Peter Morville’s well-known “honeycomb” diagram (and accompanying article) illustrates seven qualities or “facets” of user experience design, going beyond just usability into six other areas where the user experience designer’s work is cut out for them. It’s a great diagram — I use it with clients to describe all the things we need to address, and I use it in my classes to help my students see the full scope of the UX designer’s responsibilities.
It occurred to me that a lot of what is included in this diagram is, in fact, entirely subjective in nature. Of these seven facets of UX design, how many of them can actually be measured by objective, empirical, or quantitative means during the design process?
I’m limiting the question to the design process itself, because once a product is released to the market it’s clearly a lot easier to measure its performance than it is to measure it while you are still building it
- Useful: Immeasurable. Sure, focus groups might help us understand what users will find useful, but ultimately even those studies are subjective. Maybe market analysis or customer surveys could approach quasi-quantitative results (i.e., a number of qualitative results can be run through a formula and articificially transformed into quantitative results, such as “21% of customers said they would find an auto-save feature useful”), but I don’t count that as a true measure of the empirical usefulness of a feature.
- Usable: Probably the easiest to measure (such as with clocks and performance counters), but still prone to subjective conclusions and flawed methodologies (as I’ve just written about extensively).
- Desirable: Immeasurable. Again, this can be researched but not truly measured. See “useful” above.
- Findable: Similar to “usable”, this is possible to measure with empirical performance metrics.
- Accessible: Often this is measurable, at the very least legally, according to a series of subjective but expertly-determined standards. There are gray areas, of course, and sometimes the standards are wrong and easily misinterpreted (putting ALT tags on bullet point GIFs for example), but in general I’d say accessibility is measurable.
- Credible: Immeasurable.
- Valuable: Immeasurable.
So it looks like at least 50% of the user experience designer’s job is completely immeasurable during the design process, leaving the designer and his or her colleagues to make their decisions based entirely on their own professional and expert opinions.