User Experience I

Today's designers must envision compelling ways to facilitate pleasant and relevant interactive experiences. This course demonstrates the latest tools, techniques and technologies used by the leading agencies to develop world-class user experiences. Topics include user research, requirements-, design-, and usability evaluation methods. Students develop and present a single comprehensive project for their portfolio including user research and a design mockup.

Are you UXperienced?

Cultural Probe Assignment

Getting to know the user is going to be important to any future project you will be working on. In this course YOU will be my users and I will use a few methods to learn and tune the course to your needs, and at the same time illustrate how they work.

Before we dive into the course, I would like to take a moment to learn more about you. With any course, but in particular with User Experience, the diversity in experience and backgrounds of the students is big. Maybe you have a design, computer science, marketing or psychology background? Maybe you're a seasoned veteran with decades of experience under your belt looking for something new, or you're getting settled in a new job fresh out of university. I expect each of you to bring a different skillset along with matching learning goals to the table.

This week we are going to use a method called Cultural Probe.

What is a Cultural Probe?

Cultural probes are sets of simple artifacts (such as maps, postcards, cameras, or diaries) that are given to users forthem to record specific events, feelings or interactions in their usual environment, in order to get to know them and their culture better. Cultural probes are used to uncover aspects of culture and human interaction like emotions, values, connections, and trust.

The video below gives a quick introduction to the cultural probe concept.

SUMMARY - This video introduces the concept of cultural probes.

Samples of booklets I have used in various user studies.

Cultural Probes are typically physical artefacts. However the logistics involved to get your probes distributed and returned can be tedious (especially if your audience happens to reside on the other side of the planet). So this week we will use a very basic probe: a PDF with fields you can fill out that I will make available via a download link.

As designers/researchers we like to get the richest possible 'intel' from our users. If you consider using this booklet only version of the Cultural Probe method in any of your projects, it helps to keep the following in mind when making booklets:

Investing pays back - Your audience is mostlikely to spend time to fill out your booklets, if you take special care to formulate your questions and create something nice (or beautiful). You have hit the nail, if your users ask if they can keep it afterwards.

Offer variety - Nothing extinguishes creativity and willingness to contribute better than dull long lists with similar questions. This is true for surveys as well as booklets. So add variety in the questions you ask, consider adding a touch of humor (if appropriate), and consider including different activities like sticker assignments or 'picture taking' assignments of objects of your interest.

Keep it sketchy - If we keep it sketchy (by using grungy type-faces and illustrations) it is more inviting to express yourself and make your own 'thing' of it.

Booklet assignment

10 pts due Fri Apr 1

Check the booklet assignment in this week's module.

Discuss your booklet

10 pts due Mon Apr 4

Go to this week's Discussion Board and discuss your booklet. Instructions are included there.

Bonus reads

Not mandatory for this course. Just in case you want to learn more about the cultural probe method.

Tools and resources

  • I personally use Adobe Photoshop to build the booklets, but Microsoft Word or PowerPoint also do the trick.
  • You can get free grungy and typewriter typefaces via FontSquirrel

UX fundamentals

A Brief UX History

User Experience has not been around for very long as a term and discipline. When I started my career in 1999 what I did was called User Interface Design and 5 years later Interaction Design. The term User Experience was coined in the mid nineties by Don Norman whilst he was working at Apple, but only adopted by the mainstream in the last decade. There are so many ways to define and understand User Experience, it came to mean everything and nothing. We will look at various perspectives so you can shape your own opinion on what User Experience is. First however we will have a look at the historical context that allowed this new discipline to flourish.

UX Foundations

User Experience would not be around without technology. In 1642 the very first calculator was invented by Blaise Pascal. It was one of the first tools where there was no longer a 1:1 relationship with a tool (like a hammer) and a specific function (hammering), but you could perform different functions like adding, subtracting, multiplication and division with a single device. I assembled an interactive UX timeline with the major technological advancements affecting user experience,

the invention of new vocabulary based on evolving insight in the human-machine relation, and the moments where people contributing to this field felt the need to organize themselves (see following page).

“I invented the term User Experience because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person's experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose it's meaning... user experience, human centered design, usability; all those things, even affordances. They just sort of entered the vocabulary and no longer have any special meaning. People use them often without having any idea why, what the word means, its origin, history, or what it's about.”

