What is User Experience (UX)?

Comparing a UX to the aforementioned UI and interaction, a UX can be explained by three  characteristics. The first characteristic is its h...

Comparing a UX to the aforementioned UI and interaction, a UX can be explained by three  characteristics. The first characteristic is its holistic nature (Wright et al.2008). For instance, let’s think about the experience of buying and using a mobilephone. When I want to buy a new mobile phone, I research by comparing products’prices and specifications and look up videos and advertisements, and finally I pay avisit to a mobile phone shop to see how the phone actually works and feels. After I buy the phone of my choice, I take it out of the box and turn the power on and start using it to get a better feeling of how it functions. As I use it over the next few days, I am filled with all sorts of thoughts and feelings. The entire process of searching, comparing, buying, and using encompasses how useful I deem my phone to be. In this sense, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has set forth a holistic definition for a UX. ISO defines a UX as the combined  experience of what a user feels, perceives, thinks, and physically and mentally reacts to before and during the use of a product or service (ISO 9241-210:2010). Therefore, a UX encompasses a broad range that not only includes the visual, tactile, and auditory aspect of a system beyond its screen and buttons but also how the actual system functions under an appropriate usage environment or context.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to the broad range that a UX deals with. The advantage is that it contains many elements that firms think are important in influencing actual users. However, due to its broad nature, it is difficult to grasp exactly what UX attempts to convey. There are so many factors to consider that it becomes almost impossible to consider all of them simultaneously. In the end, a UX causes the side effect of a solution to a problem that changes depending on the situation rather than provide a definitive solution that can be applied.

What is User Experience (UX)?


The second characteristic of UX is that its focus is heavily tilted towards the user’s perspective. As indicated in Fig. 1.3, let’s place the user and computer on two ends of a spectrum and see if our  concepts tilt more towards either side. UI tends to shift more towards the computer. For instance, the decision of whether an icon should be blue or yellow cannot be made without a computer screen and
software that have been developed to suit that need. On the other hand, interaction leans relatively more towards the user compared to UI. Interaction is about how a user should manipulate the system, react to it, and in turn how the system should react appropriately while considering the user’s reaction. Interaction, therefore, sits in the middle between user and computer. However, the a UX is completely tilted towards the user. How a user thinks, feels, and behaves is its focal point. Therefore, UX is a subject that is more human-centered compared to UI and interaction. While it is good that a UX is human-centered (since, after all, what and how we experience something is important), there is a disadvantage to this approach. Just as every person has their own likes and preferences, the analysis of a UX is so subjective and soft that the line between what is good and bad has become blurred. For example, a usability test can quickly and fairly accurately determine what color an icon should be that the user clicks on in a swift manner. But when it comes to evaluate whether a user had an enjoyable or a terrible experience it is extremely difficult to objectively determine because this aspect of a UX is heavily subjective. And because the UX places its focus on subjective experience, it becomes a  challenge to use a UX to design industrial systems that require professional knowledge such as a control system for a nuclear power plant or commercial airliners.

The third characteristic of a UX is based on the above two characteristics. Since a UX encompasses a broad range and its effects have a direct influence on users’ experiences, the quality of a UX  possesses a strategic value in the perspective of a firm’s development of a product or service. In the past when HCI was focused on UI and interaction, HCI professionals did not necessarily have to share their opinions with the CEO of a firm. Albeit the importance of UI, it was not a strategically decisive factor in terms of management. Going back to the UI website project I conducted for the media firm which published daily newspapers, I couldn’t help but feel anxious to hear that the CEO himself was coming to see our final results. I was not sure whether the issue of changing the background color of their website to a light gray tone was important enough to explain to the CEO, who was in charge of the long term strategy and overall direction of the firm. But as the concept of UX started to pick up, this perspective started to change. CEOs began to realize that the experience of the user was a crucial aspect that determined the success or failure of firms’ products and possibly the firms themselves. I recently had a chance to meet with the CEO of a major broadcasting network in Korea. We discussed for hours in detail his values and vision for the firm and actual UX strategies that can be implemented for its viewers. To emphasize the point further that CEOs and top-level executives are becoming increasingly interested in UX I give you the sample of Samsung: In November 2013 Samsung Electronics’ stocks started to plunge and ended up falling by 13 % in about a month, that decrease represented about USD 28 billion of market value. One of the reasons given by market analysts and technological experts was that their newly released smartphone did not  provide any new experiences to its users. UX has now become an important topic worth deep and long consideration by top executives.

