UX the Ghost [#ux]

‘User Experience (abbreviated: UX) is an umbrella term used to describe all the factors that contribute to the quality of experience a person has when interacting with a specific software artefact and focuses on the practice of user centred: design, creation, and testing.’

Stuck in the Muck

'Stuck in the Muck' at the Glastonbury Festival (circa 2007)

Defining “User Experience” (UX) is akin to walking on the quicksand – there is no firm ground and you’re likely to get mired in many unproductive debates – indeed, to me it seems we are currently “stuck in the muck”.

But why is defining UX important or even necessary? Well it must be necessary because everybody seems to be doing it, indeed “All About UX” have collected many definitions (see below) with multiple and different perspectives. Further, it’s important to me because I am building a third-year User Experience course for delivery to final year Software Engineering students at an undergraduate level and a solid succinct definition enables everyone to know where they’re going and – in some regard – predicts the road ahead.

So why is it such a problem? It seems to me that there is no clear definition of user experience because it is not yet a distinct domain, everyone is an immigrant to UX and there are no native UX practitioners or indeed first-generation educated practitioners who share a common understanding of what the phenomenon of UX actually is. This is always the case with new, cross disciplinary, or combinatorial domains. But this does not help us in our efforts to describe the domain such that we all understand what it is we do, where it is we are going, and what falls inside or outside that particular area. This is particularly difficult when creating a course because the definition must be strong enough to support the teaching and learning process, and flexible enough to allow us to think slightly outside the box and change the goalposts when required.

I’ve previously written about my idea of UX having seen and read a number of definitions which suggest that UX is more about emotion and may be layered on top of other aspects of software engineering and development such as usability. However, the more I dig the more I realise that I really do not believe any of the definitions as presented, either via the excellent work of Effie Law, or those parties coalesced around “All About UX” and led primarily by Virpi Roto.

So what do I believe?

  1. I believe that UX is primarily about practice and application;
  2. I believe it is an umbrella term for a multitude of specialisms;
  3. I believe it is a phenomenon in that it exists and is observable;
  4. I believe that this phenomenon collects people, methods, tools, and techniques from the wider human factors domain and combines them for practical application;
  5. I do NOT believe that UX is a primary research domain but rather that UX is the practical application of a particular combination of tools, techniques, methods, principles, and mindset pulled in from primarily human factors and therefore psychology, social science, cognitive science, human computer interaction,  and secondarily product design, and marketing;
  6. I do believe that UX is a secondary field of study if the narrow definition of UX as mainly concerned with emotional indicators is used – however I believe this is more properly defined as ‘affective computing’;  further
  7. I do not believe that UX is a “layer” in the software artefacts route to  development but rather describes that software artefact in and holistic way.

Indeed I see UX as a combination of the following properties:

  1. Utility – the software in development must be useful, profitable, or beneficial;
  2. Effective in Use – the software must be successful in producing a desired or intended result (primarily the removal of technical barriers particularly in relation to accessibility)
  3. Efficient in Use – the software must achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense (primarily the removal of barriers in relation to usability and interactivity)
  4. Affective Umami – the software must exhibit deliciousness (umami) with regard to the emotional experiences and feelings of the user when interacting; anticipating interaction; or when remembering interaction; with it.

So, my definition would be:

User Experience (abbreviated: UX) is an umbrella term used to describe all the factors that contribute to the quality of experience a person has when interacting with a specific software artefact and focuses on the practice of user centred: design, creation, and testing.

Definitions Collected by AllAboutUX:

