An Event Apart: Dimensions of Good Experience

by Luke Wroblewski December 11, 2011

In her The Dimensions of a Good Experience presentation at An Event Apart in San Francisco, CA 2011 Alexa Andrezejewski shared ten principles from urban design that provided unique lenses for evaluating and thinking about mobile & Web user experience designs. Here are my notes from her talk:

  • Principles from urban design can give us new ways of looking at our mobile and Web designs.
  • We know how to evaluate the usability of products but how do we evaluate experiences? Response time can only tell us so much.
  • We tend to blame ourselves when things go wrong. There are no stupid people. There are just stupid interaction designers.
  • Kevin Lynch’s Good City Form explored what makes a city experience good. There’s a lot more to the experience of cites beyond parking space sizes. Cities are shaped by values. How is the form a reflection of those values?
  • We can use a similar language for describing experiences.
  • 1: Sense of Meaning. Does it tell a story? How is the form a reflection of values? Can people read the environment? Cues in the environment can communicate meaning. There’s a lot meaning in the way Japanese signs are structured. This enables you to read the environment. What story are we trying to tell in our information architecture through its structural design?
  • 2: Sense of Place. Does it leave an impression on the senses? Is it memorable? Create a place that's accessible to your senses. Sensory experiences are memorable ones. What story do you want to tell and how can you use the language of design to reinforce that story? Show an unfamiliar user a home page and ask if they understand the value of the service –how well are you communicating?
  • How memorable is a place? The more accessible a place is to your memory, the more likely you are to remember it. Does it leave an impression? Copy, video, images, and text can create a really memorable site that people remember it.
  • This helps to attract a different kind of user (through the design). Focus on key moments in the experience that you want to be memorable. What should people remember?
  • 3: Sense of Structure. Can you wrap your mind around the structure? Does the design yield accurate mental maps? Can you sense how a place fits together. When things fit together, you feel in control and the sense of place is integrated.
  • Look at a single screen of your product in isolation and see how it fits into the bigger picture. Are there visual queues that can orient you? You can ask people to sketch out a map of how things are structured.
  • 4: Sense of Unfolding. Does it get better the more you explore? Is the first time experience tempered so as not to be overwhelming? We want places and their meaning unveiled to us over time. A good place is one that gets better as you go.
  • What’s the number on thing you want people to do the first time? How can you leave them wanting more? What’s the second, third things etc. Can you unlock features as you explore an app?
  • 5: Sense of Transparency. Can you see signs of life on the inside from the outside? Not an absolute goal as different communities value different amounts of transparency. Knowing what a particular audience wants is key to designing for them. People learn from each other.
  • What kind of activities do you want users to engage in? Are people able to learn by example? Can people help each other learn how to use things?
  • 6: Fit. Does the design of a place anticipate and facilitate people’s desired actions so seamlessly that it makes you feel competent and smart? When you encounter a place like this, you tend to remember it.
  • It is easier to find signs of a bad fit then a good fit. Observe user behavior and ask users questions: is there any evidence of misfit? Where are people abandoning?
  • 7: Adaptability. Can users modify or adapt the structure to increase fit? Build things to be open-ended then learn from real behaviors. Observe what your users are doing, they learn from their adaptations. Can you support them? See how they adapt your site to what they want.
  • 8: Access. How much and what range of choices are presented to a user at any given time? Is it too many or too few? Look where people are presented with an array of choices –are there any places you can take choices away? A/B test to see if you can take away choices and see how behavior changes.
  • 9: Responsibility. Do the users of a place feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the experience? You can engage your users to help manage content. Holding people accountable to their real names and identities can help encourage good behavior. How can you increase people’s sense of responsibility?
  • 10: Certainty. Can people trust in the systems of control? Does the environment act in predictable ways? Especially when they are not in control. Reassure people and make them feel confident. Examine anxiety creating moments and make sure you are reassuring them can go a long way.
  • Choose one of these ten lenses and examine the experience you are creating through that lens. Look through transparency, fit, etc. By doing so you can make things better for users.