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I am always wondering if there is a science behind webdesign and user experience choices we make in general, or it's just a subjective choices we make according to our experience as users ?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by DA01, Code Maverick, Erics, Bart Gijssens, Evil Closet Monkey Mar 24 '14 at 15:10

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

It's applied psychology (HCI human computer interfaces) with a lot of cognitive psychology studies behind it. But it is mostly a craft, people among the whole range of training end up 'just doing it'. – Mitch Mar 22 '14 at 18:02
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The science of user experience does exist. There are researchers working in the field. They make hypotheses, test them, create experiments, etc. They publish their findings in peer reviewed journals, or in monographies, or present them at scientific conferences. The boundaries to other disciplines are indeed fluid, but this is true for many older science fields too - for example, when you are looking at molecules, nobody is able to say "this is pure chemistry and has nothing to do with physics" or the other way round.

What a practitioner does in his everyday work is not science, and this is a good thing. People doing science generally have different goals than the people who employ UX specialists. If you are doing science on their time, unless it is the goal of the project to do scientific research (this arrangement is called action research), you are squandering the time you pledged to your employer for things she didn't hire you to do.

Note that in UX, there is lots of research going on in everyday practice. This is not the same thing as science. Science is about generalizable research (no citation handy right now, but most entry level books on the philosophy of science should mention it), and includes quite a lot beyond research. If you do an A/B test and find out that your users prefer a version of your home page with an orange "buy now" button, this is a good application of research. But if you claim that all users in the world will want an orange "buy now" application in all applications, this is science, and it is also bad science, because you did not explore the validity and reliability of your findings and just asserted that what is true of your users and your application must be true for everyone.

Incidentally, good research is good research independently of whether you are doing it for scientific or engineering purposes. So you can learn a lot from literature on research methodology which was written with scientists in mind.

Note that this dichotomy between "is it a science or a craft" naturally exists for many other areas too. When you go into the hospital for an apendectomy, your surgeon is practicing medicine, not doing scientific research in medicine. At the same time, medicine is a science, and there are many research physicians who are doing medical research. It is just that not every physician is a scientist, and not every UX expert either. This is not a prerequisite for there being a science behind it. And the world needs both, the scientists who create the theory and the craftsmen who apply it where it is needed.

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If you are asking if it is possible to apply the Scientific Method to find out how people interact with technology, then yes, there is "science" involved.

A rough outline of the Scientific Method:

  1. Define a question
  2. Gather information and resources (observe)
  3. Form an explanatory hypothesis
  4. Test the hypothesis by performing an experiment and collecting data in a reproducible manner
  5. Analyze the data
  6. Interpret the data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
  7. Publish results
  8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

User experience design is a multi-disciplinary field, that relies on findings from cognitive science, psychology and computer science (to name a few). Each of these disciplines try to follow the Scientific Method in some way, so the underlying theory can be traced (and mostly trusted) to be sound.

Can UX practitioners follow the Scientific Method in their day-to-day job? Yes! Every time you perform a A/B test, you are busy with an experiment (step 4). Hopefully you followed the first three steps first, otherwise you could just be on a "fishing expedition". You may not necessarily publish your results in an academic forum, but you may write up a report, or give a presentation at an industry conference, or write a blog post about how you improved the conversion rate (or improved the performance of your site, or investigated the effect on user behaviour if you changed the link colour for your search engine).

So, in short, UX theory is based on decades of scientific inquiry from many different academic fields. This means, you should technically be able to replicate the results by following the same steps the researchers did. Sadly, this is not always easy to do, or, in the more troubling examples, even possible.

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It really depends on your definiton of the term 'science' but in the formal sense of the word, no. A science is based on building and developing hypothesis to explain how the world works.

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If all you do is base your choices on your own subjective experience, then you are not doing UX.

As CJ said, it is a multi-disciplinary field, and thus parts of it (like aesthetics) are not considered scientific.

But for the most part, decisions taken during the UX design process are largely based on:

  • Scientific research (eg, visual cognition).
  • Original empirical research (eg, user-testing or usage of analytics data).
  • Deduction and reasoning (although some may not consider rationalism to be a clear-but scientific tool).

Unlike mathematics or physics, which are based on solid axioms, the axioms in UX vary with each project - the problem each design comes to solve are different. As such, it is impractical to apply a full-blown scientific method to a normal UX project, although many universities do so on a more general level. Accordingly, UX (or HCID/HCI) degrees are science degrees - students are required to provide a strong argument for the choices they make, and nearly always support an argument with empirical or scientific evidence.

A complete answer would be very long, touching on issues well outside UX. But the answer to your question, in the way you have phrased it, is simple - it is much more of a science than a process of subjective decision making.

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