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Response to 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design

by Christine Benson on January 14th, 2009

The other day I posted Whitney Hess' article 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design on Twitter, along with "'User experience is not user interface design' and other good tidbits." And then I re-read the article … more than once. My response ended up being much longer than 140 characters.

Here's what I liked:

1. User experience is not user interface design. It's super important to go beyond how a site works. Too many companies jump ahead to 'So, what will that look like?' before they even figure out the why and how. They create meaningless goals like "build the brand" or "make it engaging" and people are too scared to say that doesn't mean anything. While I have some varying opinions on user research, here's an example of creating a good interface that solved the wrong problem.

2. User experience is not just about the user. When I heard Tamara Adlin speak a couple of years ago, she said "Without the business, there is no user." As we are likely to witness with many 2.0 companies, if you don't find a way to be profitable, your user experience won't matter much.

I think it's all too tempting to assume the "only I care for the user" mantle and take up the fight against the big, bad corporation. There's a continuing culture that seems to believe big companies are evil and make bad sites because they want to trick people. The truth, as I have experienced, is that it's more a sin of neglect than of malice. No one sets out to build a bad site. So many people responsible for these sites have way too much on their plate. They have internal and external pressures that lead to bad decisions that lead to bad sites (and so on, and so on).

Explaining why a site is bad could go on forever, but the bottom line is this: We get paid to help the companies that hire us to explain their value to their users.

3. User experience is not about technology. Within the UX field, there is a group that is pulling things deeper and deeper into the tech side. Whenever this happens, the usefulness of the web seems to slide backwards. From my humble observations, the web started out pretty shaky. Then terms like "usability" and "user experience" started being tossed around, and the web was on it's way to getting useful.

Enter 2.0. People were all dazzled by all the new toys and undid much of the progress. This is a gross generalization, but the trick of our field as we mature will be to incorporate the bright, shiny x.0 object while maintaining a focus on the basics. No matter what technology comes along, we should always remember that there is a person using it, and it's not the users fault.

4. I like the quotes.
"User experience design isn't a checkbox. You don't do it and then move on. It needs to be integrated into everything you do," Liz Danzico says.

"Interface is a component of user experience, but there's much more," Peter Merholz says.

5. Since everyone's name is linked, it's a good resource to find some super smart people and their blogs.

Here's what I think she missed:

1. There's no mention of Information Architecture, other than glossing over it under "User Experience is not a single discipline." Interface Design and Information Architecture are not the same thing. A good site can be built without an interaction designer (mentioned as a component of UX again and again), but not without good Information Architecture. She doesn't make a home for what role Information Architecture has within user experience in this article, and I think that's a huge miss.

2. "User experience is not the role of one person or department" should be "Making sure someone is caring about the user experience is everyone's role." I've heard a couple of other people make the same comment ("it's everyone's role") and I completely disagree. People want to be responsible for it (see #2 above), but caring about it isn't the same as getting it done. Everyone wants to take credit for when it's good, but there needs to be someone accountable for when it's not. This is a legitimate job with too many tasks to be shared across a variety of people who probably already have too much on their plate or other jobs to attend to.

3. There's no mention of content and how it fits into User Experience. It's a huge oversight. People want the content to be good, but they want someone else to make it that way. Too bad the users judge by what is said as much as how the site works. Which is why content needs a new home.

  • http://whitneyhess.com/blog/ Whitney Hess

    Christine, thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response to my article. I certainly agree that IA and content are *major* components of user experience, but alas I was writing a “10 most common misconceptions” piece and not a “all the misconceptions I’ve ever heard” piece. As an independent consultant, I find myself combating these 10 fallacies over and over again, and was fortunate to get some incredible quotes to support those points. Ultimately the article was not an attempt to define UX once and for all, but rather simply an opportunity to dispel the myths that bog down many of my early interactions with prospective clients.
    As for your colleague who hated the article, it would be far more productive if that person stood behind his or her views and publicly provided a counter argument. That way we could all have an open discussion about the issues and mutually benefit from each other’s thinking. We are a small community of practitioners who need to rely on one another to refine our skills and raise awareness of the practice within the larger business world. Simple declarations don’t help anybody.
    So again, many thanks for your interesting perspective and respectful response. It is greatly appreciated.

  • http://whitneyhess.com/blog/ Whitney Hess

    Christine, thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response to my article. I certainly agree that IA and content are *major* components of user experience, but alas I was writing a “10 most common misconceptions” piece and not a “all the misconceptions I’ve ever heard” piece. As an independent consultant, I find myself combating these 10 fallacies over and over again, and was fortunate to get some incredible quotes to support those points. Ultimately the article was not an attempt to define UX once and for all, but rather simply an opportunity to dispel the myths that bog down many of my early interactions with prospective clients.
    As for your colleague who hated the article, it would be far more productive if that person stood behind his or her views and publicly provided a counter argument. That way we could all have an open discussion about the issues and mutually benefit from each other’s thinking. We are a small community of practitioners who need to rely on one another to refine our skills and raise awareness of the practice within the larger business world. Simple declarations don’t help anybody.
    So again, many thanks for your interesting perspective and respectful response. It is greatly appreciated.

  • http://whitneyhess.com/blog/ Whitney Hess

    Christine, thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response to my article. I certainly agree that IA and content are *major* components of user experience, but alas I was writing a “10 most common misconceptions” piece and not a “all the misconceptions I’ve ever heard” piece. As an independent consultant, I find myself combating these 10 fallacies over and over again, and was fortunate to get some incredible quotes to support those points. Ultimately the article was not an attempt to define UX once and for all, but rather simply an opportunity to dispel the myths that bog down many of my early interactions with prospective clients.
    As for your colleague who hated the article, it would be far more productive if that person stood behind his or her views and publicly provided a counter argument. That way we could all have an open discussion about the issues and mutually benefit from each other’s thinking. We are a small community of practitioners who need to rely on one another to refine our skills and raise awareness of the practice within the larger business world. Simple declarations don’t help anybody.
    So again, many thanks for your interesting perspective and respectful response. It is greatly appreciated.

  • http://www.richardweiser.com Richard Weiser

    I agree with your “likes”. This is a good common sense approach to XD. But, as to the role of the IA in XD, that’s another – connected, granted – kettle of fish. Have you read Matt Milan’s provocative presentation about the “death of the IA”? On Slideshare here: http://tinyurl.com/3edmxs

  • http://www.richardweiser.com Richard Weiser

    I agree with your “likes”. This is a good common sense approach to XD. But, as to the role of the IA in XD, that’s another – connected, granted – kettle of fish. Have you read Matt Milan’s provocative presentation about the “death of the IA”? On Slideshare here: http://tinyurl.com/3edmxs

  • http://braintraffic.com Christine

    Whitney, thank you for taking the time to read my post and to comment. I appreciate your response about IA and content being a major role in the user experience and for the additional context around your article.
    I also apologize for including the comment from my colleague. It was originally included to set the context for what prompted me to write this post, but the comment was not written for public review. No offense to you was intended. The post has been updated to remove the comment. Thank you again for your article, I enjoyed reading it and the discussions it has prompted.

  • http://braintraffic.com Christine

    Whitney, thank you for taking the time to read my post and to comment. I appreciate your response about IA and content being a major role in the user experience and for the additional context around your article.
    I also apologize for including the comment from my colleague. It was originally included to set the context for what prompted me to write this post, but the comment was not written for public review. No offense to you was intended. The post has been updated to remove the comment. Thank you again for your article, I enjoyed reading it and the discussions it has prompted.

  • Lisa L. Trager

    Hooray – thank you acknowledging that, “There’s no mention of content and how it fits into User Experience.” As a content strategist it is amazing to me how the most important element of a webs site, the content, is often forgotten or left as something to figure out after all of the “usability experts” have crafted the site and brought in the latest and greatest technology. How wonderful to read acknowledgment from at least one other person in the universe that there is a distinct difference between UxD, IA and Content Strategy.
    Although they are all important, and have similar goals, just as it is recognized now a days how integral it is to build a good user experience, or site architecture, without relevant, useful content what is the chance that users will return and that the business will get ROI? Too many companies expect people within their organizations who have a myriad of other responsibilities and lack of experience in this area to take on this responsibility and fill in the boxes afterward.
    There is no denying that the best sites have incorporated research and present information that users seek, as well as present content that is in alignment with their organizational mandate (ie – http://cdc.gov/) or business goals (ie – http://www.shuteye.com/default.aspx) to make the user experience one that is not only gratifying, but meets both requirements.

  • Lisa L. Trager

    Hooray – thank you acknowledging that, “There’s no mention of content and how it fits into User Experience.” As a content strategist it is amazing to me how the most important element of a webs site, the content, is often forgotten or left as something to figure out after all of the “usability experts” have crafted the site and brought in the latest and greatest technology. How wonderful to read acknowledgment from at least one other person in the universe that there is a distinct difference between UxD, IA and Content Strategy.
    Although they are all important, and have similar goals, just as it is recognized now a days how integral it is to build a good user experience, or site architecture, without relevant, useful content what is the chance that users will return and that the business will get ROI? Too many companies expect people within their organizations who have a myriad of other responsibilities and lack of experience in this area to take on this responsibility and fill in the boxes afterward.
    There is no denying that the best sites have incorporated research and present information that users seek, as well as present content that is in alignment with their organizational mandate (ie – http://cdc.gov/) or business goals (ie – http://www.shuteye.com/default.aspx) to make the user experience one that is not only gratifying, but meets both requirements.

  • Lisa L. Trager

    Hooray – thank you acknowledging that, “There’s no mention of content and how it fits into User Experience.” As a content strategist it is amazing to me how the most important element of a webs site, the content, is often forgotten or left as something to figure out after all of the “usability experts” have crafted the site and brought in the latest and greatest technology. How wonderful to read acknowledgment from at least one other person in the universe that there is a distinct difference between UxD, IA and Content Strategy.
    Although they are all important, and have similar goals, just as it is recognized now a days how integral it is to build a good user experience, or site architecture, without relevant, useful content what is the chance that users will return and that the business will get ROI? Too many companies expect people within their organizations who have a myriad of other responsibilities and lack of experience in this area to take on this responsibility and fill in the boxes afterward.
    There is no denying that the best sites have incorporated research and present information that users seek, as well as present content that is in alignment with their organizational mandate (ie – http://cdc.gov/) or business goals (ie – http://www.shuteye.com/default.aspx) to make the user experience one that is not only gratifying, but meets both requirements.

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