UX- beyond the instrumental

Traditionally human-computer interaction (HCI) has focused solely the instrumental outcomes of product design such as the achievement of specific behavioral goals. Often disregarding the importance of aesthetics as an important aspect of technology. However, today it is clear that beauty is just as important of an aspect of technology. Just think about the success of Apple products, and how they redefined modern technological design. Beauty clearly goes beyond the instrumental aspects of a product, but is it possible to quantify? Non-instrumental needs relating to product design need to be better understood and defined. For example, ‘how does beauty translate into product quality?’; ‘which design features of a product are linked to which user needs?’; and ‘how do we design for such particular needs?’. 

Emotion and affect

‘I like telephones with designs that are consistent, unique and luxurious’

Modern research has emphasized the enormous role that the affective (emotional) system plays in all of central processes of human decision-making and well-being. Desmet and colleagues have demonstrated the consequences that affective and aesthetic expectations have on evaluations of product prototypes (e.g. cell phones). It is important to note that not everybody will have the same requirements and expectations of product design, however users can be clustered into specific sub-groups. In their study Desmet and colleagues managed to identify two groups of users, and then design phone prototypes that adhered to their expectations and fitted their affective requirements. One group preferred an exciting phone (high psychological arousal) while others preferred a calming phone (low psychological arousal).


concern phones
Example concern profile from Desmet et al. (2007) demonstrating the affective component of design attitudes of users.

What does this mean for UX research? Firstly, we must understand the importance of emotions as a consequence of product use and introduce measurements of affective states of users by means of physiological and psychometric methods. Secondly, we must identify the importance of emotions as antecedents of use and evaluative judgments and incorporate their influence into our research designs, when trying to extrapolate ‘dry‘ design judgments.

UX research must stress the importance of emotions as a consequence of product use by introducing measurements of affective states of users and identifying the importance of emotions as antecedents of evaluative judgments by incorporate their influence into research designs.

The experiential

Another important factor of technology is that it is not independent of the context in which it is used. The aspects of situatedness and temporality are hugely important to UX research. User experience is always a combinations of various elements, such as the product itself, but also the internal states of the user (mood, active goals). All of which change and evolve over time. The experiential perspective assumes that of these elements are interrelated, interacting with and modifying each other. The outcome of this process is the actual experience. From this perspective UX needs to be engaging and memorable where all users are captivated across all relevant touch points.

Facets of UX

The facets of User Experience (Image taken from Hassenzahl & Tractinsky, 2006)

The experience of use is a consequence of not only the characteristics of the designed system, but also the user’s internal states, needs, motivations and predispositions.

Conclusion

Thinking about UX, we must think about technology that not only fulfills the instrumental needs of users but also acknowledges use as a subjective, situated and dynamic process. The experience of use is a consequence of not only the characteristics of the designed system, but also the user’s internal states, needs, motivations and predispositions. These two factors interact with one another in an dynamic context that changes depending on the situation. Being able to quickly write an email on our phone, while being slightly agitated due to the train being delayed will be quite a different experience to performing the same action calmly from the comfort of our own home. Obviously, being able to fully understand and research these interactions is no small feat. However, with carefully designed and executed multi factor research designs UX research can come one step closer to really understanding our users’ needs.

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