User experiences that let relationships happen
“An event or occurrence which leaves an impression on someone.”
Merriam-Webster list this definition of the word “experience” on the fourth number. I resorted to definition as a last chance as I couldn’t get myself to find a proper way to start a subject that has become a center-stage of our lives. Its easy yet perplexing to imagine how our lives have shifted from solving problems to providing relevant experiences as designers.
I mean no offence, we did care about the aesthetic of the object even after being the helvetica-generation and we have rediscovered the love of beauty with brains as Flat 3.0 but it wasn’t of this paramount value before in our history.
As creators, we did care about making products that masses can use easily. But this age of using cookies so you can remember the habits of the returning user in order to facilitate the purchasing process, or discussing whether the software should say “Your Playlist” or “My Playlist” or just “Playlist”, is a relatively new phenomena. We cared about the form from the start of mass production but now, as designers, this is about the ergonomics of the mind.
The psychology of user and the tricks of the mind that emerge are directing our usability patterns so much so that we are putting forward new design systems every few years be it Material by Google or Fluent by Microsoft. We have transcended from catering variable widths of screens to catering variable widths of the human mind and this holds uncertainty and excitement in ways we never imagined.
User experience. This word is being on the verge of breaking apart and it has already in certain ways. A common word of a dictionary can hold different meanings and the context in which it is used helps identify which meaning it wants to project. This doesn’t happen for knowledge fields. Fields break apart and form new branches. From Science to Biology to Nano-biology to Quantum biology, our knowledge produces newer and newer off-springs that teleport from neutron to neuron to nebula.
We expand our conscious to strange dimension and then feel helpless when trying to absorb it all after overcoming the Dunning-Kruger effect. The word is thankfully being broken into new ones i.e user research, information architecture, content strategy, interaction design, visual design and others.
We form a relationship with everyone and everything we are presented with. It can be temporary or permanent, cohesive or repulsive, but as long our brains are given input regarding them, we juggle our minds to understand them and form a connection. If this relationship is like we want it to go, its called pleasant and if its not its unpleasant. The key thing is understanding they are never neutral or symmetric and I borrow the thoughts from Alvin Lustig who once said:
“Design is a form of justice between men and material. If this moral tone is offensive to some, remember that design is concerned with relationships and relationships are always good or bad, never neutral”.
When we hold an object or when we use an interface, a dialogue happens, that dialogue is not one way. Its both ways and its never linear. The object feels your gravitational force, electrical and magnetic field, temperature, voice and other transferable physicality. And you utilize your five senses to take an impression of that object. The interface can responds to your movements on screen, the sounds you are producing, your gaze and many other. In return you can use the interface. This dialogue leads to an experience between the object and subject. There is always a goal involved in this interactive phenomena from both sides. The subject wants to fulfill a need whether its transportation from one place to another, or sending an email or even calling mom, and the object wants to help the subject in its goal. Cars, email services and smartphones let us achieve these goals on daily basis.
A experience is born when a dialogue between object and subject happens. If the subject wishes to perform a goal using an object, we call this dialogue user experience.
The quality of user experience depends on how the goals of the subject were met. As the dialogue happens over and over again a relationship is formed and that’s what experiences are all about, forming relationships.
When you walk into an Apple store, you feel a certain different way. When you walk into your the old house you lived in, you feel a certain way. This feeling arises from your relationship between those environments and that relationship depends on the experiences you had.
Our interfaces are not simply objects of use, they are dialogues happening in real-time.
If we don’t closely monitor the tone and result of those conversations, we are missing an immensely valuable opportunity: the opportunity to form relationships.
These relationships transcend from our logical brains to our emotional brains and that’s why we see people loving their 5 year old chair more than the new one right beside it. That’s why we love our parents no matter how annoying they are. We are attached to them emotionally and this is not a new thing for businesses or objects. Brands spend billions of dollars forming these exact emotional connections between product and the user. When you use iOS, there is a different emotional connection than when you use Windows which also depends on how you feel about Apple or Microsoft. This, in many ways, is like how you have grown to like your 5 year old chair irrespective of its condition.
Introduction leads to dialogue, dialogue creates experience and experiences form relationship.
It doesn’t matter if the interface was digital or physical, whether it was object to subject or subject to subject. The process remains consistent.
I advocate for a design approach that not only focuses on the usability and aesthetic of this conversation but also facilitates in providing a distinct experience, the one that not only completes the task at hand in a efficient and effortless way but lets users form a connection with it, a connection that can lead to a lasting relationship.
We humans have one life and it is, more than anything, composed of experiences and relationships. As much as our linear structures and flat pixel perfect designs assume, we aren’t robots and we do appreciate the translucent over opaque, dynamic over static and gradation over consistency.
Lets build design that focuses on providing asymmetric and personal experiences that are capable for forming good relationships. For better or worse, we are now a digital specie.
We should help ourselves make the most out of it!