The Dark Ages Of UX: A Quick Anecdote

Detail from Pieter Bruegel's "The Triumph Of Death", oil on panel, c. 1562

Update Nov.25.2010: To my delight the comments now appear to be working on Smashing Magazine dot com. Perhaps the technical problems were caused by back-end gremlins  — remember, don’t feed them after midnight!

Last night I was reading through a rather lengthy post over at Smashing Magazine exploring the emerging field of User Experience Design. It’s a topic I am very much interested in as a marketing professional and, it goes without saying, UX is playing an increasingly significant role in the design and development of digital applications.

I say emerging field—and I say that without the slightest bit of hesitation—because after last night, and a frustrating experience trying to submit my comment and join the discussion over at Smashing Magazine dot com (one of the biggest, most visited digital design/development resources online), I feel like we’re still living somewhat in the dark ages of UX.

My lame experience on Smashing Magazine last night only illustrates an all-to-common scenario many people go through each and every day online. In my particular case all I wanted to do was leave a simple comment (below) on their site that I had thoughtfully taken the time to write.

Sounds simple right? Wrong.

The site apparently thought my comment contained questionable words and/or characters indicative of a forum spam bot or some other malicious automation. Here’s (one of the) cryptic error messages I encountered; perhaps there were other technical bugs or variables at work here—I don’t know. I”m not going to bore you with all the details by ranting on. The only thing I will say is this: if an application is hanging up or throwing an error based on some specific action a user has invoked—for God’s sake—please!—provide the user with at least some rudimentary feedback relevant to what’s going on in the system, even if it’s a simple Javascript alert box—anything. Just don’t play dumb and behave like nothing is wrong.

That’s all I am going to say.

Here’s the comment I was unable to leave on Smashing Magazine:

In a broad sense I believe User Experience plays a significant role in most—if not all—design disciplines, in the same way mathematics exist as a core element of the Engineering field.

All designers—not just UX specialists—should be thinking about and evangelizing user-experience principles as a way to differentiate their work and justify meaningful design solutions to others.

On another level, I tend to think of UX as the evolution of Industrial Design, essentially leveraging processes and core principles pioneered years ago before our world became dominated by so many screen oriented digital products.

ID traditionally focused on the fundamental relationship between an object’s physical form, function, and aesthetic composition. UX goes one step further considering product interactions and digital systems so complex they simply cannot be understood—let alone resolved—purely through the old ‘form follows function’ mantra preached by ID.