  1. All the aspects of how people use an interactive product: the way it feels in their hands, how well they understand how it works, how they feel about it while they’re using it, how well it serves their purposes, and how well it fits into the entire context in which they are using it.
    Alben (1996)
  2. All aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products. The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company’s offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.- Nielsen-Norman Group
  3. The overall experience, in general or specifics, a user, customer, or audience member has with a product, service, or event. In the Usability field, this experience is usually defined in terms of ease-of-use. However, the experience encompasses more than merely function and flow, but the understanding compiled through all of the senses. – Shedroff
  4. Every aspect of the user’s interaction with a product, service, or company that make up the user’s perceptions of the whole. User experience design as a discipline is concerned with all the elements that together make up that interface, including layout, visual design, text, brand, sound, and interaction. UE works to coordinate these elements to allow for the best possible interaction by users. – UPA
  5. User eXperience (UX) is about how a person feels about using a system. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction (HCI) and product ownership, but it also covers a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s performance, feelings and thoughts about the system. User experience is dynamic, because it changes over time as the circumstances change – Wikipedia
  6. User Experience (abbreviated: UX) is the quality of experience a person has when interacting with a specific design. – UXnet.org and Interaction-Design.org
  7. A result of motivated action in a certain context. User’s previous experiences and expectations influence the present experience; this present experience leads to more experiences and modified expectations. – Mäkelä & Fulton Suri (2001)
  8. A consequence of a user’s internal state (predispositions, expectations, needs, motivation, mood, etc.), the characteristics of the designed system (e.g. complexity, purpose, usability, functionality, etc.) and the context (or the environment) within which the interaction occurs (e.g. organisational/social setting, meaningfulness of the activity, voluntariness of use, etc.) – Hassenzahl & Tractinsky (2006)
  9. The value derived from interaction(s) [or anticipated interaction(s)] with a product or service and the supporting cast in the context of use (e.g., time, location, and user disposition). – Sward & MacArthur (2007)
  10. The user experience considers the wider relationship between the product and the user in order to investigate the individual’s personal experience of using it.- McNamara & Kirakowski (2006)
  11. Users’ perceptions of interaction that constitute qualities of use.- Colbert (2005)
  12. An activity of encounter by a computer user with the auditory and visual presentation of a collection of computer programs. It is important to note that this includes only what the user perceives and not all that is presented. – Microsoft
  13. An umbrella term used to describe all the factors that contribute to a site user’s overall perception of a system. Is it easy to use, attractive and appropriate? Does it meet user needs? – Public Life
  14. The entire set of affects that is elicited by the interaction between a user and a product, including the degree to which all our senses are gratified (aesthetic experience), the meanings we attach to the product (experience of meaning), and the feelings and emotions that are elicited (emotional experience). – Hekkert (2006)
  15. UX is a momentary, primarily evaluative feeling (good-bad) while interacting with a product or service. – Hassenzahl (2008)
  16. A person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service – ISO 9241-210 (2010)
  17. A set of material rendered by a user agent which may be perceived by a user and with which interaction may be possible. – W3C
  18. Encompasses all aspects of a digital product that users experience directly—and perceive, learn, and use—including its form, behaviour, and content. Learnability, usability, usefulness, and aesthetic appeal are key factors in users’ experience of a product. – UXmatters
  19. The design of user interaction with a system, product or service considering the usability, the enjoyment and the fit to the way users think. – TicToc
  20. The user experience, mostly called “customer experience” when referring to e-commerce websites; the totality of the experience of a user when visiting a website. Their impressions and feelings. Whether they’re successful. Whether they enjoy themselves. Whether they feel like coming back again. The extent to which they encounter problems, confusions, and bugs. – UsabilityFirst.com
  21. User experience = Convenience + Design – Cost. Convenience is the king. What makes a product convenient is quite often what makes it usable. It might also relate to the availability of the product. It might also have something to do with laziness and productivity. Defining “convenience” is by no means an easy task. As is with everything else in this chart, convenience is subjective. Design is what makes a product liked and attractive, even before it has been used. Design is what makes you want the product. It is beauty, the touch of a famous designer, a likable company, character—pretty much what brand value is thought to be. – Nyman (2005)
  22. The user experience is the totality of end-users’ perceptions as they interact with a product or service. These perceptions include effectiveness (how good is the result?), efficiency (how fast or cheap is it?), emotional satisfaction (how good does it feel?), and the quality of the relationship with the entity that created the product or service (what expectations does it create for subsequent interactions?). – Kuniavsky (2010)
  23. The overall experience and satisfaction a user has when using a product or system. – Old Wikipedia definition, still used e.g. at BitPipe.com
  24. The overall perception and comprehensive interaction an individual has with a company, service or product. A positive user experience is an end-user‘s successful and streamlined completion of a desired task. – Goto (2004)
  25. UX = the sum of a series of interactions User experience (UX) represents the perception left in someone’s mind following a series of interactions between people, devices, and events – or any combination thereof.- Fatdux.com
  26. User experience stands for the quality of a global experience as perceived by a person (user) interacting with a system. – use-design.com
  27. Users’ judgement of product quality arising from their experience of interaction, and the product qualities which engender effective use and pleasure. – Sutcliffe (2010)
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