Common misunderstandings, corrected

Let me start by making this clear: I am not berating anyone – I sincerely hope you won’t feel attacked and have to defend yourself, this is not, in any way, an accusation. Really, it isn’t, and it’s important you believe me.

Because what I am about to say is kind-of important, if by “kind-of”, one means “very”, and trying to address it often bounces off because it seems to many to be a form of snark or insult, which is why I keep stressing: it really, REALLY isn’t.

 It’s just that, because the field of user experience and understanding is rather ill-defined (which I am trying to help change around here, as you can see), some unfortunate misunderstandings about it exist. 

Here’s three of them.

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the glass of soda has a user experience attached to it just as well as that smartphone does…

Number 1. – User Experience is only part of website and program interface design – it’s a digital thing

Obviously, this is not right – if you use something, anything, you’re a user. You use your car, your can opener, the supermarket, a pair of shoes, a pen and a credit card – you’re the user of all those things and countless more. Likewise, an experience is litterally everything you do. Even in your sleep you experience something. It’s what we human beings do.

In other words, you are constantly having a user experience, not just when you use an app or read this blog, but absolutely always. This also means that in designing anything at all, you can meaningfully address the issue of the user experience. 

I bring this one up because it causes people without interest in computers or digital to zone out and close their ears when they hear the phrase “user experience”, not because they’re impolite, but because they think it isn’t relevant to them. 

It is.

Number 2. it’s a question of data

I touched briefly on this in my article about Big Data vs. User Experience – the idea that with enough data we will know everything we need to know about our users, and can create our products and services to their needs in a 1:1 relationship.

Let’s leave aside for the moment the technical questions (like the fact that it may not be possible to handle data fields that big without artificial intelligence, which we can’t yet create) and, instead, ask  if we think for a moment that grabbing all the bits and bobs of registered activity – that is, social media, email, shopping habits, GPS location etc. – out of cyberspace and stitching them together will create an accurate, or even meaningful, representation of a person?


I don’t think we think it about ourselves, and if I can’t be decoded that way, what would make me think anyone else can?

There really is such a thing as the human factor, and there’s nothing mysterious about it – it’s just not readily available to computing tools. It is, however, readily available to one of the main tools used by us UX peeps: Empathy.

I’ll be getting back to that in another article. Update: The empathy article is up – here it is.

Number 3. it’s a matter of taste

“People are just real different, you know? And wasn’t it Henry Ford that said something about if he’d asked what people wanted they’d have said ‘a faster horse’? So we couldn’t create a user experience that would suit every one of our users, they all want different things anyway”.

Yeah, they do, but the thing is, just like your aesthetic considerations – touch, color, smell, shape etc. – are crucially important to the success of your product or service, and you therefore devote lots of time and resources to them to get it just right for your target demographic – well, that’s just what we do with Customer/User Experience, too.

Just like if you want to make a watchband out of silicone but you’re not a silicone expert, or you want to build a silver champagne stand but your metallurgic skills are sub-par, you seek out an expert and work with him, harnessing his skills in order to produce the product just the way it should be.

In the same way you would bring in someone like me to help you make sure your design, project or product has the impact on your target users that you want it to have. 

 Also, turns out Henry Ford probably never said that.