There are many roles in advertising. Some of these roles are straightforward: a copywriter writes copy, an art director directs the art for ads, etc. Some titles are more abstracted from their work, even if their job is vital in the agency model. Advertising and technology are industries notorious for jargon, so when you combine the two you usually get something with the words Technologist, Information, User, and Interface. So when I try to explain what I’m studying at Brandcenter, a name for the field I'm studying in advertising can be tricky.
The first day at Brandcenter, a professor explained the field of ‘Experience Design’, by posing that people interact with brands through experience, and that if an experience is designed with an intent to effect a certain outcome, then it is by definition, by design. By this explanation alone I knew I was in the right place. I’m studying to be a User Experience Designer.
UX, UI, and Other Things That Start With U
I finished reading Jesse James Grant’s User Experience book this weekend. There are too many takeaways to write about, so I thought I’d try to summarize his model of thinking about the user experience.
Grant presents a layered model of user experience. If you, like me, think that last sentence sounds like academic jargon and borders on esoteric, then I have some metaphors to explain the layered model that helped me.
The first is the way our iPhones and iPads interface with their users. I think this shot from Apples iOS 7 Keynote demonstrated this idea of layering in the most easy to understand way:
A good digital analogy for contextual layers is Photoshop layers. For those who know how layers work in photoshop or Pages, this model works much the same. A good real world analogy is staging for a musical or play. The audience sees the whole stage as a single picture and experience, yet the actors, technicians, and directors producing the show have actually used many layers of set-dressing, costumes, and planning to achieve what the audience sees.
The Layers of UX, understood.
So what are the layers of User Experience? Surface, Skeleton, Structure, Scope, and Strategy. These terms are specific and accurate, but they sound like business speak to me when read one after the other with no context. So, I reflected on what each process represented and came up with a name for each one myself. My titles are far less accurate but they represent the mental model of the process as I understand it.
The strategy phase is when you decide what objectives your product will eventually meet, these are REASONS you are doing making the experience in the first place. The book correctly points out that starting with 'surface' level stuff and then work back to the rationale will probably make your experience suck, because it doesn’t have a 'reasons' to exist.
The scope phase is when you decide how broadly you want to address your strategy. I call this the YES:NO RATIO, because when it’s important to know when you will say ‘yes, it’s for that’ or ‘no, it’s not really for that’ to your users. If you do this part right, you have a good idea of what your ideal experience will be, and perhaps more importantly, what it will not be.
The structure phrase moves the process away from the philosophical and into the practical. I like to think of this step like unpacking into a new house, you have all your stuff with you, but you find yourself holding a piece of it and asking WHERE DOES THIS GO? This step moves the product out of the idealized space and begins to make it tangible to those producing it.
The skeleton phase asks the produces to BUILD their product. Minimum Viable Product, the bare bones, a draft of the work. Move the product into the physical world completely.
The surface phase focuses on the interface and represent the FIGHT FOR THE USER. It’s how people will see and come to view the product. This is the easiest layer to understand because it’s the layer people will see.
Let The Experience Speak For Itself
It’s important to note that most people think of User Experience as simply one layer. Someone who sees a picture that has been edited in Photoshop doesn’t necessarily know that the image was created using Photoshop, because they just see a single image. Notice that the users are not particularly worried about anything but for the surface level. People seeing a broadway musical don’t particularly care about the processes that developed the show as they do the show itself. The actors don’t start the show by explaining how much rehearsal time they had or how much the sets cost, they let the experience speak for itself.
One of the more brash lessons I’ve taken from my first weeks at Brandcenter is that, in the words of my professor, “Your motivations don’t matter. No one cares if you tried hard on something that sucks, they care if the thing they are looking at is good or not. You are not considered.”
Thus, good user experience is always going to be contextual because it has to be good to the end-user. And now I find that I, like Tron before me, get to fight for the user.
Nerd Achievement Unlocked!