Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Architecting Online Systems for User Experience, Happiness, and Buying Shoes

By Dennis D. McDonald

In September of this year Michael Platt, director of Web Architecture Strategy in the architecture strategy group at Microsoft, published Architecting for Happiness. In it he stated:

On the server side we tend to think of cross cutting concerns such as scalability, performance, reliability etc, so what are the cross cutting concerns in the experience space? What does an architect need to architect for in the user space? The conclusion I have come to is that on the Experience side of things we need to architect for a “good” experience in the widest sense, not just the UI. We need to think about how people interact not just with the system and application but with information and one another.

Here are the four points Platt lists that determine whether a user will be “happy and satisfied”:

  1. Entertainment
  2. Creativity and problem solving
  3. Information, knowledge and learning
  4. Interaction, collaboration and community

Those of us who have been banging the “web 2.0” drum for the past few years will look at this list and nod our heads.  But Platt, who usually writes and thinks about “enterprise architecture strategy,” does make two very important points here:

  1. Those responsible for “user experience” need to think beyond the user interface.
  2. “Interaction, collaboration, and community” are essential to a “happy and satisfied” user.

 I would add at least two two more points to the above list:

  • The system should help users do their work.
  • System features designed to support, collaboration, learning, and entertainment should not get in the way of users getting their jobs done.

I’m not saying that systems should not be enjoyable to use. Nor should they prevent me from communicating with others in the event an opportunity arises to benefit from collaboration or expertise-seeking. But if I’m busy and need to get as many tasks done as possible, I don’t want extraneous or distracting features in place that delay things or get in the way. On the other hand, if I am using a system to support a task and it provides a quick and efficient way to bring to bear community expertise to help solve a problem, I’ll like that feature — if it’s not intrusive (or more trouble than it’s worth).

An analogy for me is that, if I want to buy a pair of shoes, I don’t want to hassle with a shopping center with vast parking lots, water fountains, live entertainment, pretzel stands, shopping consultants, perfume spritzers, and the 90% of other stores I have to walk past to get to the shoe store. I just want to get in, buy shoes, and get out. I’m not there for a “shopping experience,” I’m there to buy shoes.

Copyright (c) 2007 by Dennis  D. McDonald

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