I'm looking for information on the term "orthogonal user experience". I can't seem to find anything about it - be it a definition, an article, even just some sort of usage of the term.

I am following a course on security with a mixed focus on protocols and user experience. The term "orthogonal user experience" is used to refer to different implementations of the same protocol that succeed in achieving similar user experiences. E.g.: "The OAuth protocol lacks orthogonal user experience" as in "different implementations provide very different user experiences".

I am curious about both origin and reasoning as well as usage.

  • 1
    Count me as another "I've never heard this term, and it sounds at best idiosyncratic". (Based on the dictionary definition of "orthogonal", I'd have guessed it to mean the opposite of what you describe.) Jul 27 '16 at 15:36
  • That's exactly how I feel - "orthogonal" sounds like two separate experiences are completely different. Our lecturer told us today that he tried to investigate it and couldn't really find anything on it, so he'll try to avoid using the term when speaking of the user experience of security protocols (he's a cryptographer).
    – Ida
    Jul 29 '16 at 8:09

It's not a term I've encountered personally, but if required to take a guess without much context, I'd look at the meanings of Orthogonal. There are two:

In geometry, orthogonal means "at right angles to", which means the two lines WILL intersect at a point, but are as different in direction as it's possible for them to get.

In statistics, it means two variables which are independent of each other - so that one can be changed without the other being affected.

With those in mind, my understanding of "Orthogonal User Experience" would be that the experience of working with one area of the product would remain consistent, even if other parts of the product (or other configuration options) are changed...

Regardless, I don't think the term is widely used enough to be relied on for clear communication. Anybody who uses it should probably be explaining what they mean by it upon first use - failure to do so leaves things deeply ambiguous.

My advice would be to ask the author what it meant by it, which is clearly not always going to be an option.

  • 1
    Right there with you on "I don't think the term is widely used enough to be relied on for clear communication." If I had to guess what the term means I'd have assumed "multiple interfaces to achieve the same result" -- which is totally different from your (equally plausible) interpretation. Jul 27 '16 at 15:38
  • It's a statistics concept - which is used in experimental design. It poor UX to use a very specific word for a more generalised meaning.
    – PhillipW
    Jul 27 '16 at 17:20
  • Thanks for your attempt at coming up with an explanation, @Adrian - greatly appreciated. I think our lecturer (a cryptographer) got the term from the company that he works at and has simply just accepted its meaning. After realizing that he couldn't explain it properly, he said he'd try to come up with a different phrasing.
    – Ida
    Jul 29 '16 at 8:12
  • @PhillipW: How is it used in experimental design?
    – Ida
    Jul 29 '16 at 8:14

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