Don Norman - Inventor of the term User Experience

Teresa Brazen did a 25 minute interview with Peter Merholz, President and Co-founder of Adaptive Path, about the origins of User Experience.

To summarize on the UX history: as technology progresses there is an increasing understanding of the intricate relationship between man and machine. There are several trends worth pointing out:

  • New technologies are invented to create richer experiences.
  • Digital products and services
  • become omnipresent and an essential part of human life.
  • Various specialities emerge (ergonomist, physical and cognitive psychologist, usability specialist, interaction designer) organized in associations that each contribute to the rise of better products and services
  • The development process of digital products becomes more user centric.

Discuss 3 pivotal UX moments

10 pts due

Go to this week's Discussion Board and discuss what you consider the 3 most important events in the history of User Experience (due Friday 5 October). Instructions are included there.

Different Perspectives on UX

Defining User Experience

User Experience as a term is both a blessing and a curse. There are many different ways to understand it, which may be somewhat overwhelming and confusing at first. I found the video by UXmastery a great start.

SUMMARY - What the #$%@ is UX Design?

AllAboutUX lists a staggering 27 definitions of User Experience. I urge to you quickly scan through them first, then let us look at what I would call one of the most elegant definitions of UX by Don Norman (as you might recall he invented the term).

"User experience" encompasses all aspects of the end-user's interaction with the company, its services, and its products. The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company's offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.

Comparing all 27 definitions, most seem to agree that UX has something to do with people, services, products, perceptions, emotions, interaction and experiences. Rather than trying to come up with one unified theory for User Experience, I would like to show several UX models that are easier to 'read' than textual definitions.

UX as a process

In 2000 Jesse James Garet created his Elements of User Experience model that lists the various stages a Web project goes through from conception to completion. He makes the distinction between software and traditional web projects. Since this model is self explanatory, I will let the model do the talking.

Twelve years later this model is still fundamentally accurate. I believe that the distinction between software and web is disappearing, and that the model is equally valid for mobile apps, 'traditional' software or even embedded systems (like ATMs).

Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garet

UX as a collection of experience qualities

In 2004 Peter Morville created the User Experience honeycomb to illustrate the various facets of user experience. He describes the qualities as follows:

  • Useful. As practitioners, we can't be content to paint within the lines drawn by managers. We must have the courage and creativity to ask whether our products and systems are useful, and to apply our deep knowledge of craft and medium to define innovative solutions that are more useful.
  • Usable. Ease of use remains vital, and yet the interface-centered methods and perspectives of human-computer interaction do not address all dimensions of web design. In short, usability is necessary but not sufficient.
  • Desirable. Our quest for efficiency must be tempered by an appreciation for the power and value of image, identity, brand, and other elements of emotional design.
  • Findable. We must strive to design navigable web sites and locatable objects, so users can find what they need.
  • Accessible. Just as our buildings have elevators and ramps, our web sites should be accessible to people with disabilities (more than 10% of the population). Today, it's good business and the ethical thing to do. Eventually, it will become the law.
  • Credible. Thanks to the Web Credibility Project, we're beginning to understand the design elements that influence whether users trust and believe what we tell them.
  • Valuable. Our sites must deliver value to our sponsors. For non-profits, the user experience must advance the mission. With for-profits, it must contribute to the bottom line and improve customer satisfaction.

One UX Wheel to rule them all

UX wheel by Magnus Revang

Okay not exactly rule them all, but with The UX Wheel Magnus Revang added a process dimension in 2007 to Peter Morville's UX Honeycomb. He explains his comprehensive model should be read from the inside: it starts in the middle.

  • Value is what we want to accomplish
  • For customers and providers, positive user experience is a win-win situation
  • We want to accomplish value through positive user experience
  • The user experience is a series of phases, we have to focus on positivity in findabilityaccessibilitydesirabilityusabilitycredibility and usefulness
  • Numerous factors contribute to the phases of user experience, the model shows 30 factors carefully placed
  • To achieve this we work backwards, starting and ending with search engine strategy, and going through and making a choice about each of the factors

The process of this model will be the basis for your project in the coming weeks. We will not have time however for the implement and launch stages. If you pursue a product development career, you will go through these very fulfilling stages many times together with your team.

Can UX be designed?

