I just returned from the Interaction 14 conference in Amsterdam, and I’ve been reflecting on the information I learned there. I was honored to be facilitating a full day workshop, Interaction Design Beyond the Wireframe, at the conference. I love and hate facilitating this particular workshop. I love it because I believe in the content and approach, and it’s great to see this affect other designers lives. I hate it because sometimes it feels as if the concepts are old and no longer useful. But, after last Wednesday’s workshop event I realized that this information is still very much useful. Also, as I was watching the participants go through the activities I was reminded of a question that fellow UXer, and friend, Nathan Gao asked me some months ago. He said to me “Do you ever look back on the work you did, and just hate it?”. “What do you mean?”, I asked. “Well I mean now that you have learned a lot more, and you have done a lot more, do you ever look back and realize that the work you did was ugly, not technologically as advanced as it could be… stuff like that?” I paused and thought about this for a moment and responded “Honestly, no. And let me tell you why.”
In this world of UX and Interaction Design, we so often view our work as a work of art. We think of it as a blend of science and art, reflecting both best practices as well as internal purpose, aesthetic, and opinion. It was even mentioned during IxD 14 that we are both science based and art based. I always thought it was interesting to view our work this way… interesting and problematic.
The issue that arises when we think of ourselves as artists, is that we think of our work as art, and this causes pain points. First, we judge and critique our work as art. We judge the “look” of the deliverables, and the savviness of the interaction. We judge the emotional response invoked by the deliverable or the sketch or the prototype or whatever it is we, the interaction designer, provides.
But, at least from my point of view, my solution, which is reflected in, but not defined as, what I deliver, has nothing to do with art, unless I am actually designing the visual look and feel (which I personally don’t do). Strictly speaking of non visual design deliverables then, I see no art reflected in them. Everything that I have included in them is based on factual evidence of either user need, business need or technological constraints. If a user needs a way to view search results by date… I add a sorting control. If they need to find a way to company contact information… I add a contact us link. I also don’t view my wireframes as the final layout and product, I view them as information design. I.e. their purpose is to inform the interface by showcasing information relationships and priorities. Basically I don’t care about how it looks in the end, just that the right information and controls are present. Therefore, nothing I add in my work is based off my own opinion or internal narrative, so I don’t judge my work as art.
Going with this argument then, judging our work as art, means that we must be, in same ways, adding our own opinions and narrative to our work. And, if we are doing that, then we aren’t doing user experience design or interaction design, we are doing art. So the biggest problem with thinking of ourselves as artists is that we think of our work as art and add our own opinions and narrative to it as opposed to keeping it strictly about upholding user needs and business needs.
In order to avoid this problem, then, and to create work that is representative of our user needs, business needs and technology constraints, I believe we need to take the art point of view away for a minute. I KNOW this is going to cause a tear in the universe, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about and wanted to write about for some time.
So, I implore you dear readers to help me to see if I am on the right path with this thinking, completely mad with this thinking, correct with this thinking, or somewhere in between. Is there a cross over between Art and our UX and IxD deliverables (sans visual design), and if so, where is it?
I agree with your point you made that UX Designers just think of the interface, instead of the actual solution. To me, the reason for that is in the definition of the role, which leads to that mentality. In order to think about the solution, the professional needs to take on the mentality/role of a Business Analyst. BAs tend to think only of the solution and not about the interface. As a BA myself, I noticed that when I combined the skills pf a BA and a UX/Interaction Designer, the results and satisfaction of customers and users improved exponencially.
Interesting point Eduardo… I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks for sharing!
I think deciphering the user’s needs could have an element of art to it. It’s not always as simple as just getting their opinions or watching the analytics. There are latent, unspoken needs which have to be recognized through empathetic and creative thought processes. I am no designer or developer. Nothing that I provide as an output from my research could be considered aesthetically pleasing, but the content, the distillation of human behavior into digestible principles which lend to tactical solutions – it certainly wouldn’t hurt my feelings if someone saw an art to that process. Yes it’s empirical and based on hypothesis testing and carefully building appropriate measurement protocols and ideally leading towards converging data in ways that provide confidence that the observations reflect population/market attributes, but building a perfect recipe is still art even if its removed from the “presentation on the plate” aspect of the kitchen.
Hi Lis, Interesting article. We are emotional beings who form instant assumptions based on what we feel before we take the time to think through what we are actually experiencing. I think it’s a given that the interaction design component for any project needs to be well resolved, and that the solution caters as best as possible to the end users needs and wants. However, no solution – no matter how well tested or validated can override that initial emotional response. So getting back to your initial question, art could be considered as part of the mix, though another way of seeing this aspect could be through the lens of cognitive psychology. Our response to colour, form, motion, etc. has evolved over thousands of years. Scientifically speaking we can design for emotion in the same way we design for utility. Maybe the end result isn’t quite the same, given the different forms of cultural conditioning we all experience, though there is definitely a perceptive reaction working in combination with the aesthetic response. Perhaps Don Norman’s thoughts on beautiful things working better is worth consideration. http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/emotion_design_at.html
Thanks Gavin! And you make such a great point. I think what’s interesting, from what I’ve seen, is that people confuse that emotional response with Art instead of seeing it as part of a perceptive response. Perhaps I’m making another semantic argument haha. Either way great point!
I agree in principal with what you are saying. But just because I don’t consider what I do art doesn’t mean I can’t look back on previous work and appreciate that with further experience/technological advances etc, that I could have done it “better” or would approach it differently given the chance again.