Elements of user experience

This entry is basically notes I took while reading from Jesse James Garrett’s book Elements of User Experience.We all know Jesse as the guy that gaves us the most inaccurate accronym in all of computing history (yes, I am talking about AJAX 🙂 ). However, his book is pretty cool yet some what overly simplistic. Then again, the intended audience is anyone, so that makes the content it very accessible to just about anyone. If I had some rating stars, I would sprinkle 3 or 4 liberally.

Jesse James Garrett defines user experience as “how the product behaves and is used in the real world” (p10). The above definition is interesting because it means that user experience, in a design context, follows form, and we all know that form follows function. That is, understanding how a user experiences an object takes place after a product has been put into a context where people are “realistically” using it. If the user experience takes the form of study to inform the design process, then it forms a feedback loop.

Anyway, Garrett (p22-23) breaks the elements of a user’s experience into 5 planes. These five elements are not concrete elements themselves, but more like logical development methodologies that come together to make a final form. The layers start from abstract ideas, such as the goals and user needs, and which slowly materialise into concrete representations as some sort of a user interface:

  • The surface plane: presentational elements of a design
  • The skeleton plane: the logical organisational structure of elements within the design
  • The structure plane: overall logical structure of all the content of a web site and the logical content blocks which are presented to user as they interface with the site
  • The scope plane: the scope of functionality on the site, and the logical tools that allow users access to that functionality
  • The strategy plane: defines the aims and objectives of the site.

Design decisions made at any level ultimately affect the effectiveness of every other level.

Although lacking any historical data, Garrett (p28-29) describes the shift (and continual development) of the web as a publishing medium to an application platform: “Technology continued to advance on both fronts as all kinds of sites made the transition from static collections of information that changed infrequently to dynamic data-driven sites that were constantly evolving.”

Garrett continues by describing a web development community that was divided into two groups: those that approached the web from a software engineering approach, applying knowledge routed in traditional desktop software development. The other group approached the problem from a media distribution/electronic publishing perspective, relying on knowledge from electronic publishing, media distribution models, and information science. He describes this as a problematic duality of sorts, were half view the web as a software interface, and the other half as a hypertext system (p30).

Garrett continues (p31), stating that understanding the web as a software interface means looking at tasks. : “the steps involved in a process and how people think about completing them… we consider the site as a tool, or set of tools that the user employs to accomplish one of more tasks.” However, on the hypertext system side, the problem becomes one that relates to information: “what information the site offers and what it means to our users. Hypertext is about creating an information space that users can move through.”

Garret takes the development methodologies used by each group to refine the five layers listed above. This produces a hybrid development methodology where the needs of the needs of the business are juxtaposed with the needs of users. On strategy plane, we now find user needs and site objectives. For a banking website, for example, users need tools to be able to do their banking on-line, while the bank needs to cut costs of maintaining ATMs by introducing a web-based service.

On the scope layer, we now find functional specification and content requirements. The functional specification is the complete feature set to be used on a website, while content requirements includes what content is required for the site.

On the structure plane we now find information architecture and interaction design. Interaction design refers to “how the system behaves in response to the user” (p32). Information architecture refers to the logical groupings of content so that it makes sense to the user.

On the skeleton layer, we find information design covering both the software and hypertext side, but it is also complimented by interface design and navigational design. Information design refers to “the presentation of information in way that facilitates understanding” (p34). Interface design refers to “arranging interface elements to enable users to interact with the functionality of the system.” And, navigational design refers to “the set of screen elements that allow the user to move through the information architecture.”

Lastly, on the surface plane, Garrett puts visual design, what he defines as “the look of the finished product.” (all quotes are from p33-4)

To summarise, elements fall into either software interface (SI) or hypertext systems (HS) discourses, or on both sides (BS):

  • Surface
    • Visual design (BS)
  • Skeleton
    • Information design (BS)
    • Interaction design (SI)
    • Navigational design (HS)
  • Structure
    • Interaction design (SI)
    • Information architecture (HS)
  • Scope
    • Functional specifications (SI)
    • Content requirements (HS)
  • Strategy
    • User Needs (BS)
    • Site Objectives (BS)

In practice, the expertise from each field becomes the goal of each layer. Each layer is a goal, not finished one at a time, but done relative to each other. The lower levels have a higher priority in the creating cycle, because they are the foundation and ultimately determine the form of the system.

The strategy plane

“the foundation of a successful user experience is a clearly articulated strategy” (p39).

Site objectives – what does the business want to get from the website (p41)

Business goals

Bran identity – as is relates to the political agenda in the communication process (p42)

Suceess metrics – what tools are used to measure the successful implementation of the site objectives and user user needs. “Concrete indicators how effectively the user experience is meeting the strategic goals.(p44)”

User needs – what do the users need from the website

User segmentation – used to identify different user groups (p47)

Demographics: age, gender, education level,

Psychographic “profiles descbbe the attidudes and perceptions that your users have about the world or agbout the subject matter of your site in aprticular.” (p47)

One thought on “Elements of user experience”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *