User Experience: A Kitchen Story, the perceived experience

Working in product development has been an eye opening experience. A rewarding job is one where constant growth and opportunity presents itself, and product development has been my favorite, hands down. Often times I search for others in my field for shop talk and social gatherings. I like to inject myself into circles of great people who teach young kids User Experience. CAPS Northland in Kansas City is one of those places and also HackEDkc. These local organizations foster the growth of young minds.

Recently I gave a talk at Liberty high schools Hackathon, HackEDkc. I was desperately trying to figure out how to teach these younger students, in one hour, how to see and understand User Experience. Then show them how to build their story, you know....to WIN the Hackathon.

This is no easy task, User Experience is everywhere...isn't it? How do you wrap this up so that these students can retain and understand user experience, then watch out for it. Personally, I am haunted in my every move.... watching, surveying the land, studying architecture, looking at patterns in sidewalks, analyzing the buttons on my clothes and having disdain for the way my shoes constantly come untied....there has to be a solution for this. BUT the real question is, should I be opening the minds of these young people to my constant user experience life, subjecting them to the torture I endure everyday of over stimulation and judgment of places, objects and online experiences?.....YES! Ha Ha Ha (evil laugh)

One of the things I find most interesting is all the noise in my peripheral vision, I see things out of the corner of my eye all the time. When I am at the sink in my home, I can reach up to the right because, I know ... without looking, that my drinking glasses are there. That is damn good user experience if you ask me. If it wasn't for my peripheral vision, I would probably forget I had kids. They run fast. So now I realize that I need to add that into the equation of the speech or it won't be whole.

How do you explain that so much of my job is understanding what the users aren't directly viewing? ...That peripheral vision may be the dominant view and that their central vision, isn't the only possible task in view. It's what the users aren't focused on...that is what is hard to draw attention too. We don't want to impede into anyone's work space unless absolutely necessary, but we don't want them to ignore the tools on the outside edges of the page or the room. For obvious reasons, I used a Kitchen analogy! Ha ha ha ha. That is where the soda is, that is where the cookies are, and I know that everyone hangs out in the kitchen. It becomes a central location for most family traffic. I figured this was a great place to start with hungry students.

In your kitchen, you have your work space (cutting board, stove, sink). You have your hidden tools (things you use every day) like forks, knives, spoons, pots & pans, all tucked away until you need them, in your peripheral vision. Most importantly, there is a pull knob that indicates that I can open this container. If I plan it correctly, I will have the right tools for the surface that I am working, in the closest container.

Why is placement so important?

You are not the only one who uses this space.

I went to a friend’s house, well really just an acquaintance. She was having a big party. She flitted by and I said, "Hey Shelley (I changed her name for her safety), can I grab a glass and get a drink?" She said, "Sure, help yourself." She was off, not to be found. So I logically opened the cabinet by the right of the sink. YIKES, that one was full of medical prescriptions. Then I opened the next cabinet and then the next. I was starting to feel like a snoop, I was totally uncomfortable (which is unusual for me). I couldn't find Shelley to get the answer....Where exactly are the glasses? So I gave up. I felt icky digging through her personal stuff, and now I am stuck feeling icky and thirsty. Shelley's user experience stinks. She desperately needs a redesign of her work space.

Why is placement of tools and actions so important when working in design and product development?

I was cooking multiple items for dinner one day, I had all four burners occupied. There was a lot going on around me so I set the spoon I was using on the stove. I was chopping veggies on one side and preparing spices on the other side. I went to grab my spoon and I was immediately burned. My hand was blistering quickly. The problem was, I had too much in my central vision and not enough space to work properly. I did not have a proper place to set my spoon. Oh boy was I mad, I was frustrated, burnt, I still had to finish my task, and serve my guests. Does this hurt the relationship between myself and my kitchen?...Maybe, Maybe not, but when your guests ask you what that wonderful smell is, you'll tell them ... but you will also tell them that you burnt your hand. More than likely you will relay that total experience. This will perpetuate that negative experience, so now, it's been passed it on to the guests. Out of those 7 potential guests, you can probably count on 5 of them telling the story to someone else.... and so on and so on. This is the same in online product development, if you burn your users, it may not leave a scar, but they will tell their story, this ends up hurting your company’s reputation. For me, this burn didn't stop me from cooking, I need this user experience every day to make dinner, but I maybe on the search for a larger kitchen.

I want my guests to come to my house, only remembering how easy and fun it was, and possibly remembering the apple pie. That is what I want them to talk about when they leave, my secret apple pie recipe ... of which, I only give to my close friends (users).

I am certainly not saying that I have all the answers to a perfect kitchen, but I strive for it every day when I work in Online Product Development. You must create great surroundings, give your guests their perceived experience. Put the glasses in the cabinet on the right of the sink. Most people are right handed. If you don't have a cabinet there, build one.

Also, it's good to have an apple pie handy

Beth Moore began designing websites and creating user expereinces before they were cool. She became Creative Director for an interactive agency at age 22, and has managed multiple facets of the development + design + user experience process. Beth is President and Founder of Street UX Design House, a full-service online product development shop, web design & marketing house for the digital age. Learn more at www.streetux.com.