Reconstructing the User Experience

As information architects and information designers we spend a good deal of our time studying the organization of information. We dissect it, study it, and analyze it to discover the underlying structure. We create taxonomies, classifications, and categorizations to map out the relationships. We look for connections among disparate pieces and distinctions between similar pieces. We diagram it, visualize it, and try to give every piece a meaningful and unique name. We create navigation systems and site maps and architectures to capture and represent everything we have learned. We design page layouts, schematics, and wireframes to give everything a place to be seen. We try to put it all back together so that others can find the information more easily.

And often we fail.

Everything is findable, understandable, and logically organized. All of the pieces are there, the labels are meaningful, ambiguity is absent, and the prototype succeeded in testing, but site visitors and customers do not come. We have included everything they asked for, we have made it accessible, and we even made the connections among pieces for them, but they leave before they even get to benefit from our efforts. Our carefully crafted architecture and specially selected nomenclature languish, even though all of our test participants commented about how easy and efficient it was to complete the representative tasks we gave them.

We deconstructed the information to better understand it, but during the reconstruction process we left something out: the user experience. No matter how findable, accessible, or well-named the information is, if it is not wrapped in a desirable user experience, it will languish.

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

User experience is more than information design, visual design, and interaction design. We often use terms such as compelling, immersive, persuasive, and entertaining to describe a user experience, but where in our taxonomies, architectures, and wireframes do we represent these qualities? What color, shape, sound, or logo embodies them? What interface component facilitates them? Capturing and defining user experience is outside of any single design effort.

User experience is an emergent property. It arises from a wonderful convergence of good design (information, visual, and interaction), useful and usable information, and the intrinsic desires, needs, or motivations of our visitors and customers. To encourage a successful user experience (can we really ever say we create it?), we have to make the visitor or customer want what we offer, to make them feel they need it, and to help them enjoy themselves when they seek and use it.

How do we make information desirable? Not just by making it available, but by making it real. Show people how it connects with their lives, how it is useful and valuable, and how it can help them. When we reconstruct the information and make connections among the pieces, we also need to make connections between the value of the information and their lives and daily experience. We cannot stop at findability and usability. We must strive for desirability, for in the end, is it not our desires that are often the most motivating?