Designing For The Human Experience

    November 8, 2007

This year hasn’t been one of my favorites. It’s been “The Year of Pondering My Navel”. Or, perhaps, the “Year of Unraveling”. If you earn your living connected to the Internet, this year went by in 1.3 minutes flat.

I’m finding that what worked before may be losing out to the current fad. One area of constant change is how we interact with the Internet and each other. A few months back I had asked if traditional online forums were going to fade away due to the popularity of social network sites and nearly everyone felt forums would remain.

I don’t think this is true. I think it’s wishful thinking. I can say this because I own a forum and have been watching things. People want to vote on other people. This is how they communicate their opinion without actually stating it with words. Chances are good you have several homes on the Internet that permit you to “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” thread comments. Whether or not you do, the option is there because this is a known favored user interaction device.

Since a forum such as Cre8asiteforums doesn’t incorporate a voting system, I’m now seeing other web sites link to forum threads and in THEIR sites, they can discuss the forum thread and members can vote.

It’s a sign.

SEO and Usability Games

I’ve been watching this too. Call me crazy, but I feel the two practices can share the same house. I think it’s unnaturally limiting to peg one before the other or one without the other.

Search engine optimization is more than about the act of searching, in my opinion. It’s about finding all the ways the Internet enables people to connect so they’ll produce and create something they want or need in a new way.

The way to discover what people want to create is to get far, far beyond how they were taught to search or interact with web pages. Search itself is one small part of an even greater act that we’re all participating in, if we’re invited or enabled to do so.

I haven’t been content to accept the way things were taught because everyone hasn’t had the opportunity to ride the horse. Accessibility and designing for seniors and “baby boomers” remaining an afterthought are just two quick examples.

Can You Understand What You Don’t Know?

Sometimes we build a web site for who we know best. That would be ourselves. We’re not so good at building for invisible people, which essentially, most everyone is. Sure, we have user studies, click tracks, database criteria to play with. But we base design guidelines, business requirements and site enhancements on the words that someone might type back to us or lines in graphs. Data gleaned from video taping users in a lab is another. When was the last time you sat in a lab answering questions or having your mouse movements recorded?

When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a line going up and down. I’m made up of a trillion billion tiny details that no web site designer or search engine marketer could ever know.

Are We Designing For The Human Experience? is a discussion I started in Cre8asiteforums a few days ago, inspired by DUX 2007: A great conference, but fundamentally off the mark.

I wrote:

My own observations and personal feelings are that sooner or later end users will stop basing their experiences on the short-lived thrill of the next roll-out of the “something new”. There’s a movement towards substance and the “integrity of being” as I call it. The impact of the “green” movement tells me that people are ready for experiences that place a strong value and emphasis on their participation and programs that include and welcome them, rather than being a “cog in the wheel”.

Designing for participation can be seen in social media, but despite all these new sites designed to bring us together, I still feel disconnected. The experience of social networking is only going to be based on how much we’re willing to share. Rather than the whole human, we’re more likely to get bits and pieces and believe we’re getting a human experience online. We’re not. (Emphasis mine.)

Consider that playing out right now is the fight over what comes “first” – SEO or usability. The whole argument leaps right over the idea of creating something meaningful.

I’m not alone in my thoughts, as a visit to the discussion will show.

I think some people wanted the chance to look at this too.