Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Native American walks into an art museum...

I am paraphrasing from some source I can't remember now. But the story goes something like this: a Native American chief was invited to and Art Museum for an exhibition. After he roamed about the museum for a while, he was asked what he thinks. He said he was sad. When asked why he said "You paint these beautiful landscapes and put them on the walls  to preserve them. I am surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful landscapes everyday, and they are being destroyed by you people."

Both art and UX rely on their audience to learn a language. If someone has never seen a painting it would be hard to explain to him why Mona Lisa is so important. They would need to be educated about things like painting, portrait, Renaissance and Da Vinci to appreciate it. If someone has never used an email, they would need to learn some basics of how Internet, on-screen typing, and interface buttons works before they can use it.

Let's oversimplify for the sake of the argument that the "goodness" of an artwork comes from it's ability to induce the sense of enlightenment — the sense of connectedness to something larger then them, the sense of awe in front of the grandeur of the universe, etc. A good artwork can invoke all those feelings in the person experiencing it. The "goodness" of UX then comes from its usability — how much is it being used. Here a very important question also arises if the user interface opens doors to the information or function that is relevant to the users. If it doesn't, the interface alone won't make it relevant. Even if it's good it would be a good UX on a useless app and it still won't be used.

In either way for the user to  experience a rapture in front of an artwork or to giggle with delight over an app, it has to be relevant to them. There is some education that and "acquired taste" that can and should happen, for sure. Learning makes us all better people. But the question of relevancy will come up again and again.

The audience can learn the "language" in which the object is speaking (Louvre, paint, user interface, keyboard) and learn to appreciate what the object is saying (Renaissance, mystery, instant communication, connectedness, affection). But then again, if what the object is saying does not touch the user in any way, then its goodness will be lost on them.

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