The Disciplines of User Experience Design

The deeper I go into user experience design, the more I realize how broad the topic is, and also how difficult it can be to explain to someone for whom the idea or term is new. I appreciate Thomas Gläser‘s Venn diagram of the discipline and how it relates to many other disciplines. On various sites where the diagram has been posted commenters are quick to point out what’s missing, e.g. why doesn’t sound design overlap with interaction design?  But, as Mark Wilson points out on fastcodescign.com,

…to critique a piece like this is to ungratefully overlook its utility: Don’t see this as the only road map for the entire UX design industry, but a postulation as to why it’s so darned complicated to nail good UX. To think anyone could be an expert in each of these circles is sheer absurdity. Scratch that: To think any designer could be an expert in each of these circles is sheer absurdity, but to recognize that every end user is an expert in each of these circles is highly important. As humans and end users, we might not know what makes an experience right, but we certainly know when it’s wrong.

Yup.

It’s comforting to have Jakob Nielsen in the world

Siemens website carouselThe latest Nielsen Alertbox posting inspired me to write. It’s Auto-Forwarding Carousels and Accordions Annoy Users and Reduce Visibility and it makes no bones about the uselessness of what at first glance seems like a good idea. Auto-forwaring carousels have become standard issue on websites where the urge is to “tell our story” but the client has a hard time condensing that story down to a few words. So a carousel is set up where the story is told over several slides, each typically featuring a large photo or graphic with a short paragraph of text. But the fear (on the part of the client and the designer) is that most users will not ever see beyond the first slide in the carousel, so the carousel is programmed to automatically rotate through the slides.

To the client and to the designer, copywriter, programmer, and others who have worked on the site, all seems fine because we’ve been knee-deep in developing the content for months and the carousel slides are familiar to us. But what about the new visitor? I know the frustration of having a carousel slide on a new-to-me site disappear before I’ve finished reading the contents, and the fumbling to find my way back (Where’s the navigation? At the bottom? Top right? Under the text?).

I have designed rotating carousels on many a website, often at the request of clients who have come to expect them. But I wonder if they are a fad that will pass. Maybe by 2014 or 2015 we’ll look back on carousels and wonder why we tried to cram so much into our home pages.

Oh, and I also love Nielsen’s comment about “content-free content”. Of the tagline on the Siemens website, “Rewarding.Life.Style.” he says, “This is content-free content to at least 99% of humans outside Siemens’ marketing department.” So true!

This is one of the reasons I like to perform a focus group on a website after it has been built but before it is launched to the public. Real-world users catch the BS-y things that can easily slip into a website during the design and build, and they’ll call you on it.

As I always say, your website is not for you, it’s for your audiences, and making sure their needs are met is highest priority.