September 2021
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What makes good experience?

Three concepts from Don’s principles of interaction help to define good experience:

  • Affordance
  • Feedback
  • System images

To understand why and how they are important we will start from the concept of experience in Peircean Semiotics.

Experience is the total content of appearances of an object from user’s first-person point of views. It is indeed subjective but not impossible to understand and to design if we use appropriate analytical tools. Peircean Semiotics tells us that there are two important facets of this appearance when a user or consumer encounters an object: the firsts, the possible attributes of the attended object, and the seconds, the reactions from real encounters with it.

Firsts (1sts) is the equivalent of what Don calls affordance. It is how the object could possibly used, the actions that the attended object affords for a user. However, the concept of firsts encompasses not only actions, but also senses. When we encounter a cake for example it affords us actions like “eating” and also senses like “sweet, sour, bitter, etc.” In short, it is a universe of all possible attributes, sense-actions of the attended object, taken for granted as “true facts” from user’s first-person point of view.

Seconds (2nds) is the equivalent of what Don calls feedbacks. It is the reactions we receive from real encounters with objects as brute facts. Seconds may seamlessly flow with the firsts, as we really taste the sweet-sourness when we bite the cake. Or it may disrupt our cake‘s affordances such as “eating” when it turns out to be a hard, not-eatable object.

In semiotics both firsts and seconds are called the unmediated experience since they result from immediate encounters with an object. Greater portion of the total content of these unmediated appearance cannot be captured into human awareness or be made intelligible by using words, visuals, voices or any other signifiers. Most of them are fleeting into either subconsciousness or unconsciousness.

This reminds me of what I learned from Fabricio’s list of UX clichés about good UX:

“A user interface is like a joke; if you have to explain it, it’s not that good”

This expression is very true indeed. Minimum requirements for Good UX is when the attended object can deliver seamless flow of affordances and feedbacks, even when users do not have words to explain it. Words may freeze and break the flow of experience. A well-designed object would look natural, intuitive, and do not need any explanations.


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