Use and the User

I’m gonna try to beat Gardner to the blogosphere with this pointer to Jon Udell, but I’ll bet he’ll have more interesting thoughts on the posting. The title, First have a great use experience, then have a great user experience, is pretty eye-catching (and exemplifies Udell’s gift for concise packaging of complexities, yet again), and the opening story (about giving his convalescent dad an mp3 player “to give him an alternative to the in-room TV”) is a nice hook to get the reader involved… but then in paragraph 3 he slugs us with what is for me the real message of the piece:

In the tech industry, though, I think we often pretend that the mop-up operation is the battle. We talk obsessively about the user experience, and we recognize that we invariably fail to make it as crisp and coherent as it should be. But user experience is an overloaded term. I propose that we unpack it into (at least) two separate concepts. One is the basis of the “aha” moment. For now I’ll call it the use experience

As I read this and the two following paragraphs, my fevered brain substituted education for tech, and thus exposed a grand challenge to those who aspire to Teach:

How do you engineer a great use experience, as opposed to a great user experience?

Context for this substitution is surely Gardner’s pointer to George Steiner on teachers and students, which provoked my purchase of Steiner’s Lessons of the Masters, a book I’m reading with a mixture of awe [of Steiner’s erudition], regret [at my own trail of missed opportunities], and irritation [mostly at Steiner’s Olympian tone]. Steiner and Udell and Campbell are all onto something really profound. One bit of Steiner will suffice as an example:

Computation, information theory and retrieval, the ubiquity of the internet and the global web enact far more than a technological revolution. They entail transformations of awareness, of habits of perception and articulation, of reciprocal sensibility which we are scarcely beginning to gauge. At manifold terminals and synapses they will connect with our (possibly analogous) nervous system and cerebral structures. Software will become, as it were, internalized and consciousness may have to grow a second skin.

The impact on the learning process is already momentous. At his console, the schoolchild branches into new worlds. As does the student with his laptop and the researcher searching the web. Conditions of collaborative exchange and debate, of memory storage, of immediate transmission and graphic representation have already reorganized numerous aspects of Wissenschaft. The screen can teach, examine, demonstrate, interact with a precision, a clarity, and a patience exceeding that of a human instructor. Its resources can be disseminated and enlisted at will. It knows neither prejudice nor fatigue. In turn, the apprentice can question, object, answer back in a dialectic whose pedagogic value may come to surpass that of spoken discourse. (pg. 180)

A lot to chew on for a Sunday morning… and see Wikiquote for some more succulent Steiner quotations.

1 thought on “Use and the User

  1. Gardner

    That’s some heavy company you’ve put me in. Wow. Oook and Steiner and Udell–I’ll stay up all night for several days for that kind of conversation. Thanks.

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