker. These individuals frequently leave the
rural areas to gain jobs in the large cities. There are 120m such workers.
Their children usually stay at home and they cannot go back to visit
the village but once a year. What Microsoft sought to understand is
how technology could help in communicating between family members.
They used ethnographic research to understand the cultural issues,
family relationships, literacy, privacy and the role of shared displays.
The assessment was quite interesting, from a non-Chinese perspective.,
for example, family mail is really public mail that all in the village
can read. A kiosk was suggested and a table PC was used to evaluate
the concept. It was surprising to hear how well this was accepted and
used, in spite of most having no experience with technology.
Intuit described the development of a new product – Rental
Manager. This was quite different in that with 20 years in its core
products, such as QuickBooks, there have been no V 1.0 products for
many years. As a result, the definition of a new product was unusual.
Basically this product played a role in helping change the culture
of the company. Areas which helped this be successful were:
Limit the product scope;
Concepts first, then MRD;
Robust prototypes early on and
Mandate customer contac.
This effort was quite unusual in that the company had
to reinvent itself to create new products. But it was successful, in
part, because there was strong support by the CEO. There are now 8
new products in the pipeline.
The University of Melbourne developed SyncoMate a device
for enhancing intimacy. Intimacy is a broad term which applies to the
relations between any two individuals that are close – including
children with parents. The customer research included observations
over 7 weeks and many interactions with the 6 couples studies, 3 of
which had children, that were studied. One assessment shown was a chart
on the dimensions of intimacy. From this came the notion of Phatic
Interactions. These are interactions that do not inform, do not exchange
facts, and do not express thoughts. But they strengthen social
bonds, maintain social contact and reaffirm connectedness. As a result
of a design workshop they developed the concept for a Synchromate which
supports on going connectedness which meets the phatic interaction
Nokia User Experience User Research described research
on how to improve what individuals carry with them. They studied 17
individuals in 4 cities around the world. At the center of what individuals
carry are money, keys and phone. The extended mobile essentials include:
ID, payments, medical, appearance and entertainment but the use varies
by individual and time. One of the issues is that individuals forget
the mobile essentials. From this work Nokia created a concept which
helps individuals remember items. This is like a shelf but it has a
display and can communicate with the cell phone.
Microsoft Research, Cambridge England, has studied the
uses of large displays for shared and social spaces. This project is
called Dynamo and it explores informal interaction in shared social
spaces. During the design process user were exposed to lab studies,
field studies and demos. The tests included: single and multiple uses,
mouse and keyboardinput, privacy and access control. Many of the social
interaction techniques using the display were interesting in showing
how individuals can participate socially. The research showed varying
levels of engagement by the users, there was some knowledge transfer
and social conventions formed around the digital surface.
We were hoping to find the keys to the magic kingdom of
user experience optimization at DUX. There were no keys. Instead this
conference exposed mini-steps. In context though, it is important that
the issue is getting posed. That is, how to maximize what users
get from technology?
The concept is pretty simple – listen to one’s
customers. But this trivializes what is going on. There are multiple
dynamics that emerged in the many discussions and presentations. Overall,
we were left with the realization that there is no answer to user experience
optimization. Rather, this is the beginning of a journey to find
how technology can be made more relevant.
As we listened to many of the presentations, it became
evident that one of the tallest barriers are the companies themselves.
Bank of American had important limitations on what it could do in integrating
the online banking web sites for Bank of America and Fleet Bank. Other
presenters described how the business process or culture limited what
could be done to improve the user experience. Further, the cell phone
industry focuses on user optimization to the extent that it enhances
revenue. Thus, there is no clear path to improving the user experience
and what can actually be accomplished is moderated by many factors, including
the business itself.
Reflecting on DUX, one has a better understanding about
the efforts to improve the user experience. But there are significant
The lack of quantitative results.
We found it frustrating that the scientific method was
lacking. Yet, one has to keep in mind that many of the participants
are from the arts and their work is about creating art which others
How does the new and old mix?
That is, where is it best to apply traditional means
for improving the user experience with the new methods of understanding
Is there a best goal?
Will user experience or value creation be a never ending
goal not to be reached but sought after or an achievable target. The
Draconian evolution of markets and technology would say there is no
achievable end goal. Efficient markets would indicate just the opposite.