User Experience, Poststructuralism and Phenomenology: Exploring the User’s World

I think that it would be interesting to explore the theoretical ramification of an interpretation of the notion of user experience from a ‘radically’ poststructuralist point of view, that would put the emphasis not only on the subjective experience of users of interactive systems, but also on the subjective experience of the people who actually design and build them.

More precisely, how can we extract design principles from an acknowledgment of the central role of an individual’s values, prejudices and pre-existing ‘mental constructs’ (which are themselves constituted by and through his or her interaction with these particular ‘discourses’ that are interactive systems) in shaping the way he or she experiences the world? 

One could argue that the particular ‘filter’ constituted by a user’s assimilation of his or her own culture, values and previous experiences directly shapes what they will ‘experience’ in the framework of their interaction with the system. What does this mean in regards to design? Orientating the discussion around the notion of meaning, and borrowing concepts from social phenomenology and poststructuralism may provide us with interesting points that deserve to be explored.

What constitutes what the user ‘knows’ about using interactive systems?

This is a tricky question for a few reason. First, there are as many experiences as there are users. Each will ‘experience’ your interface differently according to numerous factors such as the number of website they’ve been using. In other words, the meaning of the various ‘texts’ that compose an interface, far from being an objective property of these only emerges through the interaction between it and a particular user. The problem then becomes about creating interactions whose meanings are as obvious as possible for our users. But how can we know that?

Can we experience ‘what it feels’ to be a user?

According to what we have seen so far, this appears rather difficult. Only by using appropriate methods of investigation can we approach an understanding of the way users attach meaning to the interfaces we build: This is where borrowing tried and tested data analysis from the social sciences seems to make sense. Indeed, even though various qualitative data collection and analysis methods such as ethnography or grounded theory can be applied to the design of interactive systems, it appears rather important to acknowledge their theoretical and epistemological bases. Only by making full use of the theoretical framework of qualitative data analysis methods such as grounded theory, discourse analysis or ethnography can we obtain the tools, the concepts that will allow us to ‘think’ interactive systems and the way users experience these.


Although I originally planned to only write a small article, this one became rather extensive as I derived into advocating the adoption of the theoretical standpoint on which qualitative data analysis methods such as grounded theory, ethnography or discourse are built. Thus, I would argue that making use of the concepts provided by social and psychological theory to understand how meaning is produced through the design and the use of interactive system could allow us to infer useful guidelines that could help us create better interactive systems!