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Who’s the “U” in U/X?

young student sitting at laptop

Designers, we know our products are useless until a user actually uses them. That’s why we’re all about that “U-something:” U/X, U/I, UX/UI, and so on (1).

But we design as if we were the users, as if the “u” in U/X, stood for “us”: what all of us designers can do with technology, how our technology should be used, and so on. If someone else doesn’t use our technology, or doesn’t use it how we think s/he should, we double-down on the us: training with us, tutorials by us, and so on. 

But the “U” in U/X should be understood as a “you.” Users, what do you want to do with our technology, how do you think it should work, and so on. U/X is a “you-experience,” the experience you have when using someone else’s technology, not the experience someone else should have when using yours.

Now, the U/Xperts will protest: we have books and blogs and white papers and online certificates and college degrees in U/X design. We have best-practices and pathways, data and analysis. What’s more, we always ask our users about their experience using our technology: that’s what those phone-bot follow-ups and pop-up surveys are for! 

Well, I’ve taken dozens of those follow-up interviews and surveys, as a teacher and a learner, in courses incorporating technology, delivered via technology, even about technology. And I’m here, as a user, to state that none of those U/X surveys asked me about my experiences using the course technology! 

Here´s an example of a few basic U/X questions suggested by the Nielsen Group (1). Aside from the difficulty of quantifying concepts like “easy,” “severe” or “pleasant,” the questions themselves are problematic, because they place responsibility for experience on the user, instead of the designer:

1. How easy is it for learners to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design? 

2. Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform the tasks?

3. When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?

4. How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from these errors?

5. How pleasant is it to use the design?

In order to answer these questions positively, the user has to jump through all kinds of hoops: learning the design, performing tasks, re-establishing proficiency, not making errors, not making severe errors, correcting the errors they’ve made … in other words, if the answers are negative, the fault lies on the user: s/he hasn’t learned well, or enough, or for long enough, and so on.

If we really want to know about our users’ experience using our technology, we need to ask better questions, like:

1. Instructors, do you think the “e” in “e-learning” stands for “easy”? 

2. Would you rhyme “our app” with “I’m happy”? 

3. Is your Help Desk your actual desk?

I’m kidding, of course. But what about:

  1. Did [the course technology] worked just the way you wanted it to, right from the start? 
  2. Did [the course technology] make you and your students’ lives easier at every point throughout the term? 
  3. Did [the course technology] save you lots of time overall this term? 
  4. Did [the course technology] make teaching this class more fun than before?
  5. Did your students tell you they loved [the course technology]?
Followed by the most important three words in U/X: why or why not?
This is the kind of information we need to know in order to provide teachers and students with great user-experience, because a great experience isn’t about learning something or gaining proficiency or making severe errors. It’s about making tasks easier, saving time, enriching content and connecting with other people!



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