Archives for category: emotion

I’ve been doing quite a bit of usability testing lately, and what I really enjoy about it is how different each person/participant is. It keeps it interesting, because people never react to questions or complete a task in the same way, so I learn something new about the product (and about people) from every test.

Then I came across this post on the ThoughtWorks Studios blog, and I thought, yes! We should be designing for activities, because no two people are ever the same, even if they share the same demographics or career tracks or opinions. The only commonality is in activities and behavior, even if the individual reasons behind the action are distinct.

I also attended a lecture at the NYPL with John Irving the other night, and he shared (sort of) a similar view about writing. He was discussing how he was shaped at a young age by reading Dickens’ David Copperfield and how it questioned why adulthood was boring and dull and nothing to look forward to, and that one of the reasons he was drawn to writing (and I’m paraphrasing here) was that “people never said or showed or revealed enough.”

In a way it’s similar to user research. The people I interview never reveal enough. There could always be more, one more tidbit to explain their perspective, their experience. I’m fascinated by how they think and act and then explain those thoughts and actions to me during a test session, because the answer — what varies (the variable y!) — is never what I expect.

Maybe that’s why I like writing, too. I just want to know “why” (y).

After my last post about neural networks and movie sales predictors, I looked up the original New Yorker article. Gladwell intros with a quote by philosopher David Hume:

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.”

Then the article contrasts this by laying out the evidence that there DO seem to be some standardized evaluators of what human beings find appealing in music and in movies (and websites?). What about books? The canon of literature?

The High Priestess

The High Priestess card from the popular Rider-Waite Tarot deck represents what we don't know or can't define; in other words, "whitespace".

Visually-speaking, I think movies are a fast-moving collection of symbols that our subconscious minds react to. Yep, that’s right, I’m referring to Jung’s definition of archetypes. The symbol of “mother” or “teacher” are universal symbols that we as human beings seem to process the same way, independent of culture or background or upbringing. Not to get too esoteric, but these same ideas of archetypes are the basis for the Tarot deck.

One method of choosing (or predicting) user experience is to create personas for the user. Let’s say I’m building a new site for my personal resume (which I am). Suppose Steve, a middle-aged manager of a marketing department at a medium-sized company is looking for a web developer (or UX/UI designer). Steve knows relatively little about how developers work, but he does know what he finds aesthetically pleasing. My job in building this new site is to please Steve’s eye, but also help him find the information he needs to determine whether I’d be a good candidate for the job. That would include my contact info, easily clicked samples of my code and designs, and my work history (so he knows I’m experienced).

So what if there were methods of mapping these archetypes and emotionally-charged information for website users? How would you use symbols to increase users and/or website sales? It’s a bit Mad Men, isn’t it?

What is “white space”?

White space is commonly referred to as the space between things, such as words of text, or images, or radio frequencies. For a long time I’ve been interested in what’s left out of conversations, design, or print. What are those unspoken messages that we process, information we read between the lines, or visual cues we intuit without actually seeing?

As a web developer, I’ve become very interested in how a user experiences a website, without knowing what’s behind the scenes. Code itself contains a series of spaces (or non-spaces) that define its characteristics, how it displays on a page, and the functionality it enables. When I’m coding a widget or description, I must pay attention to the visual spacing the code will create for the user, as well as the spacing of the code itself (so it remains valid and parses). Luckily, however, as a developer I can validate or parse my code before it goes live; if the spacing is incorrect, I receive an error message:

A website user, unfortunately, doesn’t have the option of validating the messages they’re receiving; they have to make sense of what limited information they’re given to make purchases, find information, or communicate with others. How does a website make a user feel? How does a user figure out how to use a site and its tools? Can we define it?

When I was in college, a few of my English courses focused on post-modernism and deconstruction. One of my professors loosely defined “deconstruction” as explaining or recognizing what’s not being said or talked about in the story. What’s the elephant in the room?

In this blog I’ll attempt to deconstruct — or decode — what’s happening for users in terms of usability and emotional experience. You know, the sound of silence.

Thanks for reading.

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