Important Areas of UX Applications

Due to the strategic importance of UX, it is expanding to diverse fields beyond IT products and services. Let me provide three examples.

Firstly, to experience is important not only during product usage but also during the process of buying a product. The experience during the buying process is considered very important in the field of customer experience (CX). Pine and Gilmore (1988) suggested that the importance of experience during the buying process is very high and emphasized that all forms of economic activity will eventually evolve into the buying and selling of experiences rather than selling mere products or services. A good example of this is the experience that Starbucks provides its consumers. People do not only go to Starbucks to buy coffee beans and a cup of coffee; they go for the Starbucks experience, which is the experience itself of drinking a cup of coffee in the ambience Starbucks provides.

My second example is from the automobile industry. Cars are no longer chunks of metal attached to motors. Recently, Ford revealed their new car models at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas. This may indicate that the automobile has gone through a makeover from a mode of transportation to a digital product with diverse functions. In another example, Korean automobiles have received increasingly positive reviews by consumers recently because their automobiles’ functions and systems are focused on enhancing the driver’s experience. Since the mid 2000’s, Hyundai MN Soft, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motors that produces the Hyundai cars, has been placing priority in providing the best UX in GPS navigation systems designed for the Hyundai cars, so much so that Hyundai MN Soft has changed its name to Total Driver Experience (TDX) while continuing to focus heavily on research and development in the driving experience.

A third application of UX, which can be evidenced in the medical industry, is called patient experience (PX). This field of expertise emphasizes the quality of patients’ experiences while using hospital services. I want to give you a personal example of my experience in a Korean hospital. One day, my son fainted during a physical education class in school. I didn’t know why he had fainted, and I had no clue to which hospital department I needed to go. I called a general university hospital at around 10 PM, where I was connected to a consultant (not an automatic response system) who kindly recommended me to the most appropriate department and even made a reservation for me. I was even more impressed the next day when the nurse who was taking care of my son called me and explained that he needed to fast during the morning and that by conducting a few diagnostic procedures before the actual checkup, we wouldn’t have to wait so long. During this experience I felt the strategic importance of a hospital service system and the patient experience and so did my son who thankfully wasn’t badly injured and recovered quickly.

UX and Experience Design

As the importance of UX increases, there is a need to expand the concept of UX beyond IT products. A UX is important for complex products such as automobiles and watches and complex services such as coffee shops and hospital services. Therefore, it’s time we go beyond the limits of UX and start thinking about general human experiences. To support this expansion in perspective, I want to introduce the concept of “design for experience.” This method of thinking provides principles and methods that can provide better experiences for people in diverse circumstances. It doesn’t even necessarily have to involve computing technology. What’s important is the application of that technology to provide a better human experience.

As I introduced to you while explaining the characteristics of UX, the movement of designing and developing a product or service with a focus on experience possesses both advantages and disadvantages. While it’s an advantage that UX deals with fundamental human experiences, it can also act as a trap because the analysis of these experiences can be subjective and deliberate. And while the effects of a well applied holistic experience can be powerful, there are so many complex elements involved that there is a danger of deducing meaningless results. UX has been receiving wide interest among executives as an important strategic issue, but it’s also deemed abstract and hard to grasp tangibly. Therefore, design for experience should head towards maximizing its advantages and minimizing its disadvantages. We can do this by actively applying the many characteristics that make up the human experience. How do we apply these characteristics into design for experience?

