Building a foundation based on User experience
It’s not really about redefining what User Experience means as a job title, is more about widening it. I watch series such as Netflix Abstract and Chef’s table, series that romanticise the madness behind artistic work, the effort some people put down in what they do, the almost manic behaviours that drive some of these people to push their work and passion to the limit. What fascinates me is not the show per se, it’s more about comparing processes.
You might think as a UX-designer or interaction designer I find the most inspiration from graphic designers or something more hands on and artistic, but what I’m always drawn to are all kinds of processes, from creating houses, architects, engineers and sometimes industrial designers. I get it, I’m not alone thinking about it this way. But it’s fascinating studying how certain physical products come to life, especially houses. Houses have always fascinated me, I don’t know much about architecture or architects and I don’t know much about building one, but I’m drawn to it. So what about UX-architects (not digital architects)?
So in my line of work you do interviews with stakeholders, you try as hard as you can to find out what potential users need, I don’t ask them if they need x or y, because I have to let the product or service become what it needs to be. So doing observations is always so much more rewarding than regular interviews. People tend to tell you what they think you want to hear, but observing people in their natural habitat is a much more honest way to understand their needs.
So back to houses. If I’m ever building a house I would like the process to be something like this.
Context is key, UX-design as it is today context is the key aspect to create a relevant product. Understand the surroundings, not only geographical, take your time to explore tricky variables which can be devastating for the end result of your product.
I have never had a specific house in mind, I know what I like, but it is more important to build something relevant, functional and contextual “accurate”.
Let’s say I start with buying a plot in a place like Gotland, an island east of the mainland in Sweden, also a place I know fairly well because I grew up there. The flat environment invites harsh winds to cover the island at all seasons and the ground is filled with lime-stone which creates other difficulties, which I know nothing about.
An observation of the plot should probably be preferable to understand pro’s and con’s with the ground. I like the idea of building with nature and not against it, instead of removing a rocky ground maybe one can build with it instead. Taking advantage of the harsh winds, the sunny summers on Gotland to create a more sustainable home, and probably a more satisfying home.
So, how to collect the data needed for a deeper contextual understanding. One needs to spend some time at the plot to get an understanding for it. You can predict where the sun is gonna be, but there are always variables that’s gonna surprise you. Unlike digital products an agile process is a little harder to implement, when the foundation is set it is set. You can of course move in and make adjustments to suit your needs after time, but you can’t really move the entire kitchen just because it is too far from the outdoor area, which you had to move because the winds made it impossible to sit there, can you? I would almost like it to be observed for a year, what happens to the plot over seasons. And don’t forget to collect data from neighbours and potential former owners of the plot and so on.
When you understand the context you need to understand me (me, me me, maybe us). I would like to be observed. I’m not sure how much time would be needed to make a legit conclusion over my living habits, but maybe 4 weeks. I can tell you what I like, but I want the person who is building my house to understand me for real.
So I like to cook, but how do I move around in the kitchen? They’re probably generic behaviours and patterns, but I want this to be individual thought through. I like it clean and tidy, I think there is a place for everything, so build me something that enables it for me. Which rooms need to be close to each other to suit my specific living patterns? I like bikes and biking but I’m also allergic to dirty floors (I’m literally allergic to dust), maybe make a room for me where I can easily store gear and outdoor cloth so I don’t drag in unwanted stuff where it’s not supposed to be. I also don’t like design details without function, so please don’t do that, please get to know me before I invest all the money I got and a little more. This is a place where I will spend most of my time so function over form for me.
So maybe it’s not only us (ux designers who develop digital products and services) who can be inspired by older professions, maybe they can take a look at us too.
I don’t know much about processes for architects and maybe this is ridiculous, I just think, building a house is one of the biggest investments in your life. Not getting it right is not an option.
It is good to let a product grow organically, I mean after the demand of the users. It is harder when it comes to houses I get that, but what if we could get closer to it. A house so flexible that the building processes can be as agile as producing a digital product. Let it evolve after my needs and always stay relevant. People come and go, people change and living situation changes, in the future we’re probably getting more modular houses. I don’t know, but I think this might be the foundation of UX in the future.