Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How user experience design is like media art

In a nut-shell, UX and media arts are both about communicating complex and often vague ideas to your audience with the goal of eliciting a certain response. 

When users are interacting with your piece, they are faced with the results of your creative decisions in the following order:

What information are you presenting. At all times, your audience needs to be aware what is it they are looking at. Is your piece about memory and identity struggles? Is your app about their personal finances or business news? Here you need to strike balance between clarity and interest. UX will lean towards clarity, but still needs to maintain user's interest by allowing for multiple ways of interacting. An art piece will lean towards maintaining the audience's interest by intentionally presenting the information in ambiguous ways, letting them guess a little. But either way, the creative decision should be evident. If the message becomes too vague it is impossible to grasp and audience becomes dis-interested. If your message is too plain it bores the users.  

How do you present that information. Even if your goal is to make your audience question what exactly are they looking at, you still need a point of departure. It is way easier to subvert an existing form than invent a new one. Like an arty how-to video. Also this is where material reality comes into play. How can you make your users do what you want them to with what you have at your disposal? Is it better to do a performance or a video projection? Is it better to do a social media app or a news broadcasting app? 

What do you want them to do. This is where your starting point should be when deciding to do something — answering the eternal "So what?" question. It really comes down to why did you decide to do this piece/project in the first place. Are you eliciting a certain emotional response? An enlightenment experience? Do you want to make them buy something? Learn something? Realize something? The answers to this are infinitely variable so there isn't really a good cookie-cutter solution. 
As you can see, the more you think about it, the more esoteric your thinking becomes. What message are you bringing to the table? What are your values at work here? Why are you doing this job in the first place? But this is good actually. If there was more thinking put into "why are we making this app in the first place?" there probably wouldn't be so many under-used apps littering the marketplace
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