Snapshots of a User Experience Course

In April I attended the User Experience (UX) Intensive course in Amsterdam, hosted by experience design firm Adaptive Path.

One thing I found interesting was the variations of participants’ work focus over the product development process. Some specialize in doing user research whereas others, myself included, cover the whole process from high-level strategy to detailed interaction design.

Looking back on the four intensive days, mixing lectures and hands-on exercises, there are some thoughts I would like to share with you, sticking to topics applicable when developing intranet and company public websites.

Nothing exists in isolation

Design a thing by considering it in its next largest context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, environment in a city plan

Eliel Saarinen – Finnish architect (1873-1950)

This quote came up in the course when covering design strategy. An architect originally stated it, but it can be applied to all design areas, including websites and digital applications.

For instance, lets look at an intranet: it is definitely not used in isolation. It is part of a workflow involving several IT systems and other information channels such as face-to-face meetings. Looking only at Findwise area of expertise: the search function is undeniably an essential part of the website.

Typically, search tries to replicate/mirror the navigational structure of a site. This is reasonable, and good, but surely this relation could go the other way as well – navigation can learn from the dynamics of search and from user search behavior. Navigation and search should be intertwined, rather than being two separate ways of accessing information. Studies show that users are not either searchers or navigators; sometimes users are biased to search and sometimes to click menu items and links. Most of the times users actually combine the two methods when visiting a website. This should be considered when developing a new website – search and the rest of the site should not be developed separately.

Moreover, internal platforms for spreading information and collaboration are typically used in different contexts by different users. An example: The developer use it to up- and download day-to-day work documents whereas the general user mainly view it as a news channel to keep up to date with what is going on in the organization. Yet editors use it to publish information for other employees to access.

In large organizations, applications used by employees are typically owned by different units – units that do not talk to each other. I am convinced that all system owners within an organization have things to learn form each other. After all, they are often serving the same people and might otherwise redo work such as target group analysis. All parts will gain from communicating more across organizational borders.