Dave Allen

A UX moment while walking the dog

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UX Digital Analog

I have been walking my dog along a four mile circuitous route for about three years. It’s a route that takes in peaceful and narrow leafy streets and two major traffic junctions that require careful navigation, and then it returns to a somewhat-peaceful and shaded mile until heading up to a third junction – the one you see in the photos above. More on that later.

On today’s walk I was mulling User Experience (UX), and the most likely reason was because I’d been pondering an odd ‘mini spat’ between Brian Solis, a social media expert, and Whitney Hess, a UX thinker and strategist (Whitney carried the day, I thought..) Mr Solis had written an article in Fast Company titled User experience the Don Draper way, in fact I believe it was one of a three-part series, where he had left the fairly safe confines of his social media and business book writing world, and appeared to quickly get out of his depth by having an opinion about User Experience; the subtitle of his first article was “User experience is a priority that should, in some way, find a home within the design of any new-media strategy.”

Two things: I don’t understand that subtitle. And I am not an expert in UX. Yet, after 18 years of working in and around the web, with roughly 30% of my time being simply a user, I can safely say I know a broken website or app when I come across one. I mean who could ever not know that Richard Branson’s Project ‘magazine’ iPad app was so badly designed that it came with instructions?

To be fair to Mr Solis, his subtitle, by including the phrase “in some way,” perhaps underscores an unwillingness on his part to completely take on the difficult world of user experience. And to be honest, even writing about the subject here has me sensing a certain amount of my own trepidation.

UX is a huge field, and those who work in it understand that it requires teamwork to get it right. Rather sadly, the terms UX, UI and IA are often used in buzz phrases where they become buried in jargon along the same lines as the overuse of the term “digital strategist.” At SXSW last week, I heard those terms being bandied about constantly and it made me wonder how many people were using them in the correct context, and how many were using them out of simple insecurity, rather like name dropping. Either way, with so many advertising people at the conference this year, hearing that banter only added to my sense of “creeping digitalism.”

So, I decided to do some barely-scratching-the-surface research in the field.

After digging around online for some coherent and decisive descriptions of what UX entails, I came to the conclusion that any single ‘UX designer’ would have to be a polymath! Take a look at this from Wikipedia:

User experience design (UXD) is a subset of the field of experience design that pertains to the creation of the architecture and interaction models that affect user experience of a device or system. The scope of the field is directed at affecting “all aspects of the user’s interaction with the product: how it is perceived, learned, and used.” [Link]

And this:

User experience (UX) is the way a person feels about using a product, system or service. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership, but it also includes a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s feelings and thoughts about the system. User experience is dynamic, because it changes over time as the circumstances change. [Link]

We can therefore posit that everything we use in daily life, be it analog or digital, can be considered strategized, architected, designed, built and produced by a team of experienced people – because the sum total of everything we do is UX. Therefore, using the term ‘UX Designer’ to describe a person or their role is surely an oxymoron. And yet the waters are muddy. Here’s a rather uncertain self-description from someone who works in UX/IA.

I’ll leave it at that for now before I bury myself.

Anyway, back to the walk and those pictures above. What you see in the pictures is a traffic and pedestrian interchange that I’ve navigated on every one of our walks. So taking into account that a UX model can be one that pertains to how we navigate and interact with a device or a system, I got to thinking about this particular traffic/pedestrian system.

I came to the conclusion that what we have here is a major UX failure. Not a car driver failure or a pedestrian failure, but a civil-engineering-at-the-city-level system failure. Both pictures are taken form my POV in the middle of the road as I cross toward the 25 MPH sign. I have entered from the left with the blind bend behind me. I can’t see if a vehicle may be coming around that bend therefore its driver will not see me. The traffic cone with the white pole sticking up out of it is a pathetic attempt to stop the last remaining white pole from being demolished. Over the years there have been white stripes painted on that bend, and the installation of dozens of those white poles that are intended to deter drivers from hewing too close to the sidewalk (they inevitably get destroyed,) and speed bumps have been installed. On a road that has a speed limit of 25 MPH.

One has to ask – how much did all of these efforts, over many years, cost? Who knows. But the result from a driver and pedestrian user experience POV is no better today than it ever was. And unlike UX on the web this failure to get it right could result in serious injury or death.

I have a simple UX solution – all-way stop signs. But I’m no expert.


Comments

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  • http://www.north.com/author/dave-allen/ Dave Allen

    Whitney, you are very welcome. It’s a minefield out there, but if I may say so, you’re a great minesweeper! I look forward to reading more of your thoughts. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://whitneyhess.com/blog/ Whitney Hess

    Dave, thanks for your really thoughtful post and kind inclusion of my retort to the Fast Company piece. You are most certainly seeing the world in a new way and that’s incredibly exciting. I thought you might like some of my Photos of the Day which highlight these sorts of fails (and sometimes wins) out in the real world: http://whitneyhess.com/blog/tag/photography/

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future!

  • http://www.paulnobles.com @paulnobles

    Dude! Be glad you are not a UX guy! We deal with this every moment of every day. Why can’t everything be MY way. The (my) world would be so much easier! lol Like you said, it’s super oxymoronic, and ambiguous. I like your point about ti not be specific to tech. Like Social Media, it is not the tech that makes it social media. Both of these are ancient practices… Perhaps it is the tech that makes it ambiguous?