A lot of designers seem to be talking about user experience (UX) these days. We’re supposed to delight our users, even provide them with magic, so that they love our websites, apps and start-ups. User experience is a very blurry concept. Consequently, many people use the term incorrectly. Furthermore, many designers seem to have a firm (and often unrealistic) belief in how they can craft the user experience of their product. However, UX depends not only on how something is designed, but also other aspects. In this article, I will try to clarify why UX cannot be designed.
Heterogeneous Interpretations of UX
I recently visited the elegant website of a design agency. The website looked great, and the agency has been showcased several times. I am sure it delivers high-quality products. But when it presents its UX work, the agency talks about UX as if it were equal to information architecture (IA): site maps, wireframes and all that. This may not be fundamentally wrong, but it narrows UX to something less than what it really is.
The perception might not be representative of our industry, but it illustrates that UX is perceived in different ways and that it is sometimes used as a buzzword for usability (for more, see Hans-Christian Jetter and Jens Gerken’s article “A simplified model of user experience for practical application”). But UX is not only about human-computer interaction (HCI), usability or IA, albeit usability probably is the most important factor that shapes UX.
Some research indicates that perceptions of UX are different. Still, everyone tends to agree that UX takes a broader approach to communication between computer and human than traditional HCI (see Effie Lai-Chong Law et al’s article “Understanding, scoping and defining user experience: a survey approach”). Whereas HCI is concerned with task solution, final goals and achievements, UX goes beyond these. UX takes other aspects into consideration as well, such as emotional, hedonic, aesthetic, affective and experiential variables. Usability in general can be measured, but many of the other variables integral to UX are not as easy to measure.
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