Defining the User Experience
Back in December I mentioned that I have been writing a chapter for Andrew Sears and Julie Jacko's Human Computer Interaction Handbook. This is a pretty monumental volume and it's an honor to write for it. They gave me a pretty broad mandate for the chapter: they asked me to write about the relationship between HCI and the customer experience. Before I could write that, I decided to unpack what "the customer experience" meant, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I wanted to do was to more precisely define what "user experience" means. Now I know this is folly--as a term in wide use, user experience has about 1000 different definitions--but I wanted to have one of my own, at least for the duration of this chapter. The definition I came up with is that, in a nutshell, the user experience of a product is everything that's not human-computer interaction. It's everything that affects how someone interacts with a tool--whether it's software, hardware, a service, or whatever. To me, this meant that I had to deal with all of the squishy, abstract things that good cognitive psychology and computer science-trained designers like me try not to deal with: business goals, emotions, relationships, branding, etc.
This is a big problem, and one where I'm only beginning to put the pieces together, but I decided to write down everything I had been thinking and see what happened. Well, what happened is that I wrote the most wide-ranging book chapter I think I've ever produced. That may or may not be good, but I do try to cover everything from familiar territory about focus groups and Jesse's elements diagram to identifying organizational goals, talking about the rise of field oberservation (whether you want to call it "ethnography" or something else), to emotion and brand...all the way to managing with agile user experience development. It's either a jambalaya or a patchwork. I can't tell and Andrew and Julie have been gracious enough to let the chapter stand as it is.
It's probably the closest I'm going to come to writing a sequel to my book for a while and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to have explored these ideas.
I've put a draft (550K PDF) of it up. This is not the final draft, as I'd like to encourage people to buy the book when it comes out, but I wanted to share it because I'd like to get some feedback and because, well, because I'm excited to have done it.