Nathan Shedroff – Experience Design


Shedroff’s main point in this book is that great experiences are both deliberate and designable, provided designers know the underlying principles and learn the practical tools (2).

Like Jakob Nielsen and Edward Tufte, Shedroff values a “clutter” free interface (91). Yet, the book is almost schizophrenic in this regard, as its attempt to perform an experiential book design is often distracting from the reading process itself thanks to the busy background images and often difficult-to-read text (p 92-93 & 96 are good examples of this).

Nonetheless, the book retains relevance for its prescient views of audience (on the Internet, they are active participants, not passive viewers) and the idea that experience is a central aspect of iterative, user-centered design. One quote that I found particularly relevant for interpellative design was: “Great designs communicate first and are beautiful second” (278). Since we are amidst a web design culture which is as in love with rich media as early web design was with scrolling marquees and animated gifs, it is often easy to be taken in by a site’s play with these media. And this is quite alright, until you realize that you’re more taken with the play than the purpose, and that the two are not working in concert to create a meaningful experience.

Points of Critique


Shedroff believes narrative and stories are “one-way” experiences (84), which is not the case. Yet here again Shedroff appears to contradict himself when he references MUDs & MOOs as perfect examples of interactive narrative (152).


Shedroff writes, “Interface design is concerned with the effectiveness and usability of a software interface but this should also extend to the usefulness and purpose of the product too” (109). The ‘extension’ suggests that usability cannot speak to the “usefulness and purpose of the product.” This is also not the case. Usability testing methods can be employed in the service of implementing the very experiential techniques Shedroff discusses. So at the very least the two must work together. At the most, they are one in the same.

Although he concedes that “usability applies to all experiences on some level (110, emphasis mine), he goes on to argue that “usability is sometimes used to squash innovation or to enforce the status quo” (110). However, a few paragraphs later he apparently contradicts this when he says, “Usability (or a concern for ‘ease of use’) is often the starting point of innovative design” (110). The reason for this is that considering usability allows designers to view the interface from the audiences’ point of view, which can often “open up the possibilities to create more satisfying experiences” (110). So, usability is presented as a sort of double-edge sword: if one relies on patterns, which are borne from usability research, to the exclusion of all else, the interface might end up staid. On the other hand, if user research is capitalized on, and designers are allowed to explore potentialities, usability testing could help iron out kinks to create a truly dynamic, interesting, and functional interface.


~ by ahatter on October 12, 2009.

One Response to “Nathan Shedroff – Experience Design”

  1. It’s not so much that usability CAN’T refer to the to usefulness of something, it’s that it commonly doesn’t and, historically, hasn’t. I applaud those usability professionals who actively take part in a dialog of usefulness and not just accessibility and usability but these are, in my experience, a vast minority of practitioners as well as a minority of what is taught in usability courses and programs. This just isn’t a value that the field has had regularly.

    In addition, I’m sorry I gave you the impression that narrative is only one way. It’s certainly not how I approach it or teach it. However, it is how most people experience professional narratives in the media so it’s much more common in our experience of narratives. Again, this has more to do with the history of commercial narrative than anything to do with the possibilities inherent in it.

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