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March 21, 2005

Is "User Experience", for all intents and purposes, dead?

Reading the notes from a recent panel on UX disciplines, and remembering the notes from an earlier, similar, panel, I am left with the thought that the phrase "user experience," as a meaningful term describing practice and concern, is dead.

Dead dead dead.

Which is disconcerting, since my company has all but bet the farm on the concept.

The reason I say, "dead" is because my experience in reading the goings-on of these panels is one of self-flagellation. I feel obliged to keep up with these things, but the degree to which the discussion is an exercise in semantics, territoriality, inaccuracy, and pointlessness, suggests that if I'm a willing reader, I must be a masochist.

Over six years ago, I began describing my efforts as "design[ing] 'User Experience.'" I'm wary of that now.

The organizations that attempt to claim it (UXNet, BayDUX) have only done an extreme disservice by rendering the term irrelevant.

(And don't get me started on DUX2005... the conference is only a little more than 7 months out, and there's pretty much no substantial word about it anywhere. Take *that*!, "user experience community"!)

"User experience" feels like a term, and concept, whose meaningful time is over. I don't know what (if anything) will take its place. But there's clearly a lack of interest and effort in meaningful evolution. The energy seems to be behind the terms and concepts of "information architecture," "interaction design," and "usability engineering." Maybe we should take that as a sign.

Posted by peterme at March 21, 2005 08:43 AM

Comments

I was just today trying to figure out why the DUX site seems to still be advertisting DUX 2003, with just a tiny note promising info about DUX 2005 in "the first weeks of 2005."

I never quite understood how, in a world with sensuround Vegas casinos, Cirque du Soleil, Harry Potter cross-merchandising, and Target, a bunch of web designers ever decided what they did should be called "user experience design." At my company, a not insignificant part of the user experience is defined by how the support guys respond to weekend datacenter problems. Another big piece of the pie is how our training folks work with customers. Having nothing to do with either of those facets, I feel kind of weird having "user experience designer" on my business card.

Posted by: Andrew at March 20, 2005 06:39 PM

I agree it's dead. I've struggled with it since my HannaHodge 'User Experience Architects' days. For me 'user experience' was never defined specifically enough and distinctly enough to separate it from information architecture, interaction design, and usability.

At MNteractive, 'experience design' includes everything going on in the community; information architecture, technology, interaction design, politics. Whatever's on the mind of the people doing this work, however it's defined.

Posted by: Garrick Van Buren at March 20, 2005 06:46 PM

I don't have a problem with 'experience' but the 'user' part has always made me uncomfortable.

The goals of IA and IxD (and any other potential piece of the solution space) should be to support 'sustainable experiences' in certain types of environments - at least in my singular perspective on the whole big deal.

Posted by: Matthew Milan at March 20, 2005 09:07 PM

I agree--and disagree. Check my post here.

Posted by: Dave Rogers at March 21, 2005 12:36 PM

Argh. Peter, you can do so much better than this.

I moderated the NYC panel discussion on UX that you didn't attend, yet felt qualified to comment on. "Semantics, territoriality, inaccuracy, and pointlessness"? Or course semantics came up; that can't come as a surprise to anyone, considering:
1) It's still a new concept, even if you've been at it six years now. We still don't know if UX is or will be a field, a discipline, a practice, a methodology, a community, etc... I'm sure you realize this.
2) The nature and interests of the people who are interested in UX; like it or not, semantic issues are a critical part of designing experiences. So it comes up, no matter how many (myself included) are tired of the semantic discussion.
3) Territoriality? Nope, didn't come up one bit, so I'm not sure where you got that from. I think we all felt that we'd gotten a bit beyond that, which means that real progress has been made.
4) Inaccuracy? How so? Inaccurate in terms of your definition of UX? I don't follow you here.
5) Pointlessness? Your personal lack of interest and involvement doesn't render UX pointless any more than my lack of interest and involvement in brain surgery renders it pointless. It'd be great to hear a real explanation of its pointlessness from you. I mean it; you could really be helpful here.

UXnet and BayDUX claiming UX? Can't speak for BayDUX, but how on earth could UXnet, a loose, unfunded group of volunteers, claim UX? Claiming UX is not at all UXnet's goal, but if it was, why would that matter? You've already said that UX is dead.

Peter, you're a wonderful critic, but this is not true criticism, just pointless negativity. Nothing actionable here, other than perhaps poking the DUX2005 committee to get going on their site. You are an influential person, so your comments are a disservice that may actually demoralize the volunteers who organize events and other activities that may actually further our understanding of just what this UX thing is all about. Please write the kind of brilliant and constructive and above all *useful* critique that you're capable of, rather than stuff like this.

Posted by: Lou at March 21, 2005 12:37 PM

I think that there is a problem with UX being so broad that it gives little direction for practice. But I don't see it as an either-or dichotomy - I can practice information architecture, and interaction design, and usability as part of my work as a user experience consultant.

The semantic squabbling of folks who want to own UX, and define little slices of it, well that certainly is grating...I think Jim Leftwich's focus on artifacts/portfolio and Marc Rettig's 'let's get shit done' attitude are much more engaging that arguing that IA or IxD or Usability is the discipline that subsumes the other UX practices. Sadly, as a community, we're very good at talking and not very good at doing.