Knowing the Human in Human Experience

A person is at the center of an experience, and thus the experience is very personal. Since the experience in design for experience is also very subjective and personal, we need to actively seek out and accept theories in the field of the humanities that cover these issues. Experience in the humanities is covered by western philosophies such as experientialism and eastern philosophies such as Confucianism (Dewey 1934; Li 2006). How can these philosophies benefit design for experience?

Let’s look at an example. I recently planned and coordinated a seminar on eastern philosophy at the university I work at. While planning it, I expected a certain rough amount of people to be interested in attending a seminar on the philosophies of Lao-Tzu, Meng-Tzu, Confucius, and the likes. So I reserved a small lecture hall for the seminar accordingly. But when the online registration site was opened, it filled up within minutes. Immediately, I decided to move the seminar to the university’s largest lecture hall. The seminar was a 14 lecture course, and over a thousand people participated in every lecture. In total, the seminar was attended by more than 10,000 people. Why were so many people interested in humanities when it wasn’t exactly like a K-Pop concert? I surveyed those who attended the seminar and asked them about their interest, and the main reason for their attendance was that they saw it as a perfect opportunity to get to know themselves better. The study of humanities allows us not only to understand ourselves but humans in general. Humanities theories help guide us and deeply understand intrinsic aspects of ourselves such as motivation and desire that cannot be seen in extrinsic phenomena. For example, Steve Jobs was actively engaged in humanities, and had an introspection about the fundamental characteristics of people through them that led him to discover users’ subconscious need to listen to a lot of good quality music while on the go. This led to the creation of the iPod.

Also, the humanities allow us to develop skills for solving existing problems by thinking outside the box away from conventional methods of thinking. One of the most successful emperors in the Roman Empire was Marcus Aurelius who was also a philosopher. He was the last of the Five Good Emperors and was able to lead Rome out of turbulent times. His book, Meditations, is also one of the most widely recommended books for the middle school and high school curricula in Korea. He was not a good archer, and he did not know how to ride a horse well. Instead, he was a very meek and silent emperor who loved reading and writing. During his reign, Rome went through the peak of its golden age where the Germanic tribes did not dare look at Rome as weak. The basis of Aurelius’ success laid in his insight into humanities.

Humanities can provide us with the ability of predicting the future. Because they are based on thousands of years of human history, predictions about the future can be made more probable than by using the weather rock, mentioned earlier, or similar methods that only describe the current state. This is the reason firms such as IBM and GE created departments consisting of humanities scholars to research and predict the future. In Korea, LG Electronics has established a research center called Life Soft Research (LSR) at which many humanities experts and scholars work.

Strategic Thinking for Human Experience

The second characteristic of an experience is that it is “strategic.” Design for experience should, therefore, also possess a strategic implication. It must be able to help make critical decisions for achieving a firm’s ultimate goal under limited resources and an uncertain future. I want to explain two examples related to this.

My first example is the court case between Samsung Electronics and Apple regarding their smartphones. The tech giants sued each other on the basis of patent infringements. In the Korean lawsuit, two of the patents Samsung Electronics claimed Apple infringed was “data categorization technology for distributed transfer” and “technology for informing data transfer mode.” These core telecommunications technologies were ruled in favor of Samsung Electronics, and Apple was order to pay KRW (Korean Won) 20 million (around USD 20,000) per infringed patent.

Meanwhile in the US lawsuit, six claims were ruled in favor of Apple: the bounce back function in the photo gallery that shows the user that there are no more photos to show, the finger pinch interaction that enables users to zoom in and out using their thumb and second finger, the double tap interaction that enables zoom in, the rectangular size of the phone with its rounded edges, the home button and the side buttons, and finally, the grid view layout of the home screen. Samsung had to pay over USD 1 billion, or approximately USD 170 million per infringed patent.

