Thoughts about working with Use Qualities
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Maybe we need to talk a little about different “methods” (it is very diffuse what we can define as methods) to create more user friendly sites, not usability but quality in use (I know, fancy stuff right here). We can talk about conversions, how many clicks does a 2D button generate vs. a 3D button (a 3D button almost has 400% better conversion rate, did you know? reference will come)? Which visual elements speak to the user’s cognitive system in the best way? How does interaction designer enhance depth learning and so on? But right now I really don’t want to focus on those things. Right now I want to talk a little about more theoretical things.

Use Qualities in digital Design, you can use them doing a UX review or you can use them as a mind tool or framework to create better user experience conditions. I’m talking about Löwgren and Stoltermans Use Qualities. Which they talk about in the book “Design av informationsteknik”. Before saying anything more I know this book has gotten a little critique for being too theoretical, and too academic, even might be a little non-realistic to the real world. And yes, it is a little boring the first time you read it, if you read it without a purpose (which you do most of the time when forcing yourself through school literature), but when looking for something more specific it is actually a quite rewarding book. But something that stuck with me, are the use qualities. You can see the Use Qualities as “characteristics” which a system/web-site or products would benefit from having, which might lead to a better User Experience. But the authors are very strict to point out that every project is unique, and these Use Qualities can not without critique be inherent to all projects. I think what they want to say is that you as an Interaction designer needs to use your common sense, to see which use qualities the project you’re working on can benefit from, and if working with Use Qualities is the best “method” for the project at hand.

Löwgren and Stolterman divide the use qualities into four main groups.

Motivation (has to do with the users motive and motivation to use the product): This groups consist of four Use Qualities which are Playability, Seductivity, Anticipation and Relevance/usefulness.

Interaction (has to do with interaction between user and artefact): Fluency, Autonomy, Pliability, Immersion.

Social Outcomes (has to do with social outcomes of using the product): Identity, Actability, Flexibility.

Structural Qualities (has to do with engineering qualities): Efficiency, Transparency, Elegance, Eunctional minimalism

Distancing (creating distance between user and artefact, mostly used in the field of critical design): Surprise, Parafunctionality. 

As a method or mind tool, you do need to invest a little time to read through them all and to actually understand which one can be relevant for your project. And like Löwgren and Stolterman says, you can’t trust them blindly to create the perfect system or product.

What I really like is that they actually cover a lot of important HCI mumbo jumbo Bull shit. It covers the more goal oriented things, taking us back to the first wave HCI. You can find several qualities which helps you think about what to do to enhance User Experience, and they also cover design and visual stand points. But also something which we from time to time forget to talk about, the ethical perspective, the result of social outcomes. Which is something Interaction Designers should consider, at least according to both the Swedish and the international HCI ISO standard (more about that later). And I might not be the most caring and loving person ever, but I do believe it is an important quality, at least reflect about what kind of outcome my product can have, but please, we do not need to become all crazy serious about this, it sort of takes away the fun of working (living).

If you’re using the qualities for a UX review, you can see how many of the qualities you can find and see how they relate to each other, if you take away one of them does that affect another one and so on. But it is not all good, because it is quite a lot of work to try to find different kinds of Use Qualities, but the hardest thing is to analyse which qualities the specific system would benefit from and how to do it.

If you’re not working with a UX review, you instead work on a product of your own from the beginning, then you have the benefit from trying to decide which qualities will be the most important for your product, and how to work with them on your product. But once again, even if the qualities are all pretty straight forward, the hardest part is to decide which one of them your product will benefit working with, and which qualities will work best together.