The Precarious X In UX

I have a long-held suspicion of anything directed at me — especially anything commercial — that sells itself on its “experiential” qualities. I hate the word “immersive” in particular. “Here, let me waterboard you with my new web app! You’re going to love it!” Basically, I’m suspicious of anything that seeks to appeal to me kinesthetically, rather than to my intellect. I want to be treated as a sentient agent; not as the passive stigma to someone’s dirty sense pollen.

It’s not that I don’t relish some experiences in life. It’s not that I don’t enjoy, well, enjoyment per se. It’s just that if I got my jollies from using a website to book train tickets, I’d have to ask myself some serious fucking questions. “Wow, adding that purchase to my shopping basket was just so darn delightful! Fuck it, I’ll buy more, for the same day, going to the same place, just for the experience of it all! Hnnnnnnnn.”

Sorry, I’ll calm down.


The other week I attended a user testing session as the lead designer and developer for an app intended to help people find out if they’re entitled to disability benefits. Predictably, and tragically, only a small proportion of the testers who’d signed up would make it to the session. Due to ill health. When the first tester finally arrived (Ian, let’s call him), we waited a full 5 minutes while he sat, head in hands, catching his breath after climbing just one flight of stairs.

Ian told me, in conversation during the session, that he had spent a decade of his life living as, essentially, a hermit; not interested in the trappings of modern, technologically mediated and socialized existence. He came equipped with a smart phone he’d acquired that week. It was a Windows phone, though he wasn’t aware of that.

Now.

Do you think for a moment that Ian expected or wanted to experience our product? For it to impress and delight him as it enveloped his consciousness? Do you think he was looking to be carried away on a flying carpet of pixel perfection and shit that swooshes around arbitrarily? Do you think he watches Apple keynotes? Do you think he’s the sort who’d lean over to you and go, “hey, check out this new Honda advert! IT’S SO WELL DONE.” No, of course not, because he doesn’t care about interfaces, or design, or technology. He wanted using the app to be straightforward and painless and to get it all over with as quickly as possible.

That’s how I feel too, most of the time. I’m terrible at using interfaces, and I hate interfaces which try to draw me in, making me use them more than I should have to. That’s why I’m a User Experience Designer.

So, this is probably as good a time as any to tell you that I’ve been nominated for Designer Of The Year in the Net Awards and you can vote for me, haha.