What is “User Experience?”
Future opportunities for designers will come from understanding hidden dimensions of human experience and developing metaphors and rituals that make navigation of life simpler and meaningful.
The term User Experience (UX) has become a buzz word. While the practice. of human computer Interface (HCI) has used domain knowledge from the field of cognitive science to understand and shape human interactions with information, the puzzle of what constitutes “experience” and how to affect experience at deep and meaningful levels continues to remain. an unresolved. topic of investigation. Researchers in cognitive science field have traditionally treated cognition as a information processing phenomenon and considered human emotions a nuisance variable in empirical study of human experience.
In his 1994 book “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain,” neurologist António Damásio cautioned against undue reliance on the rational mind by proposing that rationality requires emotional input. He argued that René Descartes’ “error” was the dualist separation of mind and body, rationality and emotion.
The dictionary definition of emotion as “an impulse to act” has intrigued me from the perspective of a designer interested in shaping people’s behaviors. I wondered why when emotions induce us to act in certain ways, we call it impulsive behavior.
I am also drawn to the idea of “stillness of the mind” — a state often recommended by yoga instructors. It keeps us from being swayed to our emotions by provocations. In essence it helps us counter the impulse to act.
That leads me to wonder: what is the desired balance between giving in to the impulse to act and achieving stillness of the mind? If we want to improve people’s’ lives, if we want to remove injustice, if we want to be creative we must act to disrupt the status quo.
But how do we act in a manner that affects human experience at a deep level without manipulating human emotions? How do we factor in emotions as a positive force rather than a nuisance?
My curiosity for understanding “experience” has taken me beyond the concept of cognition to a variety of theories, ideas and practices in psychology, sociology, anthropology, communication, mythology, magic, yoga, and Native American rituals. I have even considered ideas that scientific communities have held with skepticism. I have read about morphological fields, synesthesia, and memetics as a way to advance my understanding of how we experience experience. Through all these explorations I have realized that mere rational and empirical approaches to understanding experience does not help us access and understand hidden dimensions of human life. While I believe in making a final call for action with rational and critical consideration to various explicit aspects of human behavior, perception, awareness and sensation, I remain interested in hidden dimensions of human experience as well.
While objectivity/ rationality and critical thinking are considered foundations of scientific discoveries and inventions, many aspects of human consciousness, awareness and behavior are influenced by implicit information that is not accessible to the conscious mind through either rational and critical thinking or observation.
What should then be the framework for understanding human experience and for guiding action for change?
I find metaphors a powerful concepts in understanding human experience. Language is central to human experience. Metaphors prevalent in the language we think or speak in are central to how we make sense of our surroundings. Metaphors help us draw meaning from all the information surrounding us — both explicit and implicit. Metaphors are drawn from our lived experiences: they draw upon our perceptions and sensations, upon our memories and our dreams. In essence, metaphors are the most accessible aspect of human experience that reference hidden dimensions of our experiences and lend themselves very well to the design of meaningful interactions.
I consider myself an atheist. God was never a part of my curiosity. However, exposure to literature in anthropology, sociology and communication has piqued my interest in God as a metaphor. I no longer challenge believers and have a greater appreciation for their reliance on God as a metaphor for coping with the uncertainties, complexities, unpredictability and frustrations of life. I have a greater understanding of rituals in tribal cultures. However, this appreciation also makes me watchful of those individuals and institutions who exploit people’s vulnerabilities by propagating superstitions.
I am interested in discovering and using emerging metaphors in collective imagination. I am interested in designing contemporary rituals that help cope with the growing complexities of life with technology and information overload. Future opportunities for designers will come from understanding hidden dimensions of human experience and developing metaphors and rituals that make navigation of life simpler and meaningful.