From Usability Engineering to Experience Design

A few days ago, while reading a book on a traditional user-centered design (UCD) methodology I caught myself thinking: “This is sooo engineering!.” It was solid UCD, but it felt old fashion. It made me realize how radically my concept of usability has changed in just a few years. It made me also realize that if many people in web and software design have pushed new ideas and evolved, the traditional view of usability and interface design is still very much alive.

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World Cup fever and the beauty of scarcity

In Italy, professional sports are played once a week, with few exceptions. Among the sports, soccer is The Game. On Sundays, people watch the game. The rest of the week they talk about the game, argue about the game, read about the game, fantasize about the game, and plan for the next one.

Each soccer game lasts 90 minutes (with a few, rare, exceptions). Forty-five minutes of uninterrupted bliss, nothing to break the totally focused attention on the 22 players and the white-and-black leather ball. Fifteen minutes of half-time for the commercials and to check what’s going on with the other teams, then other forty-five minutes of game. That’s it. A blink of an eye and it’s over, and all you can do is waiting until next Sunday.

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Museum art is dead

Yesterday Husband and I went to the Whitney Museum in NYC. In this period the Whitney is having the 2006 Biennial, which is titled Day for Night in homage to François Truffaut’s movie La Nuit américaine. Some of the pieces were outrageous (a large virginal white canvas with piece of dirty chewing gum splattered on it, huge holes in the museum’s walls), some were moving and unsettling (Brauntuch’s shirts, Hannah Greely’s baby), ironic and/or provocative in a sexual (Vezzoli’s trailer for the never made remake of Caligula, Iannone’s "I was thinking of you") or political way (Serra’s Stop Bush, Anderson’s take on Black History, Nari Ward’s Glory).

But what was truly odd and out of place was to see modern art in a modern art museum.

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User Research: Don’t neglect the goldmine in your own backyard

A product development process built around the user and the experience is an expensive proposition for many companies. On the surface, companies may reject user- and experience-centric approaches because they appear more expensive (more steps, more people involved, more time); deep inside, taking a user-centric approach is frightening because it requires relinquishing control and embracing a 180° cultural shift.

Putting a lot of thought in the early phases of product design clashes against the "faster, cheaper," "let’s see if it sticks" IT culture. Reaching out to people outside the company to discover solutions, ideas, and opportunities is unsettling for companies in which "the boss" makes all decisions and sets all strategic directions.  True user-centered design requires a flatter, more democratic, and distributed corporate structure to work.

Because adopting a user-centered framework requires a cultural paradigm shift we often need to start small and proceed slowly to avoid a massive immune rejection response from the corporate culture. The good news is that in each company there are pockets of user knowledge that designers can easily leverage to get important user information.

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