The dimensions of a good experience

Good designs are useful, usable and desirable. But what is a good experience? While crafting the experience of her own startup, Foodspotting, Alexa Andrzejewski found answers in urban design. Asking the same question about urban experiences, Kevin Lynch, author of Good City Form, extracted a set of dimensions for evaluating experiences. By applying these principles to interactive experiences, you can identify what kind of experience you’re creating for users: Is it adaptable? Does it tell a story? Are there signs of life? You’ll leave with a set of guidelines that, unlike traditional heuristics, will enable you to evaluate the experiential qualities of your designs.

In her The Dimensions of a Good Experience presentation at An Event Apart in Seattle, 2011, Andrzejewski shared ten principles from urban design that provide unique lenses for evaluating and thinking about mobile and Web user experience designs.

Luke Wroblewski provides a handy overview from the talk; my take on his overview is summarised below:

Does the design tell a story? How is the form a reflection of its values? Can people read and understand the environment? Visual cues in the environment can communicate meaning. For example, there’s a lot of meaning in the way that Japanese signs are structured. This enables you to read the environment. What story are we trying to tell in our information architecture (IA) through its structural design?

Does the design leave a lasting impression on the user’s senses? Is it memorable [in a good way]? Focus on those key moments. What should they remember? What story do you want to tell the user and how can you use the language of design to reinforce that story? Show a user a home page that’s unfamiliar to them and ask if they understand the value of the product or service. How well are you communicating?

Does the design afford the user a sense of structure? Can they understand that structure? Can the user create an accurate mental model of what they’re looking at? When things fit together, a user will feel comfortable and in control.

Does the design get better the more a user explores? Are they ‘delighted’ by the what’s unfolding before them? Is the first time experience tempered so as not to be overwhelming? How can you get the user to leave wanting more?

Does the design give a glimmer of what’s inside? This is not absolute as different groups demand different levels of transparency.

Does the design anticipate and facilitate the desired needs of the user so that it makes them feel positive? Observe the user throughout the site. Find the drop-off points and fix them. Ask the users questions.

Does the design afford the user the ability to adapt their surroundings to reach a more comfortable fit? Again, observe your users and learn from their adaptations.

Does the design provide a range of choices to the user? How much and what range of choices are presented to a user at any given time? Is it too many or too few? Carry out some A/B tests to find out.

Does the design engender a sense of community, ownership and responsibility with/to your users? Holding people accountable will encourage good behaviour. How can you increase your users’ sense of responsibility to the community or website you’re trying to build?

Does the design promote trust? What are the systems of control? Do these reinforce trust? Does your website behave in predictable ways? This is particularly important if your users aren’t actually in control. Examine what makes your users anxious and mitigate against those anxieties. Make your users feel confident.

You need to examine the user experience you’re creating through each of the lenses above. By doing so you will improve the experience for all your users.

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