From a quick glance, Samsung’s technology seems more technology centered, while Apple’s patents don’t really seem like technology at all. Regardless, one patent was worth USD 20,000 while the other was worth USD 170 million. What is the reason for such a difference? The answer can be found in Samsung’s response to the rulings. They claim that although the six patents Apple won may seem similar on the outside, the actual development method was completely different. Therefore, Samsung claimed that they did not infringe on Apple’s patents. However, this is the point of the problem. In the eyes of the jury, it wasn’t about how a technology was developed; their experiences of the technology was what mattered. Regardless of the difference in how the technology was developed, it is considered infringement if the experience is similar. Fundamentally, a user’s experience is more important than a method for developing a function. Therefore, providing a new experience to people through a new product or service can be a distinguished business strategy for a firm.

Another example is Philips Ambient Experience for Healthcare (AEH) (Robert 2007). Consider CT and MRI scans. People who have gone through these scans will know well that the sound of the  machine is loud and the appearance of the exterior causes even adults to be psychologically nervous. Think about how children feel about them. Due to these extrinsic tolls, the time to scan children is longer and they therefore get exposed to more radiation as a result; sometimes, children are even anaesthetized to get them through the scans. Philips identified this problem and decided to provide new experiential values to children through a new medical experience program. For example, a large MRI machine is portrayed to children as exploring a new world. Children who are waiting for checkups are provided with an atmosphere that make them feel as if they are members of an expedition force exploring space. They are given space travel passports, the ceilings are decorated with space ships, and the MRI machine is shaped like a rocket heading towards space. Philips was able to alter children’s experience from something that they wanted to avoid to an exploration that they want to actively take part in. The effects of this program was vast. Scan time were reduced by 15–20 %, and the use of anesthetics were reduced by 30–40 %. Furthermore, exposure to radiation was reduced by 25– 50 %. The implication for firms like Phillips’ is that hospitals are paying for these experiences rather than the medical supplies themselves. A new business model was born in the medical industry. This example shows how designing for experience can lead to new business models.

As the two examples above illustrate, if companies design for experience they can create a competitive advantage with their new experiences and make their products distinct from those of their competitors.

A Holistic yet Specific Thinking for Human Experience

An experience is holistic. Therefore, design for experience also has to contain a holistic characteristic. In the past, there were different methodologies for designing physical products, services, and process innovation. Based on their characteristics, methodologies that specifically suited them existed. However, distinguishing between these processes no longer becomes important when the focus shifts to experience because experience is a concept that possesses perception, thinking, emotions, and beliefs, which can be applied generally while using any type of product or
service. Therefore, design for experience must be able to encompass products, services,
and processes.

Simultaneously, design for experience should encompass all of the diverse elements that make up a person’s experience. Let me take a project I conducted for the Korean Government with a mobile data service as an example (Choi et al. 2007). Mobile data service refers to most services on a smartphone other than voice calls. This project attempted to verify if experiencing these services can have a meaningful effect on users’ quality of life. Quality of life is a concept that covers many areas in our lives. For instance, we categorized it into 13 distinct areas: cultural activities, leisure, work, education, shopping, finance, family, friends, social relationships, neighbors, and religion. For this project, we conducted a large scale survey consisting of 3,700 male participants and 2,700 female participants, a total of 6,400 people between the ages of 10 and 60. Before I conducted the survey, I honestly did not expect its results to support our expected results. Mobile data service was fairly young at the time, and I questioned whether a concept as abstract as quality of life could be influenced by a context as specific as a mobile data service. However, the results of the survey were surprising. The impact of mobile data service experience was statistically significant in all areas (with the exception of health) and showed an effect of 55 % with overall life satisfaction. Hence, we were able to find out that a product or service can indeed influence our quality of life. Design for experience should also be applicable to general areas of experience.

However, design for experience can end up becoming a very abstract story if only the holistic aspect of an experience is emphasized. Even the aforementioned strategic and theoretical characteristics of an experience endanger leading design for experience to an abstract concept. Theories like the technology innovation theory may seem to make sense when you hear them, but when it comes to actually applying them to a product or service, it’s hard to grasp where to begin. So in order to prevent such side effects, design for experience needs to provide actual design features by understanding specific experiential elements that can be applied to a product or service. Furthermore, these design features need to be able to specifically explain how and why they influence certain experiences among the entire experience that people go through.