Thankfully there's some bright spots, like the IA Institute tools initiative, or Dey Alexander's resource collection, or DUX (I trust Zap and Richard to do great things - they're just a tad too quiet).

Posted by: Jess McMullin at March 21, 2005 01:50 PM

User Experience is the broad concept that encompasses interaction design, usability, information architecture, etc. It is not meant to replace other terms, but is a simple way of describing the greater topic.

What we really should kill is anything that uses an X - UX, etc.

Save UE!

love, UEarchitect.com

Posted by: Andrew at March 21, 2005 02:01 PM

I agree with Dave Rogers when he says that because 'the energy seems to be behind the terms and concepts of "information architecture," "interaction design," and "usability engineering"' we should get those groups together and look for the forest beyond our trees.

And yes, UXnet.org doesn't seem to be doing that very well, especially when they claim they're "dedicated to exploring opportunities for cooperation and collaboration among UX-related organizations and individuals". Should we declare UX dead because of that? No! Should we encourage them but tell them they're wrong (or slow) when we think so? Yes! Peter, it seems you're the only Peter in IA who is not mentioned as a supporter of UXnet. Is that on purpose?

In the meantime we should realize that UX is indeed very broad (lots of trees), make sure each of us knows as much about it as he/she can (several trees), but also have an idea about what's missing (the other trees), maybe through modeling the space of UX in, say, a t-shape or cross-shape. :-)

Posted by: Peter Boersma at March 22, 2005 12:43 AM

Peter,

I'm a UXnet volunteer because I get the "intent and purpose" of User Experience.

Please explain how UXnet is rendering the term irrelevant. Thanks.

Posted by: Eric Svoboda at March 22, 2005 08:22 AM

I share Matthew Milan's concern over the term "user". As Tufte has said, referring to people as "users" is a custom of two professions: computer scientists and drug dealers. As I recall, Andrew Dillon at the 05IASummit also challenged the use of "user". I like the concept of "experience", though. "Information Experience" is tempting...but does it really add anything to "information architecture"?

Posted by: Jim Morris at March 22, 2005 04:22 PM

Stop it. stop it stop it stopitstopitstopit.

in my meagre time in this field, i've had 7 job descriptions(5 at the same company) whilst doing the same job. All changing with the vagaries of the field.

having had the debate recently with a designer i work with, I am yet to be convinced of any practical difference that results from calling 'the people using the designed facility' customers/users/approachees/whatever.

but i don't have a site or a blog, so who am i.

p.s. i think Jess McMullin sums it up above in a far more erudite way.

p.p.s. 'information experience'...pur-lease.

Posted by: dvc at March 24, 2005 02:38 AM

Peter states, "The energy seems to be behind the terms and concepts of 'information architecture,' 'interaction design,' and 'usability engineering.' "

To me, that is sort of like saying, "The energy seems to be behind concepts like 'carpentry,' 'drywall hanging,' and 'plumbing'" when what you are really interested in is building a house. A house is more than just lumber and nails. A house is more than just the separate skills needed to construct the building itself. It's all of it and more. And to take the analogy one step further, a house is not a home. To make a house a home, it has to be infused with the qualities of the owner.

Maybe if companies stopped building houses on the web and spent more time and effort building homes, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

I have written a slightly expanded article on ICE - Improving Customer Experience if you are interested.

Posted by: Eric G. Myers at March 24, 2005 11:49 AM

huh. that's interesting. i'd agree with you to the degree that 'ux' as a practice may be losing its meaning -- why leave it up to the computer people to claim 'experience' design as their own, when, for example, people who write customer-service center call scripts are in the same business? and at that point, it's a semantics game.

what's good is that the methods that ux practitioners work with are getting out there in the world...the seeds are spreading, as don norman recommended they should, a few years back, in his call for a more holistic approach to product development. more people who aren't 'ux' types have 'ux' as a primary function of their job. heck, even the oregon state university mba program emphasizes, on its front page, the need for fewer surveys and more observing, for the sake of coming up with the next ipod or cross-training shoe.

and that's a good thing. personally i don't care what the practitioners and pioneers call themselves, but if they can give us a language and framework to work with and see through -- one that other, more formal disciplines haven't yet given us -- then more power to them. somebody's gotta frame the debate.

Posted by: noel franus at March 26, 2005 12:37 AM

One problems about a consultant-dominated field is that consultants build fame by coining and popularizing new concepts.

Just at the point that a few customers might be starting to grasp the fact that they need more than pretty colors and flashy widgets to help their customers, the consultants realize that their pitch is no longer differentiated. So they need to invent a new term.

This is also related to a problem with advertising and design awards. Consultants gain the accolades of their peers by being cutting edge. This fosters a culture where industry fashion can be more important than customer results.

Adaptive Path has two goals: to educate and sell to customers; and to maintain reputation.

For the first goal, the question is whether the "user experience" term helps your customer understand the scope of work needed to create sites and tools that work for customers. If so, the term is working just fine. If not, need to use the vocabulary that works for customer.

For the second goal, the question is what new ideas have you invented or discovered. When you have a new idea -- applying artistic genre to web content, for example -- promote that idea. But that's not a justification to churn service category terms, unless those terms aren't working for customers anymore.

Posted by: Adina Levin at March 31, 2005 05:53 AM