Model of User Experience by Marc Hassenzahl

In his model of User Experience Marc Hassenzahl stresses that designers and users have a different perspective on a product, and that what users experience is not uniform but very personal.

Each user assigns several attributes to a product or service when using it. The attributes can all grouped into four main categories: manipulation, identification, stimulation and evocation. Some of these attributes are pragmatic, related to the practical usage and functions of a product, where others are considered hedonistic and relate to the user's well-being.

  • Manipulation is about the core functionalities of a product and the ways to use those functions. As a consequence it leads to satisfaction.
  • Identification is to what extend a product communicates to others who that user is or wants to be, and supports a user to express him- or herself.
  • Stimulation is about how a product can lead to new insights, pleasant surprises, curiousity and satisfy an urge for personal developments and other skills.
  • Evocation is about to what extend a product facilitates recalling of the past through memory (think photo or souvernir).

User experience is thus not only about the product, but also about the user and the situation. As a designer we cannot design or control the user nor the context of usage. So you cannot design user experience, but you can design forexperience.

In the video Marc elaborates on this interpretion of UX and illustrates it with a few practical examples like the wake up light.

SUMMARY - Introduction to UX by Marc Hassenzahl

UX in software development

UX is only one of the cogs in the wheel that eventually delivers software products into the hands of people. Consequently UX techniques need to integrate into software development processes. These development processes continue to evolve.


Traditional or waterfall software development processes are linear, meaning each stage is finished before the next begins. Waterfall distinguishes five phases as outlined below. User experience professionals typically have a role to play in the requirements analysis, design and test phases. They create deliverables like site maps, mockups, pixel perfect visual designs and user study findings that are signed off and handed over to developers.

Waterfall development process

Waterfall proved to have several shortcomings. In practice many customers don't really know what they want up front. Often several iterations are required to illustrate solutions and choose the right one. Because it is hard to pin down customer needs early on, it becomes very hard to estimate time and costs with any degree of accuracy. Many projects are either late, over budget, or both. According to a study by Harvard Business review, 1 in 6 projects had a cost overrun of 200%, on average, and a schedule overrun of almost 70%. In addition, designs that look realistic on paper often turn out to be ineffective, expensive or ambiguous, thus requiring a redesign. Finally to make all the (paper) designs and specifications for all the various edge cases is very time intensive and frankly inefficient. These UX deliverables are often not updated properly in case of redesigns making it hard to test.


During the 90s software engineers pioneered with different approaches to software development that culminated in the Agile Manifesto in 2001. The main principles are:

  • Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software
  • Welcome changing requirements, even in late development
  • Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months)
  • Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
  • Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
  • Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly

There are different flavours of agile e.g. Extreme ProgrammingSCRUM orKanban. Most of the projects I worked on the last years are agile.

Requirements are typically described in user stories that outline the intended functionality in everyday language. Development works mostly in sprints of 1 or 2 weeks. The team decides which stories will be delivered in the sprint. When the sprint is complete, the functionality can be tested.


Lean (startup) is a method for developing businesses and products first proposed in 2008 by Eric Ries. His overall claim is that if companies invest their time into iteratively building products or services to meet the needs of early customers, they can reduce the market risks and sidestep the need for large amounts of initial project funding and expensive product launches and failures.

Agile and lean UX

UX techniques work differently in the context of agile and lean processes. Since there is no development involved in this course, we will not work agile. It is important however to understand the basics, since you are highly likely to experience this firsthand if you pursue a career in UX.

Teams are tackling incorporation of UX in agile and lean in different ways. Some key differences are:

  • UX designers are part of the development team
  • Most UX time is spend during development, not before
  • UX documentation is as minimal as possible with more focus on interactive and less on paper/pdf
  • Some teams use a sprint-0 to lay the design foundations of the software before development starts
  • Often quick prototypes are made of very specific functionality to evaluate with all stakeholders
  • UX designers prepare and clarify the designs before the sprint starts and complement the user stories
  • Mixed designer/coder roles are emerging that can both design and implement saving time and hand-overs (this is how I often work)

Essentially you see similar techniques as used in waterfall processes with the key differences being the shape of the deliverables, the timing in the project and way of collaboration. In my experience working this way is much more effective, efficient and fun.

Discuss your understanding of User Experience

10 pts due Mon Apr 11

Go to this week's Discussion Board and discuss what User Experience is to you. Instructions are included there.

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