Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Looking Forward to UX Speakeasy - Whither Psychology?

This weekend I will be attending the first UX Speakeasy conference - a San Diego based conference for User Experience (UX) enthusiasts. The conference has come together in a few months through the effort of a group of highly dedicated people in UX here in the San Diego area, many of whom did not know each other 8 months ago. They have managed to pull together an exciting group of speakers and workshop presenters. I can't wait for Saturday.

There are many things to look forward to and one of them for me, in particular, will be watching to see how much attention is given to psychology in UX. Why? Some surprising conversations on LinkedIn is why. Last year there was a fairly lengthy conversation on several UX LinkedIn groups about what role, if any, psychology should play in UX.

I was a bit flabbergasted. "If any"? The "X" in UX stands for "Experience" and experience is a holistic term based in great part upon how someone feels. What emotions they have - using more precise terminology, their "affect". In addition, their cognitive interpretations of the technology are critically important (since we are talking computing topics here I'll stick to the digital world of UX). Psychology provides the basis for understanding cognition and affect.

Affect + Cognition = The vast part of Experience. How can you evaluate/observe/comment on User Experience without reference to the psychological aspects of the interplay between user and technology?

Many of the LinkedIn group conversations revolve around technical issues - how tos, best practices, resource identification etc. Incredibly useful information and I learn from reading these posts. Thus my surprise to discover that when someone brought up the question of psychology in UX work, many (many) respondents took this as new information, a new perspective, something they had not thought of before. Happily, most posters were very excited by the idea of incorporating psychology (in one or more of its various forms) into their work.

Computing is always both a technical and social activity. In some situations this is more obvious than in others. In UX work, psychological considerations should be front and center if you want to really understand what is going on with your website/app/software/device. Think about it. If you are frustrated and pissed off, are you going to be efficient and productive? Will you come back (assuming you have a choice in the matter)? Will you go the extra mile to do more with the technology? Compare your answers to the same questions if you are pleased with your interactions.

We can count keystrokes, perform eye tracking, monitor time on page (etc) all we want, and these tasks provide valuable information. But without incorporating affect and cognition into the equation you have only part of the story.

Thus, this weekend I will be keeping all my senses attuned to monitor my full range of experiences, others' full range of experiences, and the speakers' full incorporation of experiences in their presentations. I will of course provide a report here.

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