Kari Kuutti. 2010. Where are the Ionians of user experience research?. In Proceedings of the 6th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Extending Boundaries (NordiCHI ’10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 715-718.

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The paper is written by Kari Kuutti, Department of Information and Processing Science at University of Oulu. The author was not satisfied with the Germany, 3 days seminar organised by Virpi Roto and others. According to him the discussion was heavily influenced by immediate practical usefulness. Author suggested the need for conceptual-theoretical discussions.

1. Ux Overview

UX was completely new some 10 years ago but now UX has become important part of discussions at HCI conferences. DUX – Designing User experience a latest conference having special emphasis on the UX research. Currently, Ux is a hot topic in the Finnish academia and industry. There are about 10-15 doctoral thesis produced on this area in last couple of years.

Although there has been some work done in the area of Ux but none of the present work has agreed on a common definition. One of the recent Phd thesis by Anne Kaikkonen titled “Internet on Mobiles : Evolution of Usability and User experience” gave different viewpoints to the Ux in form of models.

Author has opposed the view point of Anne on Ux – Anne Kaikkonen states “A practitioner (R&D product creator) see current definitions from a relative point of view”, “A practitioner can build a framework but do not have a precise list of tools that can help in measuring Ux”. Overall, Anne has stated that there is no means to give a numerical value after evaluation Ux like others such as reputation score, recommendation value, etc Anne Kaikkonen gave 5 different models having different features that can affect the UX. The features were influenced by the practical consideration than the theoretical proof.

The author advocated the need for a theoretical basis rather than an empirical approach based on some practical considerations. In the HCI, there has been emphasises on the systematizing the concept of Ux because Ux is a heterogeneous field. Different workshops, special interest groups and panels have been organised in order to achieve this goal.

ISO 9241-210 has now been coined for defining Ux – “a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service”Although Ux term is defined but the its contents are not operational.

2. Dagstuhl, Germany Seminar

In September 2010, a seminar was organised in Schloss Dagstuhl center for informatics. Virpi Roto and some other people from Phillps research, , etc organised a 3 day seminar where total of 30 researchers(Ux experts) from Europe, US, Australia have participated.

The aim of the seminar was to bring clarity to the concept of Ux by demarcating boundaries and structuring the existing understandings. Virpo roto and other organisers created a “white paper” on the Ux to serve as a starting point. This white paper was amended during the exercises and seminar.

The white paper gives the UX ISO standard definition(9241-210) but it did not discuss any of the models of Ux already developed by the Ux research community. Even the background theories were also ignored.

Process followed during the seminar
All 30 participants were given some preliminary task before the seminar so as to collect their insights on Ux.
These insights were collected as a source material for consolidation.
This type of methodology is called as “Conceptual Analysis” where shared consensus on the key features, examples are used for building conceptual consensus. This approach in empirical in the way it is performed because development take place inductively based on the opinions of the participants.

The author of the paper is although contented with the conceptual analysis technique but he argues “Is it the only way to define Ux – he objects the practice oriented opinions for defining Ux”.

According to him, “Theoretical oriented research on human experience and models developed should be taken into consideration”. Author is not even comfortable with way, the organisers have kept existing research, background theories and HCI models out of discussion.

3. Babylonian and Ionians Theory

Author has advocated the approach given by Stephen Toulmin in 1960’s. Babylonian and Ionians science have contributed to the existing scientific astronomy. Babylonians were master in mathematics while Ionians were good at speculative theorizing and using analogies to create models. Babylonians did everything on pure empirical basis without any theories while Ionians created crude models which were important for continuing development of sophisticated systems.

Science, prediction and understanding do not necessarily go hand in hand but they represent different approaches to different issues. Scientist must combines both science + prediction + understanding. According to him, Babylonians approach (empirical calculations and predictions) and Ionians approach (theories for explanations and understanding) was required for the current scientific astronomy.

Practically speaking, empirical forecasting cannot sustain alone but it requires a systematic modelling. Similarly without the empirical evidence it is not possible to test the validity of any theories.

Seminar in Germany was more like leaning towards the Babylonian way of doing things. It includes careful collection of observations and then findings common patterns among them. The ionians of UX were missing in this approach.

