Wright, P., Blythe, M., Mccarthy, J. (2006). User Experience and the Idea of Design in HCI

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The authors argue that the shift in the concept of the user (from a person that communicates into a person that experiences) has implications to the current concept of design and the design process. Their main argument is that UX-design requires collaboration with designers from different backgrounds, they suggest the use of design-as-engineering and design-as-crafts to supplement each other and contribute to the understanding of design. In particular they present a dialogical approach between these design-methods as a new design process.

The traditional design-as-engineering approach (define the problem -> various replicable steps -> a specified solution) is described by a list of some common qualities of this approach:
– The user or use context is represented as well-defined goals, tasks or needs
– the typical user is represented relatively abstract
– orientation to a task or scenario procedural methodology
– usable design is attempted to be encapsulated in terms of principles, guidelines or methods that can be re-produced by engineers who are not HCI-experts
– usability is seen a s a property of the interface
– attempt to control interaction with the user through design
Later on in the text, the authors say that using solely this approach would eventually lead to reducing the concept of experience to properties of the interface and issues of control and prediction.

The authors say that the design-as-craft approach emphasizes the process of making sense of the situation, which affects the designs and vice versa. The outcomes are usually somewhat unique, in contrast to the design-as-engineering approach where outcomes are reproducible. The basic idea is that the intended user participates to the design process as a source of inspiration, not as a resource to understand requirements. This emphasizes the importance of empathy in design.

The authors don’t exactly define their view on experience, however, they do present three approaches that are affect their view of it. The first approach discusses experience as a holistic concept that is affected by various things (cognitive, rational, intellectual, emotional and sensual) simultaneously. The second approach says that experience is a continuous engagement, which is affected by everyone’s own personal qualities and past experiences. The authors present an extremely long example of watching a movie (including the social aspect, past experiences, feelings etc.). Then third approach of experience describes it as a dialogical or relational issue, which means that there are at least two centers of meaning or consciousness in any experience. The meaning communicated is affected by the interaction itself, thus the meaning of communication is open. Another aspect of the dialogical component is that the dialogue itself affects our views on the participators of that dialogue.

The authors present that using only one approach, be that design-as-engineering or design-as-crafts, limits the solutions provided to design problems. They continue that the basic aim of design is to provide a single set of solutions to a problem. A multi-disciplinary approach the range of these solutions becomes wider and might be better. They discuss a dialogical approach to design, which seems to mean a multi-disciplinary team that uses dialogue to get inspiration to design, not to acquire requirements.

The authors also address the difficult communication between actors from different disciplines. As a solution they provide various methods, such as the use of conceptual tools (e.g., doctrine of placements, building as a physical space vs. as an emotional space). The authors also provide the concept of liberal arts as a way to enhance communication between ‘artistic designers’ and ‘engineer designers’. The basic idea of the approach is that by teaching students in high-schools the basic concepts of design related disciplines (e.g., engineering, visual design, psychology) would enhance the dialogue in multi-disciplinary design.

Posted by Niklas

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One Response to Wright, P., Blythe, M., Mccarthy, J. (2006). User Experience and the Idea of Design in HCI

  1. ide group says:

    The general idea of the article seems valid when reading only the abstract and the conclusion: because programmers and designers don’t understand each other, create a new study program that makes them the same person. The way they make their point isn’t as convincing.

    The way the old way, design as engineering, and the new, experience-centered design, are described illustrates why the old way still persists. Design as engineering is fully explained in a page’s worth of text, it’s clear, concise and to the point. One can read it, understand it and get on with something productive. The fact that the method has actually produced things that ship seems be why the authors don’t flat out put it down as useless, but only carefully say that in some cases it might not be the best possible way of doing things.

    Almost everything that follows, especially the parts about the motivations for a new, better way, come off as somewhat new-agey. In many parts it isn’t really clear, at least to a non-humanities student, what the authors are actually on about at all. Many of their examples are about people doing things thay don’t seem to have much to do with user interface design or human-computer interaction, which makes them more confusing than anything else. They do make the already well-known point that there’s a lack of the right kind of interdisciplinarity, and that programmers and artists are often incompatible as people, but they don’t really give anything resembling a solution. This combined with the non-criticism of the old way isn’t very convincing.

    Most of the ideas presented are on a very philosophical level. That might very well work for certain audiences, but for people who use and decide to use the traditional design-as-engineering approach, the point could be made better. The article doesn’t say what should be done how by whom, the solution of better education seems like a good idea, and is already being done at least in some places. Education will probably help, but not very quickly.

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