The Totality of the Experience

My philosophy, simplified

No one seeks out experiences for their great usability. For all but a few practitioners, the very concept is difficult to grasp, especially when executed well, and its perceived importance is inversely proportional to the skill with which it’s been executed. At it’s height, great usability is characteristically invisible.

Though I began my career with a passion for making websites easier to use, the vast majority of challenges defined in those terms tend to be productivity applications designed for non-public consumption. There were more public challenges too, but by 2003 or 2004 it seemed that I’d done about all I could do to make shopping carts and web forms as un-intimidating as possible.

Web usability and, to a lesser extent, user-centered design are characterized by continuous improvement, refinement cycles and frequent testing. As a class of activities, these tend to share much in common with other engineering-oriented pursuits. They lend themselves well to a methodical approach, and though not as free-wheeling and “artistically” driven as the design process, the two can work well together.

But even that is not the whole of what I hope is captured by Experience Architecture.

When, three years ago, I first had the chance to organize a multidisciplinary team for my (previous) agency, my initial feeling was of deep, unabiding dread.

I had felt confident enough to direct a few other Interaction Designers and Information Architects (we used the term User Experience Architect), but the task of organizing, rallying and leading a team of business analysts, search engine marketers, customer researchers and strategists seemed overwhelming.

When most people in the business of building websites and web apps think in terms of multiple disciplines, several dichotomies seem to come to mind: Tech vs. Creative. Creative vs. UX. Account Management vs. Everyone On The Team. You get the picture.

Great products are, more often than not, the product of collaboration. It was that pattern that first birthed Insight.

Insight was my pithy name for a new form of research and analysis that blended ethnographic and usability research with eyetracking, log file analysis, search engine marketing and strategic planning. As I looked around at the time, no one else was combining these practices in the same way, though a few other competitors (whom I admired), seemed to be coming close.

But honestly, I wasn’t really trying to come up with anything revolutionary. I just wanted to company to spring for a Tobii.