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I was watching this video on how would facebook be if it were invented in the '90s. And made me think about how User Experience evolves through time given technology availability at the moment.

According to Karl Albrecht in its Hierarchy of Customer Value, there are 4 different levels: Basic, Expected, Desired and Unanticipated. And these vary according to the current environment we live in as well as its constant evolution.

If we portray these 4 levels to the User Experience realm, on how people has learned to interact with devices and what to expect from them, how does User Experience evolves with time once something unanticipated becomes basic?

Another way of putting it would be, before iPhone existed, no-one was thinking about a touch device that would be operated with the fingers instead of a stylus. Before, the stylus was a desired value, today is not, and today the touch screen on a phone is basic (as no one gets exited about it anymore).

Is there any way to anticipate UX evolution to adapt products to upcoming trends? How/when do you know you're getting behind?

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User Experience is no different than any other art based on technology, and as circumstances changes so does the User Experience. But to answer this thoroughly one must first ask what User Experience is. So what is UX, to the user? It’s behavior, reactions, feelings and emotions in everything that humans do – no matter the technology.

We use a hammer the same way we always have – and for unexperienced users of the hammer – the likelihood of hitting your self is very close to 100 percent. Bad design, some would say, but others would call it cognitive learning, i.e. to avoid pain, you learn how to hit the nail straight. And the hammer hasn’t changed in the last 100 years, neither have the User Experience of the hammer.

But a mobile phone has changed rapidly from the first heavy car battery sized mobile phones to today’s touchscreen, internet enabled light slick smartphones that attracts more and more users around the world. And as technology changes, so does the User Experience. Practitioners of User Experience would certainly try to convince Steve Jobs to let the iPhone follow the conventions of the web, since the phone had a browser. At least use the same UI as the button WAP phones back in 2005 2006, but Steve Jobs wouldn’t listen. Instead he quoted Henry Ford’s famous quote:

It's not about pop culture, and it's not about fooling people, and it's not about convincing people that they want something they don't. We figure out what we want. And I think we're pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That's what we get paid to do. So you can't go out and ask people, you know, what the next big [thing.] There's a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, 'If I'd have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’

This is an example of that it is possible to change User Experience and behavior – but in order to succeed, you need to figure out what users want, be sure that your users love what you’re doing and have the User Experience community accept the new style. That’s hard. For the most of us – this isn’t realistic. Instead we need to be updated, follow the technology industry closely and visit up to date sites, such as UX.SE, to not fall behind.

So you’re right: User Experience evolves over time, and to adapt you need to follow the right information sources to be up to date in your work.

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Some main factors that shape User Experience include

  • Past experience, memory and exposure to other solutions that have an influence on expectations, mental models and feeling what is a standard and what is something more
  • Cognitive learning that helps understand new design or recognize it as a known concept.

How does User Experience evolves with time once something unanticipated becomes basic?

Regardless of whether the Karl Albrecht's or Kano model is used, there are always parts related to Desired or Unanticipated desired features. Even if you consider Unfair advantages that are hard to copy or buy this is what always happens: features which satisfy customers and make them happy are copied, better solutions are invented and Unfair advantages are worked around. Users are getting more and more exposed to it and start to recognize the solution as a known concept. What was formerly desired becomes expected and what was expected becomes basic.

Is there any way to anticipate UX evolution to adapt products to upcoming trends? How/when do you know you're getting behind?

So, if you are capable of predicting the future trends and adapt to such future changes, you will be recognized as inventor or revolutionary. The cost and effort of introducing such changes to the users will the same as if you invented it yourself, so, from that point of view it doesn't matter if you invent nor adapt.

On the other hand, if you are incapable of predicting future but only capable of adapting to existing trends you become a contributor to an UX evolution and you contribute to the speed of such process.

Regarding the "knowing you're getting behind" part: each time you ask your users/customers and map their oppinions based on the Kano/Albrecht's model you will surely notice a shift from desired to expected and so on.

However, there are areas where UX evolution doesn't happen so rapidly. Look at it as a related to technology, cost and complexity. Benny Skogberg gave a perfect example with a hammer. It is a low cost, low tech, easy to DIY solution and is a perfect for areas where one doesn't have money or an access to technology. @Bill Buxton in his book Sketching User Experiences mentions "design for the wild" and describes a wooden map of coastline used by Arctic kayakers. Those are the best examples which point to a conclusion: today's UX evolution happens in area where technology, cost and complexity of a solution are not the barrier. Such area does not cover the entire known space.

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The evolution is remarkable - and the most poignant is the way that mobile devices are combining new capabilities that we are just getting our heads around.

Mobile technologies are enabling the integration of audio and visual senses with many new factors contributing to the experience. Now, in addition to interacting with real-time moving pictures often in 3-D, with sound, we have access to sensors that incorporate movement of the device, location, proximity and the ability to connect with others.

Big data and the cloud are inspiring creativity and expanding functionality by bringing real-time information, further enabled by more powerful computing power and smarter algorithms. Its a bold new landscape, where the new technologies are not just opportunities - they are the future.

My hope - that text based chat threads like Facebook are going to one of the next things to go.

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