Bill Buxton – Sketching User Experiences


Buxton argues that we are experiencing a shift from “object-centered to experience-centered” design (10). He explains, “It is not the physical entity or what is in the box (the material product) that is the true outcome of design. Rather, it is the behavioral, experiential, and emotional responses that come about as a result of its existence and its use in the real world” (10). This shift requires us to think of technologies as “social entities” which have the flexibility to respond in multiple ways, depending on how people appropriate them.[1] Buxton calls his approach “design for the wild” and says that “understanding how to take the larger ecological, contextual, and experiential aspects of ‘the wild’ [i.e. the use-context in all its richness]…may well provide the means to break out of the status quo” (38).

Buxton’s contributions in this book are twofold. First, he articulates the need for a “holistic approach to experience-based design” (71) which essentially leverages the bridging capital that is latent in all interdisciplinary teams. Buxton makes the claim that design teams should be composed of people with different backgrounds and histories because all can bring valuable, complimentary skills to bear in the creation of new products (230)[2] – and it is toward the creation of new things that Buxton pushes, because he convincingly points out that the “n+1” model of simply putting out successive releases of the same product is unsustainable in the long run.

The second major contribution Buxton makes lies in his strides toward establishing design as a professional discipline. He pointedly disagrees with Don Norman’s contention that “everyone is a designer,” and instead argues that if everyone was a designer, then movements like Participatory Design in Scandinavia would not need to be presided over by a professional. If design is really so simple, the lay people could do it on their own (102-03).

In terms of seeing a holistic design process come to fruition in the creation of a new product, Buxton suggests that various forms of sketching are effective means to that end. Like the technologies that come as a result of design, “sketches [too] are social things” (153). He goes beyond simply advocating the creation of low-fidelity paper prototypes (though he lauds these), and argues that in order to effectively design an experience, that experience must first be sketched. He gives several methods and examples of such experience-sketching, including the Wizard of Oz technique in which a convincing prototype is put in place, but the functionality is “faked” to such a degree that the user is unaware that s/he is not actually interacting with the real product (239-40). Buxton also explains that sketches can be arranged and annotated in order to tell experiential stories. Here, he explicitly invokes Denning and the immersive tradition of storytelling. He says that the fundamental actions stories promote – “invite, suggest, and question” “discovery” and “play” – are also the desired outcomes and actions that experiential and interactive sketching elicits (262). That is, both stories and sketches allow for a “discursive element” that are a key part of the holistic design process (262).

Although he invokes it superficially, Buxton invokes “Le Bricolage” in order to showcase examples of how functional prototypes can be built with found or otherwise readily available materials (253-59).[3]

Quotes & Ideas Pertaining to Interface Design and UX

“Interaction is about roles and their changing relationships” (264).

“’Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But, of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. To design something really well, you have to ‘get it.’ You have to really grok [understand] what it’s about’” – Steve Jobs (309).

Design and pathos: “Technologies need to be thought of as social beings, and in a social context” (32).

Design is more robust than “styling and usability” (77).

“The role of design is to get the right design. The role of usability engineering is to get the design right” (389).

“Despite the technocratic and materialistic bias of our culture, it is ultimately experiences that we are designing, not things” (127).

My Questions

1.  How is the process of creating an interpellative design similar to and different from creating an experience-based design?

2.  How are “designing for the wild” and storytelling related to the notion of habitus and the building of social (and aesthetic?) capital?

3.  How does interpellative design leverage pathos?

4.  From a Baudrillardian perspective, what makes sketching seductive?

This is Shirky’s fundamental assertion as well: that the relationship between humans and technologies they employ is recursive – we are shaped just as much as we shape.

Yet, for Shirky, the emphasis is on how otherwise mundane, ubiquitous  technologies take on the power to shape how we socialize with others (how we commune, communicate, and co-create, e.g.) when used for certain kairotic, user-determined purposes . For Buxton, on the other hand, technologies are social because they are collaboratively and interdisciplinarily constructed. His focus, in other words, is on how the inventional aspects of technology should be more social than they currently are. The reason for this returns us to the shift from object- to experience-centered design: designs are not used in a vacuum; therefore, they should not be designed in one.

Essentially, Shirky balances treatment of promise-tool-bargain. Buxton hones in on the tool. Buxton says, “My thesis [is] that in order to design a tool, we must make our best efforts to understand the larger social and physical context within which it is intended to function” (37).

I like the image of “silos” (92) that Buxton uses to explain the homogenous status quo of design teams. Bridging capital essentially destabilizes silos by introducing heterogeneity, and this allows creativity to blossom.

Not sure if more can be done with bricolage vis-à-vis Derrida, Deleuze & Guttari.


~ by ahatter on September 3, 2009.

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