Coffee cup

Introduction

Every day, people like you and me experience the world. We wake up, pour a cup of coffee, and try to avoid stepping on the cat. Our day has just begun. Thousands of experiences await us, ranging from the trivial to the time-consuming: we peek at our phones and note our busy schedules, or we close our eyes and imagine a long, relaxing vacation under the sun. Some experiences are good. Some are bad. Most are somewhere in between. Yet, despite the many experiences we have, we are often unprepared to design new ones.

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Green liquid

User Experience is Unavoidable

Palmolive released a series of TV commercials in 1981 featuring Madge, a spry and chatty manicurist. Each commercial’s concept was simple: a housewife would visit a nail salon, inexplicably stick her hand into a small saucer full of green goo, then be told by Madge that the green goo was Palmolive dishwashing detergent. Surprise! By today’s standards, the commercials were certainly gender-biased, if not borderline sociopathic, as Madge seemed to take great pleasure in telling unsuspecting housewives her trademark phrase: “You’re soaking in it!” Coined by the advertising firm Ted Bates Company, the TV campaign reached legendary status by running continuously for nearly three decades. The campaign showed the power of a catchphrase and demonstrated a fundamental truth: we often do not realize our current circumstance until someone points it out to us.

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Xoloitzcuintli

You Have to Do the Work

From the rural towns of Mexico to the hillside villages of Honduras lives the Xoloitzcuintli. This unusual breed of dog traces its lineage farther back than the Aztec Empire. Although rare, you can still find the Xolo today. The American Kennel club estimates their numbers to be nearly 30,000 worldwide: a mere whimper compared to the deafening howl of millions of Labrador Retrievers. With its hairless coat, huge ears, and occasional Mohawk, the Xolo is a frequent contestant in ugliest dog competitions. Despite these momentary humiliations, the breed is revered for its gentle personality and somewhat surprising mythology: it heals, as well as heels. And in this way, it shares a similarity with UX.

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Grapes

The User Is on a Journey

Each year, Pauillac, a village nestled within the Médoc region of France, hosts a marathon. The Marathon du Médoc weaves through 44 kilometers of bucolic Bordeaux countryside. Points along its route include the iconic vineyards of Château Lafite Rothschild, Lynch-Bages, and many others. Green, combed hillsides of grape vines meet revival architecture capped in spires and surrounded by manicured gardens. Race day begins with a fashion show and ends with a fireworks display. Festivities throughout the morning and afternoon entertain onlookers, but each pales in comparison to the main event. If you run this marathon, you will have an unforgettable experience. If you study this marathon, you will learn a lot about user experience design.

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Ship

You Are Not the User

The Yangtze River stretches nearly 4000 miles across central and eastern China, feeding from glacial and wetland tributaries as it weaves through the Qinghai–Tibet plateau, passing over the ghostly, submerged towns of the Three Gorges Dam, and emptying into the East China Sea. The river provides a home to many residents, including a remarkable fish called the torafugu. It swims through both the Yangtze’s lowland waters and your software projects.

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Egypt

Speak the User’s Language

In 1799, a young French lieutenant named Pierre-François-Xavier Bouchard made one of the greatest discoveries of all time, only to lose it two years later to the British. His discovery was neither golden nor bejeweled. However, it has mesmerized kings and scholars, generals and diplomats, readers and writers, for centuries. It is also a fine example of user experience design.

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Old TV

Personas

With its feathered haircuts, tight-fitting pant suits, and abundant chest hair, the long-running game show, The Dating Game, filled American TV screens and living rooms with bawdy singles and hopeless romantics for over three decades. It ran from 1965 to 2000. It started in the Age of Aquarius and ended in the Internet Age, thereby amounting to the longest-running, most-viewed study on dating habits, people and personas.

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Galaxy

User Testing

Kobayashi Maru. To merely mention the name Kobayashi Maru invites debate among Trekkies, the devoted followers of all things Star Trek. It is a test – a computer simulation. Participants take the test to evaluate their leadership skills by virtually commanding a spaceship traveling across the galaxy. The Kobayashi Maru test uncovers hidden weaknesses and unforeseen strengths—a practice not unlike user testing.

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Panda

Reciprocity

Years before the American President Richard Nixon stretched out his arms to form his famous V-sign, he was wrapping them around a pair of Chinese giant pandas named Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing. The two bears likely did not realize they were a part of a much larger embrace between two distant countries, brought together by international diplomacy and the power of reciprocation: a concept that spans borders, as well as every facet of user experience design.

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Highway

On Accessibility

Over four million miles of roadway span the United States. A driver in southeastern Florida City, Florida could hop in her car and 50 hours later step out into northwestern Blaine, Washington 3,435 miles away. Despite her long journey, she would have a remarkably consistent drive. She would travel on 12-foot wide interstate lanes constructed of approved asphalts, aggregates, and finishes. She would view highways signs fabricated from specified microprismatic sheeting and retroreflective paints. She would obey a nearly uniform set of traffic laws. She would experience a system that allows widespread access by nearly every shape, size, and make of vehicle, from Mazdas to Maseratis, from semi-trailers to school buses, from tower ladder firetrucks to Harley Davidson Fat Boys.

Imagine if you awoke tomorrow morning and this system had suddenly changed. Highways were six-feet wide. Roads were constructed of gooey tar and jagged rocks. Speed limits were written in tiny, white text on light gray backgrounds. Traffic laws were state secrets. This system would no longer support your needs, making your travel both difficult and dangerous. You could no longer easily get to work, visit a grocery store, or reach a hospital. How would your life change?

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Shark

The UX of Security

If you placed an overseas call in the 1980s, you may have spoken over the TAT-8 transatlantic cable. It was a first. Never before had fiber optics crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The cable stretched across 3,200 miles of ocean floor, traversing great rift valleys, passing long-forgotten shipwrecks, and weathering undersea storms. TAT-8 was an impressive achievement; yet, it proved to be an insecure one.

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Waterfall, Lean, & Agile

White lights give way to virtual sunrises deep within Norway’s longest tunnel. Located between the southwestern municipalities of Lærdal and Aurland, 15 miles of underground roadway gently unfurls beneath the unspoiled landscape of fjords and mountainsides. The Lærdal tunnel stands as an engineering triumph. Two and a half million meters of Precambrian gneiss rock were drilled, exploded, excavated, and removed. Two hundred thousand bolts secure its walls. However, the tunnel’s most remarkable attribute is its surprising psychology — a psychology befitting any project.

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Gold coins

Flow

You may not think of yourself as a gamer, but you have likely heard of Pac-Man. Namco’s 1980 hit video game has appeared everywhere from Atari 2600 to Windows 10. Take a moment and picture the game in your mind’s eye. See its maze-like screen. Hear the telltale sound of “waka waka waka” as you maneuver Pac-Man through sharp turns and long straightaways. You avoid multi-colored ghosts. You seek flashy power-ups. You cheer for 10,000-point bonuses. Each game level consists of many tiny experiences connected along a circuitous path. Do you recall what Pac-Man eats along this path? Gold coins.

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