Saturday, October 14, 2006

Experiencing Experience

The history and context of "Experience Design" ...

"Experience” is the new “black.” Very hip, very now. It’s impossible to read any publication even remotely concerned with commerce and not find some reference to “user” or “customer” experience. As a psychologist who’s spent over 30 years focusing on human experience, this newfound attention is fascinating.
After all, for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, what mattered most about people were things that could be measured. And no matter what else you think about human experience, it can only be described, never measured.

Let me explain with a little history.

We humans have always been interested in one another’s stories. Our prehistoric ancestors drew pictures on cave walls to tell others stories about what had happened that day; sort of the first blogs.

As civilization progressed, we continued to be interested in how other people’s lives were similar and different from our own. Philosophy grew out of this need to understand the nature of individual and collective reality, knowledge and meaning.

In time, philosophy began taking up more and more questions about “everyday” life, in a branch called, “natural philosophy,” led by Isaac Newton. By virtue of the “Scientific Revolution,” “natural philosophy” became “natural science,” with its now-familiar method of determining existence, and distinctions, through measurement of empirical observations. Stories became the stuff of literature; numbers the stuff of science.

When “psychology,” the upstart discipline that came along in the late 19th century, had to choose its method, the choice was clear: either asking people to tell stories about their everyday lives (fancied up under the term, “introspection”), or measuring observations through the use of increasingly precise instruments (“objective data”). The winner was a no-brainer: modernity and credibility were on the side of “science.”

So, psychology emulated the granddaddy of all sciences, physics. “Psychologists” began conducting experiments and measuring everything they could get their hands on, things like skin temperature, reaction time, or pupil size. In the process, however, people noticed changes in the kinds of questions psychologists asked. Instead of finding out what it was like, for example, to be cold, studies now found out the skin temperature at which subjects reported being cold. And while finding out what that skin temperature is might be interesting, it’s not the same as finding out what it’s like to be cold.

What had happened was that the methods and tools that psychologists had at their disposal began dictating the content of psychological studies. In an attempt to be “objective” and “scientific,” psychology had altered its focus from seeking to understand stories about everyday human experience, to measuring smaller and smaller quantifiable elements."    (Continued via UX Magazine)    [Usability Resources]

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