Three Principles of Experience

Let’s try to understand the principles of human experience based on theories on the subject. Experientialism philosopher John Dewey proposed that human experience could be divided into three principles.

The first principle of experience is the principle of interaction. Experience is an interaction between a person (who is the organic subject of an experience) and surrounding environmental elements (which are the objects of experience). Similarly, Valera et al. (1992) claimed that humans constantly accept external stimulation through experience and live life by constantly evaluating and thinking intrinsically. For instance, my iPhone and its diverse usage contexts are the objects of my experience that I interact with. This interaction also contains actions that the human expects to perform on the objects, and also a reaction from the environment based on the initial actions. In other words, interaction is a combination of doing and undergoing. For example, on a hot summer evening, I take out my iPhone from my pant pocket to escape from my boredom as I wait at a bus station for a bus that will take me home. I turn on a podcast, and my iPhone reacts to my command and shows me the relevant contents while my screen brightness adjusts to the surrounding environment. I listen to my podcast to ease my boredom. As I conduct a series of actions and receive feedback on the results of these actions, I go through a special experience. Ultimately, my actions on the iPhone and the corresponding reactions, the other people waiting for the bus standing next to me, and the sounds I hear from my earphones and my surroundings all compile into one singular experience on a hot summer’s evening at the bus station.

The second principle of experience is the principle of continuity. All experiences are influenced by past experiences while influencing experiences to come (Dewey 1938). In other words, human experience is not temporary and sensorily independent; a current experience is connected to prior experiences and future experiences. For example, my experience of listening to my podcasts resulted in me switching to an unlimited LTE (long term evolution) data service. The principle of continuity is not only emphasized in western philosophy but also in oriental philosophy as well. Let’s take a look at the concept of “middle way” proposed by early Bhuddist philosopher Nagarjuna (Walser 2013). The core characteristic of the concept of middle way is that experience actually exists and the flow of time changes people’s experiences, and in turn, the concept of experience changes as well. For instance, the sequence of me getting out of my house to drive to the lab in the morning and then drive back home in the evening is an actual experience that exists. However, the way I interpret my experiences may differ. If I had gone through a very busy schedule for the day, then my drive back home seems quite relaxing, while if I found out later that I had passed through a red light on the way home, the way I would interpret that day could be quite different. People live in a world full of memories about individual past experiences; these individual experiences play the role of producing more events (Dewey 1929). It is these past experiences, present experiences, and future experiences that come together to form my life (Walser 2013).

The third principle of experience is the principle of growth. Human experience does not simply connect from past to present to future; during this process, experience is constantly reorganized and developed. Development in this context means that a certain experience is not completed at some moment; it is a constant development towards the future that continues until the subject of the experience no longer exists into being. Therefore, life is development, and development is decided based on what we experience. It’s been exactly 20 years since I became a university professor. One year is comprised of two semesters, and each semester consists of 16 weeks. Since, I’ve taught an  average of three subjects per semester, I’ve spent an approximate total of 640 weeks with students. Each time I prepare for a course and converse with students during a lecture, I realize things I never knew and I feel like this aggregates inside me. During the 640 weeks I spent in lectures, my experience as a university professor built up and has developed my life. James Williams, a philosopher of experience, claimed that only by experience can we explain what we know and how we act, and elements other than experience must not intervene (James 1902, p. 540). His view is that the experiences we go through in life overlap and aggregate to ultimately shape our lives (1902). In other words, everything we experience becomes a part of our lives. Our experiences enable us to build up knowledge, and all knowledge is based on experience (March 2010). Even what we have not personally experienced, when imagined, becomes influenced by our past experiences. Past experiences acts as a resource required for imagination to take place. Ultimately, diverse experiences cause our imaginations to flourish (Root-Bernstein and Root-Bernstein 2013). Through experience, we imagine, think, learn, and live.

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