4. Babylonians and Ionians in the usability Research

HCI emerged some 25 years ago due to rapidly expanding PC market. As PC market has opened with a wide success, it lead to increase in the sale of PC soft-wares. HCI was much needed because in large computer and software installations, there was a need for final training and installation. HCI gave a hope to make these installations usable without the need for additional help/training. HCI studies have now reached new domains but 20 years back it was a completely new for the majority.

There are lot of Ionians but very few Babylonians currently available in the domain of HCI. In 1980’s, cognitive psychology was a dominant thought in the psychology as it forms a good bases for modelling and development of such models for understanding the use cases. In the initial days, cognitive psychology thoughts were encouraged because only the practical challenges were not helping in developing better computing systems. Overall, Ionians were leading the way through models and Babylonians were less discussed.

Babylonians kind of people gave critical remarks to their Ionians counterparts. The optimism of Ionians approach faded quickly because success was achieved in only limited areas. The reasons behind this failure was – too many features of real life has to be abstracted out to make model and theories applicable. Moreover, the practical usefulness of the results were limited. This all lead to the demand for Babylonian’s approach grew louder.

Slowly practical methods of usability design and testing get matured in the industry. These methods delivered what Ionians couldn’t hence Babylonians took over. Usability became the leading concept in HCI and no one was interested in the theories and models.

In last 20 years, usability research lead to the – improved testing and design, GUI, www and mobile devices. The success of usability was major factor in the growth of HCI community.The major problem with the usability was “It failed to sell products”.

After this HCI focused on this very aspect of the usability for 10 years and later it was not longer the main focus during HCI conferences and workshops. Due to this very aspect, there was a vaccum for a new concept on which people can discuss. This new concept was Ux – “something that can be measured and used in predicting how well does a product sell”

5. Ux Research today follows Babylonian approach but Why?
HCI community has a long history of following Babylonians ideology.
Usability did everything very well with Babylonians ideology so why they need Ionians?
No one is really interested in theories.
The new members of the HCI who are following each and every action nowadays are only interested in the practical part.

6. Overall discussion
Practical usefulness is a major driving force in the research
Empirical experimentation and testing is important to move ahead in any area.
Toulmin said “prediction, practical usefulness, explanation and interpretations are not competitive but complementary approaches to the knowledge”. We cannot focus only on the practical usefulness and leave explanations, interpretations aside.
In the seminar, empirical observations were the center of discussion while theories and conceptual models were left out of system.
Babylonians were successful in most of their predictions like HCI community on usability but it is worth mentioning that Babylonians failed to predict earthquakes and appearance of locusts. Similarly, usability was success with Babylonian thinking and it is difficult to answer if usability has achieved the highest level of success.

Posted by Amandeep

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One Response to Kari Kuutti. 2010. Where are the Ionians of user experience research?. In Proceedings of the 6th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Extending Boundaries (NordiCHI ’10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 715-718.

  1. Jani says:

    Discussion about ‘Where are the Ionians of UX research’

    This paper provoked quite an amount criticism from participants in the discussion. However, to the benefit of the author, some useful insights were also recognized. The author’s view of needing both empirical findings and theory generation in order for the study to advance in the field of UX was accepted in the discussion. For general understanding of the field, it was considered important to understand the theory in order to utilize empirical findings. Research and finding patterns can also help in formulating theories and definitions that were considered necessary for the evolvement of the field.
    The author was criticized for considering earlier work in the field as too empirical and lacking in theoretic insight. Participants considered the earlier work cited in the paper as more than adequately basing on theory. Especially when discussing User Experience, emotional and irrational factors can have a major impact on evaluating experiences, thus highlighting the importance of intuitive and emotion-based insights of evaluators. Theory can be involved even as underlying methods and behavior that may spring from different backgrounds in different fields. However, field-specific insights may lead discussion of UX astray, if discussion remains general while participants reflect on their own experiences from a specific field. Furthermore, in the discussion it became evident that definitions are often essential for discussion to ensure that participants are discussing the same issues.
    The presented idea of User Experience enabling selling of products better than usability divided opinions in the discussion. UX appeals more to customers’ emotions, thus evoking stronger feelings, which can be considered a valid marketing argument. It was noted, however, that usability issues, especially the lack of usability, can hinder effective marketing. The participants also had personal experiences of UX marketing, where the actual UX arguments were very similar, if not identical, to usability sales arguments.

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